GaspeeVirtual Archives
Research Notes on Dr. Henry Sterling (1726-1810)
The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the 1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating Dr. Henry Sterling:
The following is taken from an unsigned draft statement by Dr. John Mawney, which was later published with editorial revisions (possibly by his friend, Senator Theodore Foster) by the American and Gazette in 1826. The handwritten statement was found in the Gaspee Papers at the Rhode Island Historical Society, MSS434 p149.  The published version can be seen in excerpted form in Staples, Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee, p. 15. referring to John Mawney's successful operation aboard the Gaspee to remove the musket ball from the groin of Lt. Dudingston:
During the operation, I was several times called upon at the door, but was not ready. When the door was opened, many rushed in, and attacked the bottles. I having boots on, stamped on them, and requested others to assist, which was readily done. During this, Mr. Dudingston was carried out of the room, and I never saw him after, notwithstanding I had several invitations, through Dr. Henry Sterling.

Dr. Sterling apparently looked in on the wounded Lieutenant over several days while Dudingston recuperated in the Pawtuxet home of Joseph Rhodes.  In either event, Dr. Mawney was wise to have declined the invitation of one Dr. Henry Sterling to visit with the recovering Lt. Dudingston.  Had Dudingston recognized him, Mawney might have been hung as a traitor to the Crown.

Biographical and Genealogical Notes:
Dr. Henry Sterling was born in Londonderry, (now Northern) Ireland c1726 and immigrated
as a youth to the American colonies, residing in Providence, Rhode Island since 1756.  He was a well known physician in the Providence area during the years prior to the Revolution. He is listed in the 1770 List of Providence Taxpayers as owning a house in III B 5, which locates it pretty much across the street from Gaspee raid leaders John and Joseph Brown.  It would be interesting to know if Dr. Sterling knew that the son of fellow physician Dr. Ephraim Bowen, Ephraim Bowen, Jr,. helped the trigger man that shot Lt. Dudingston.  Curiously, the trail of Dr. Sterling in Providence stops with the Gaspee event. He is not mentioned in any of the 19th century Rhode Island history books we've been able to consult, and these texts (Bayles, Richard M. ed. History of Providence County, Vol I & II. W.W. Preston & Co., NY.  1891; and Field, Edward, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century:  A History.  Boston, Mason Publishing Co. 1902.) usually gave long biographies of even the most obscure physician

Dr. Henry Sterling's wife was Patience (Tew) Sterling (c1736-1801).  The known children of Henry and Patience were:
  • STERLING,  Charlotte (c1764-1794) died in Providence
  • STERLING,  Dr. Henry P. Jr  (c1765-1800)  He was married in 1791 to Christian LITTLE of  Bridgewater, MA
  • STERLING, Henrietta S., married in 1790 Capt. Samuel ALLEN.  She died in 1821
From Clan Stirling OnLine:
Dr. Henry Sterling was a physician, and a native of a town in and around Londonderry, Ireland. He settled in Providence, Rhode Island in 1756.

Henry was a staunch supporter of the American Revolution and aided the patriot cause with his advice and professional services. He was called on 10 Jun 1772 to the British armed ship Gaspee to attend the wounded commander of the vessel after it was destroyed by patriots from Providence. Dr Henry Sterling married Patience Tew 29 Oct. 1758 in Providence, RI. Patience Tew's maternal grandfather was [RI Governor] Benedict Arnold the grandfather of THE [OTHER] Benedict Arnold that committed treason against the colonies. Patience has an illustrious ancestry featuring families like Throckmorton, Blennerhasset and Cornwallis.

The town of Sterling in Windham County, Connecticut, originally called Voluntown, was named after Dr. Sterling in May 1794, when he was a temporary resident there. He promised to give the town a library in return for the honor, but it appears that he failed to do so.

From Vital Record of Rhode Island, 1636-1850, available through the NEHGS, the author James N. Arnold contends that the town of Sterling, CT was actually named after Gen. Sterling of the Revolution. A 1774 ad for an insurance company in Providence stated that it was located next to the house of Doctor Henry Sterling on Water Street. In 1803 he advertised his house to let, and that the house was currently occupied by Cyprian Sterry, (a well-known captain of slave-trading ships, and whose son married the daughter of Nicholas Cooke).
While Dr. Henry Sterling probably did not actually participate in the attack on the Gaspee, he did not tell authorities what he must have known about those involved.  We therefore indict him for aiding these fugitives against King George III.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 11/2004    Last Revised 5/2009    DrHenrySterling.html