Gaspee Days CommitteeHistory Files
by Henry A. L. Brown

(Webmaster Note:  This article originally appeared in The Bridge, the newspaper of the Pawtuxet Village Association, Spring 2000.  Reprinted with permission of the author.)

It was long before Gaspee Days but only 50 years away from the Declaration of Independence. In Pawtuxet, two old cannons captured from General Burgoyne's defeated army at Saratoga in 1777 were mounted on the high ground overlooking Pawtuxet harbor on the Fair Mansion lot.

All over the nation, cannons roared and bells pealed to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And so, too, went the celebration in Providence where four surviving captors of the Gaspee held places of honor in the State festivities.

By 11, the procession was forming: six independent military companies (one of which was the Pawtuxet Artillery Company commanded by Colonel William Rhodes), the Governor with his entourage, clergy and town authorities, members of the Society of Cincinnatus (retired officers of the army commanded by General Washington) followed by nearly a thousand marchers. One hundred and six surviving soldiers of the Revolutionary War were "prominent and conspicuous" and described as "a band of aged and venerable-looking men." Among them was an "old drummer, thumping upon the unelastic head of the very instrument with which he had often roused the soldier of '76". An observer marked "the peculiarity of expression and character that seem to distinguish (those men) from all others of the present day."

The four Gaspee veterans - Colonel Ephraim Bowen, Jr., Captain Benjamin Page, Colonel John Mawney, and Captain Turpin Smith - rode in "a splendid equipage, an elegant barouche drawn by four spirited white horses." (Ed. Note: Webster says a barouche is a four-wheeled carriage with a driver's seat high in front, two double seats inside facing each other, and a folding top over the back seat.)

1826 Gaspee BannerWaving over the barouche was a specially designed flag painted by J.T Bower. "It presented on one side the Gaspee in flames with a boat containing some of the daring Providence lads pulling from the burning wreck, the whole surrounded with wreaths and appropriate devices, bearing the names of the survivors of the Gaspee and the date 1772. On the reverse appeared the arms and motto of Rhode Island and 4 July 1826."

Left:   (Webmaster note: This torn and tattered silk banner is preserved in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society--Click to view detail courtesy of the RI Historical Society RHiX17317)

"It was a matter of most interesting association and reflection to witness these four surviving lads who burned the Gaspee," according to an observer who also reports that the heroes "received the award of a republican triumph for a deed the commission of which at the time had well nigh caused them to ride a cart to the execution dock."

The veterans were escorted by a military company to Wilder's Hotel where a banquet had been spread. More than 300 guests were present and following dinner, toasts were delivered by Colonel Daniel Lyman. Twenty-four toasts were drunk and each ended with cannon shot and music from the band. The toasts were offered to: the President, the Governor, the Memory of George Washington, Liberty, Patriotism, Lafayette, Roger Williams, the memory of General Nathaniel Greene, "the Yankee boys who made a cup of tea in Boston Harbor in 1773 and used the Gaspee for kindling stuff."

BowenOne toast was to the former President, John Adams of Quincy, Massachusetts. He was 91 and frail but he knew it was the Fourth. "It is a great day, it is a good day!" he said and sent a toast to the townspeople of Quincy: "Independence Forever!" Resting quietly, he spoke to members of his family and about one o'clock, his granddaughter heard his last words: "Jefferson still survives." Four hours later, he was dead. (Meanwhile at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, has died at one o'clock.)

Colonel Ephraim Bowen of Pawtuxet did not write his account entitled "Capture and burning of the Gaspee" until nine years later. On August 29,1839, he composed his recollections and remembered his "youthful companions, all of whom are dead, I believe every man of the party, excepting myself and my age is 86."

Left:  The graphic of the old man comes from a book published in 1867 by Sidney Rider and a verse written by Albert G. Greene many years earlier. This small book was entitled Old Grimes and was extremely popular in its day. Greene had been a life-long friend of Ephraim Bowen and the verse and graphics represented Bowen as he knew him in old age.

Colonel Bowen died in Providence on September 2, 1841, the last Gaspee raider and an honored veteran of the American Revolution.

Pawtuxet historian Horace Belcher wrote in 1917: "Colonel Bowen has been described by an old Pawtuxet resident Horatio Nelson Slocum, who as a boy frequently saw him on his estate, as wearing knee breeches and a periwig in the colonial fashion, long after these once essentials of a gentleman's apparel had been discarded for the pantaloons Thomas Jefferson introduced from France."

Sources for this article:

Manufacturers and Farmers Journal, July 6, 1826.  Broadside by Ephraim Bowen

Bowen, Ephraim, An Account of the Capture and Burning of the British Schooner "GASPEE", 1839

Belcher, Horace. History of Pawtuxet, 1917

Irving, Washington.  Life of George Washington, 1870

Shephard, Jack. The Adams Chronicles, 1975
Webmaster's Addendum:

The following was taken from The North American review.  Volume 23, Issue 53, October 1826, p456.  Available on-line at 

Oration pronounced before the Citizens of Providence, on the 4th of July, 1826, being the Fiftieth Anniversary of American Independence. By WILLIAM HUNTER. Providence..

Yes, the blood of Lieutenant Duddington was the first blood drawn in the American cause. The scene of the transaction is within our view, and you have now in this assembly four of the lads, now veterans, who were zealons and foremost partizans, on that brave occasion. How powerfully permanent is the effect of early principle and habit, how indestructible the cast of original character How true it is, that “as the twig is bent, the tree inclines.” From all I know of these gentlemen, and I have known a good deal—from all their merits and their peculiarities, I should have said, that these were the men, that were engaged in that enterprise. They are they, who on the proposition of their patriotic lender, John Brown, exclaimed, “We are the boys that can do it.”

Details of a less festive Fourth of July in Providence the subsequent year can be found in the July 6th, 1827 edition of the American and Gazette.  The ceremonial barouche was occupied by four people, of which one, General Barton, "the brave captor of Gen. Prescott", was very unlikely to have been a Gaspee raider.  Another float commemorating the burning of the Gaspee was entered, but it is not clear whether any actual Gaspee raiders were aboard.
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