Gaspee Affair


The Gaspee Affair was an incident that led to the destruction of the HMS Gaspee.


Rhode Island was a hotbed of smuggling in the American colonies during the 1760s and 1770s. When the British government decided to crack down on smuggling in the 1770s, resentment ran high among Rhode Island merchants. A target of their displeasure with the new British policy was the HMS Gaspee, commanded by Lt. William Dudingston. Dudingston, who made no secret of his disdain for American smugglers, used his position to harass colonial shipping and delaying, often unjustly, ships that had properly passed custom inspection.

On June 9, 1772, the Gaspee attempted to stop and search the packet sloop Hannah as she left Newport, bound for Providence. Captain Lindsey of the Hannah refused to stop. Instead, he deliberately lured the Gaspee across the shallows off Namquid Point (now Gaspee Point), where the British ship ran aground, unable to move until the flood tide of the following day.  When Captain Lindsey reached Providence, he reported the incident to John Brown, Joseph Bucklin, and other Providence leaders. Brown and Bucklin sent out a town crier inviting all interested parties to meet at Sabin’s Tavern to plan the Gaspee’s destruction while she was incapacitated.

Later that night, a group of men rowed eight longboats to the stranded ship. The raiders ignored a command to halt as they approached the Gaspee in the early hours of June 10, and instead fired on the British ship, seriously wounding Dudingston. The Americans boarded the Gaspee, removed the crew, and set the ship on fire. The Gaspee, burned to the waterline before her powder magazine exploded, blowing the remainder of the ship to bits. After the incident, Rhode Island Governor Joseph Wanton, who was sympathetic to the raiders, went through the motions of trying to identify the participants in the raid. He later submitted an inconclusive report to British officials in London. Not satisfied with Governor Wanton’s efforts, King George III appointed a Royal Commission to investigate the incident.

The names of the participants were well known among Providence residents, but despite the fact that the king had offered a sizable reward, the Royal Commission was unable to identify any of those responsible for the incident. On June 23, 1773, the commission closed its investigation. The final report to the king stated that the Gaspee was destroyed by persons unknown. No arrests were ever made.


Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Gaspee Affair
  • Coverage 1772–1773
  • Author
  • Keywords gaspee affair
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date November 29, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 11, 2021
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