The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Gaspee, The

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GASPEE, The, British revenue vessel, burned 1772. She was an armed schooner of eight guns, stationed at the entrance of Narragansett Bay to prevent that evasion of the British navigation laws which had largely built up the prosperity of the Atlantic Coast and was almost the entire subsistence of Rhode Island. Its authorities connived at the traffic, and at a regular price furnished false flags, which for years passed muster, but Lieutenant Dudingston of the Gaspee adopted the method of searching thoroughly every trading vessel which entered or left the bay, without regard to her flag or papers, and sending the contraband goods to Boston for adjudication. This meant ruin to Rhode Island; the executive wrote demanding Dudingston's authority, and the chief justice sent a sheriff on board; both held that his proceedings were illegal, as he should have a commission from the governor and be sworn in. They were referred to the admiral, and then to the British Secretary of State. On 9 June 1772, the regular packet left Newport for Providence without notifying Dudingston, who gave chase but ran the Gaspee aground at Namquit Point, seven miles below Providence, at low tide. That night the leading men of that city, with a company of assistants, set out in eight large boats, boarded and captured the vessel, badly wounding the commander, set the crew on shore and burnt the schooner. The Rhode Island authorities opened an investigation with great zeal, and offered rewards for the apprehension of the guilty persons, but could discover none. The home government was greatly incensed, and appointed colonial commissioners, who sat at Newport 4-22 Jan. 1773, to make inquiry, and ordered Governor Wanton to arrest the offenders and send them to England for trial. The governor and the chief justice applied to the assembly for instructions, which body referred it to the discretion of the chief justice, who refused to allow any arrests for transportation to be made.