The Burning of the Gaspee
June 10, 1772 - It was just before dawn on this day that a group of colonists rowed out to a British schooner off the coast of Rhode Island. After a brief battle they took the crew captive and burned the ship to the waterline. The vessel was named the Gaspée and its demise was a significant step toward the War for Independence.
The Gaspée and its hated Commander, Lieutenant William Dudingston, had been sent to patrol the waters off Rhode Island. Its main mission was to enforce the collection of customs fees, but in the eyes of the colonists this was just another example of British harrassment.
On the day before it burned, the Gaspée was chasing a packet boat called the Hannah. The captain of the smaller vessel purposely led the Gaspée into shallow waters where it eventually ran aground. It would be stuck there until the next high tide lifted it off the bottom.
News quickly spread around Providence and before the sun could rise the ship was ablaze.
One of the most amazing aspects of the incident was that none of the men who rowed out to the stricken ship tried to hide their identities. The British attempted to prosecute them but the courts and the people of Rhode Island would hear nothing of it.
This historic act of defiance is celebrated every year in Warwick, Rhode Island.