|Letters from Charles Dudley to Admiral
Montagu et al.
The first of the following letters was
found in the
Manuscripts Collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Gaspee
Papers MSS434, and is evidently a handwritten copy made by a clerk at
the Kent County Courthouse c1909 in an effort to preserve those
documents that were deteriorating. The second
letter was discovered in the vaults of the National Archives of the
United Kingdom by Warwick, RI exchange student, Sarah Radcliffe.
Charles Dudley was a tax collector for Newport, and an ardent loyalist. Admiral John Montagu was Chief of the Northeast sector of the American Coast for the Royal Navy during the period. The second letter was written presumably to the chief officer of the customs collectors office in Britain (Hardwicke). These letters have not been published previously to our knowledge.
The letters are considered useful in several respects. First of all, the author reconfirms notions that the destruction of the Gaspee was planned long before it occurred. We are not familiar with the particular notice in the Newport Mercury referred to by Dudley. Perhaps the newspaper had published copies of the letters heatedly exchanged between Governor Wanton and Admiral Montagu as related in Staples' Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee, pp 3-7. Lastly, Dudley calls for a British-sponsored investigation. He shows the disdain typical of loyalists towards the Rhode Island government and rightly concludes that its representatives would interfere with any subsequent investigation, which, in fact, they did.
Copy of a letter from Mr. Charles Dudley to Admiral Montagu dated Rhode Island 23d July 1772
I shall first of all premise that the Attack upon the Gaspee was not the effect of sudden Passion & forethought: her local circumstances at the time she was burnt did not raise the first emotion to that enormous act, it had been long determined she should be destroyed.
The paragraph in the inclosed News Paper under the Newport head was the prelude to the diabolical scene which followed. I dare appeal to every candid man in this country if he did not see it in that light.
The most public step was a memorial or petition from the merchants in Providence first laid before the superior court of Judicature then sitting in that Town & afterwards before the Governor, praying that the commander of an armed vessel then cruizing in the Bay should be called upon by the civil authority to know by what powers he was authorized to search ships and other vessels on the high seas; tho' it was notorious that the armed vessel in question sailed under British colours & belonged to His Britannic Majesty: what followed in consequence of this memorial I shall forbear to mention, as I have understood that whole Transaction has already canvassed between you and the Chief Magistrate.
These in my humble opinion are the two grand points on which a discovery must turn, corroborating Evidence of respectable men will not be wanting to prove that this insult on His Majesty's Crown & Dignity was begun in the most public & open manner, nor will you want good Testimony to shew that the intention was spoke of many days before the Event. If Admiral Montagu will interest himself in promoting an inquiry into these things: not under the influence of a Governor & Company of Rhode Island but under the high Authority of a British Senate. I will be bold to say that the destroyers of the Gaspee and the barbarous Assassins of Lieutenant Dudingston will be brought to light. Let the Printer of the Newport Mercury be called to account for the paragraph I have herein pointed at. Let the Governor be required to lay before His Majesty's Secretary of State all Papers, memorials, or petitions relating to the Schooner Gaspee, and you will no longer have doubt that the Government of Rhode Island bears no resemblance to any other Government under the Crown of England.
I am &c
Mr. Charles Dudley
to Rear Adml. Montagu
In the Lords of the Admiralty's of 8th October 1772.
[Written at Top] “This Man is a Collector of the Customs”
“In (RN) Admiral Montagu’s letter of 2 Sept. 1772
When I had the pleasure to write you a letter on the 12th Ult.° I proposed to communicate at proper seasons whatever might occur to me respecting the outrage committed on His Majesty’s Schooner Gaspee.
I have purposely deferred writing to this time, tho’ I confess with some degree of impatience; I was desirous to wait the Event of the Governor’s Proclamation; I was also desirous to see the Issue of your own Enquiries; + tho’ I wanted no conviction in myself to know that the former was not likely to produce those good Effects for which it seemed to be calculated; + and had my doubts whether the latter (however spirited they might be) could reach the bottom of this dark affair; yet to have offered such opinions as I shall now give, would have argued a presumption in me not easily reconcileable to a gentleman, pherhaps not perfectly acquainted with the nature + constitution of this government.
