Impact of H.M.S. Gaspee burning reconsidered

It's the final weekend for the big Gaspee Days celebrations and parade in Pawtuxet Village. And now there is growing proof as to the historic significance of the original event.

It was just off what was then called Namquit Point in Warwick back on June 9, 1772, where the British ship looking for trade boats of Colonial tax evaders ran aground.

The plan to burn the H.M.S. Gaspee was hatched at the Sabin Tavern on Main Street in Providence by merchant John Brown and others.

Historian and artist Charles Grossman of Providence has been doing lots of research.

"They started rowing towards the Gaspee, fired one shot, hit the captain. He was wounded, just wounded. The colonists stormed aboard, overwhelmed the British, and as they were leaving they set fire to the Gaspee," he said.

A recently discovered original newspaper that has now been donated to the Gaspee Committee from June 13, 1772, recorded the event.

Carol Deming, the Gaspee chairperson, says of the burning, "It was basically the first time that anyone stood up to the British."

Grossman researched and painted a depiction of the event.

"This act led to the Continental Congress which directly led to the Declaration of Independence," Grossman said.

The burning of the Gaspee, and then the attempt by the British to bring those responsible to justice which failed, is now being looked upon as the first major spark of the American Revolution.

"It was the Gaspee event that inspired the colonists to keep going," Grossman said.

Aside from Gaspee Days in Pawtuxet Village, not much focus nationally has been put on the significance of the event.

But for those who've done the research, there are lessons for all of us.

"That was the first free nation or people in the world at that time. Think about that. And it continues to this day that movement towards freedom: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Each Rhode Islander holds the power in his or her hand to maximize the potential of creating this story, this is an odyssey, this is an ongoing story," Grossman said.