The American Attack and Destruction of the Gaspee.
On the hot summer afternoon of June 9th, 1772, Captain Thomas Lindsay set sail from Newport, Rhode Island, with his fast coastal-packet sloop, the Hannah, on his customary way up the Narragansett Bay to Providence. Captain Dudingston, commanding the English Navy armed schooner Gaspee, usually stopped every American vessel he saw to search it for possible merchandise on which the English taxes had not been paid. Dudingston fired a shot to signal the Hannah to stop to be searched, but Lindsay responded by sailing away. For several miles there was a hot pursuit by the Gaspee. The two ships tacked back and forth against a northwest breeze, and the Gaspee could not close to cannon range.
About seven miles below Providence the shore runs out from a point on the west shore of Narragansett Bay. The point, then called Namquid Point (now known as Gaspee Point) continues underwater into a long shallow sand-bar that runs out from the Point easterly into the Bay for a substantial distance. As the Hannah passed the Point, Lindsay tacked his ship sharply to westward, clearing the sand-bar. He then gave the appearance of poor seamanship and allowed his sails to lose the wind and his ship to lose headway and stop. Gleefully, Lieutenant Dudingston stopped tacking and headed the Gaspee straight toward his quarry with all his sails set for maximum speed, not knowing of the sandbar under the water. Overconfidently believing that he was masterly ready to board the Hannah, Dudingston plowed the Gaspee into the sandbar and was grounded.
The British sailors watched the Hannah calmly come about and sail off toward Providence. The Gaspee lay there in the hot summer sunlight, leaning over more and more as the hours passed by and the tide ebbed. It was soon quite evident that she would have to stay where she was until high tide at 3 o’clock the next morning.
Captain Lindsay sailed on to Providence, and reported to John Brown that the Gaspee was now grounded on Namquid Point. Brown, the merchant owner of a number of ships and the Sheriff of Bristol County ordered eight large longboats to be brought to Fenner’s Wharf in Providence. Each was capable of easily holding a dozen or more men. Brown also communicated to Colonel Simon Potter, head of the Bristol area Rhode Island militia, to come from Bristol with an additional long boat, and rendezvous for an attack on the Gaspee.
The signal in Providence for men to assemble for military action was the beating of a drum. About two hours after sunset that evening, the drum was sounded and men were informed that if they wanted to participate in the attack they should assemble at the Sabin Inn, near the wharf where the longboats were moored.
The oar locks were muffled for silent rowing, and the expedition set out, timed to arrive at the Gaspee when there was no moon and it was pitch black. Captain Whipple, an experienced sea captain, used to combat with vessels was put in command, and each of the other boats was by an experienced sea captain. John Brown, the Sheriff of Bristol, was in Whipple’s boat.
The Providence flotilla rowed toward where the Gaspee lay, to rendezvous with Potter’s boat from Bristol and another boat from Warren. All the boats were formed into a line, in good military order, and silently rowed toward the Gaspee, barely visible by the dim starlight. They approached close to the schooner before the watch on deck discovered their presence, and brought the sleeping Captain Dudingston and his crew to the deck. After a brief demand by Captain Whipple that the force be allowed to board, the men in the boats began the attack. The longboats approached the Gaspee from the quarters (so that cannons could not be brought to bear on the boats) and the Americans attempted to board the Gaspee.
Initially, Dudingston and his crew repealed the boarders. But, as soon as Joseph Bucklin shot Dudingston and Dudingston fell to the deck, the Americans swarmed on board. There was a few minutes of vicious clubbing by the more than a hundred Americans on the twenty English crewmembers before Dudingston (who thought he was dying) surrendered the ship and crew.
The Americans bound the hands of the English crew and rowed them to captivity in Pawtuxet Village. The Gaspee was deliberately set on fire to destroy and sink it. After the Americans left the Gaspee the fire reached the powder for the Gaspee’s cannons and a great explosion finished the sinking of the Gaspee.