If I should attempt to define what this government is, + from thence shew the necessity of other measures than those which have been already taken, I may draw upon myself the suspicion of being a politician, where I mean only to act the part of an honest man.
I speak it with concern natural to a man in my station; that no Discoveries will ever be made in consequence of the Governor’s Proclamation: That no private Enquiries you can set on foot (however wisely executed) will ever produce any of those good effects you so ardently wish to see. and that in every attempt you make to incline the Civil Authority to your assistance, you will find yourself baffled + disappointed. You will probably think these assertions bold, but Time will verify them; + when I tell you the government of this colony bears no resemblance to any other government under the Crown of England, I tell you a Truth.
I have spoke with freedom on what has past, I will speak as freely on what I wish to come; + I hope I am not too confident in either; Your Rank and Station in Life makes you the properest person for me to address on this Subject; + I am encouraged to it by the last sentences in the letter you did me the honor to write me on this 15th ult.° - I may safely offer my opinions to Admiral Montague, + am persuaded he will do me the Justice to believe they came from my Heart, tho’ they should not fall in with his own Sentiments.
I shall first of all promise that the attack upon the Gaspee was not the Effect of sudden passion + resentment, but of cool deliberation + forethought. her local circumstances at the Time She was burnt, did not raise the first Emotion to that enormous act; it had been long determined She should be destroyed.
The paragraph in the enclosed newspaper, under the Newport Head, was the prelude to the diabolical scene which followed: - I dare appeal to every candid man in this country if he did not see it in that Light.
The next public step was a Memorial or Petition from the Merchants of Providence, first laid before the Superior Court of Judicature then sitting in that Town; + afterwards before the governor; praying that the Commander of an armed vessel then cruising in the Bay should be called upon by the Civil Authority, to know by what powers he was authorised to search ships + other vessels on the High Seas; tho’ it was notorious that the armed vessel in question, sailed under British colours, + belonged to his Britannic Majesty. What followed in consequence of this memorial I shall forbear to mention, as I have understood that the whole Transaction has been already canvassed between you + the Chief Magistrate.
These, in my humble opinion, are the two grand Points on which a Discovery must turn; corroborating Evidence of respectable Men [written in left-hand margin: “who probably are intimidated from giving it”] will not be wanting to prove that this insult on His Majesty’s Crown and Dignity was begun in the most public + open manner, nor will you want good Testimony to shew that the Intention was spoke of many days before the Event. If Admiral Montagu will interest himself in promoting an Enquiry into these Things, not under the influence of a governor + company of Rhode Island; but under the High Authority of a British Senate, I will be bold to say that the Destroyers of the Gaspee, + the barbarous assassins of Lieutenant Dudingston, will be brought to Light. – Let the printer of the Newport Mercury be called to account for the paragraph I have herein pointed at; Let the governor be required to lay before His Majesty’s Secretary of State, all papers, memorials or petitions relating to the schooner Gaspee, + you will no longer have doubt that the government of Rhode Island bears no resemblance to any other government under the Crown of England.
I am with very great respect
Your most obedient
Cha. ~ Dudley”
[Hardwicke Papers, Vol. DL (Add 35898 – 292)]
The following passage may also have
also been written by Dudley, as found in a footnote in: Eighteenth
Marshall. New York: D. McKay Co, 1962. Page 418:
Describing this incident a Rhode Island collector of Customs wrote to Admiral Montague, 'So farewell Gaspee! Farewell justice! I am prepared for the consequences, I know what they will be: here is an end to security to government servants, here is an end to collecting a revenue and enforcing the Acts of Trade.'
--- The Private Papers of John, Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, 1771-1782, edited by G. R. Barnes and J. H. Owen ( 1932).
|Back to Top | Back to Gaspee Virtual Archives|