Find the Gaspee
by Dr. John Concannon
Webmaster, Gaspee Virtual Archives
The hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee was burned to its waterline by Rhode Island patriots on the night of June 9, 1772. Eyewitness accounts relate that there were several explosions as the ensuing fire touched off the powder magazines in the Gaspee's hold. Whatever was left of the ship must have been sparse.
It can also be assumed that these persons also sacked the Gaspee of anything of value prior to torching the vessel as she lay aground off of Namquid Point (now called Gaspee point). Daniel Vaughan in his deposition (see Staples, Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee, page 79) related that he accompanied Captain Linzee of the HMS Beaver in salvaging some iron from the wreck of the Gaspee in the summer of 1772. Colonel Samuel Aborn of Pawtuxet Village owned a sloop named Sally, and following the burning of the Gaspee he, by order of the colony, recovered what remained of the stores, anchors and guns of the King's ship, for which services he was paid 11 pounds, 18 shillings. It is possible than some of the Gaspee's small cannons may survive still, but their whereabouts are unknown and it is doubtful whether they would have been marked sufficiently to identify the origin.
The RI Historical Society maintained a public collection of some artifacts from the Gaspee; the following descriptions come from Museum Illustrating the History of the State, RI Historical Society, 1916:
A piece of wood from the Gaspee, and also a piece of wood from the "Gaspee House" situated on the northeast corner of Planet and South Main Streets, on which a picture of the house has been burnt with a red-hot poker, decorate the upper shelf of Case 10. The "Gaspee House" was the house in which the attack upon the Gaspee was planned. A fragment of a gun used in this expedition and later found in the water at Gaspee Point is on Shelf 3. The silver cup was a piece of plunder taken from the Gaspee by Commodore Whipple, and is inscribed: "Captured by Com. Whipple of R. I. from the British Sloop Gaspee June 17, 1772." James Fennimore Cooper, in his History of the Navy of the United States, erroneously gave the date of June 17th for the burning of the Gaspee, and this error has been copied in many places.The silver cup referenced above is suprizingly small, being approximately five inches in height, and is on display at the John Brown Mansion.
Ephraim Bowen is known to have carved several canes from wood taken from the remnants of the Gaspee, but only one or two are supposedly accounted for. The Gaspee Mace, carried at the front of each year's Gaspee Days Parade supposedly contains some of the wood from the Gaspee, but authentication of this point seems impossible.
So what can we really say remains of the actual Gaspee schooner? Nothing. Several attempts have been made through the years to discover remnants of the Gaspee, but, so far, to no avail. Jackson Jencks of the Newport Naval Underwater Museum discussed their efforts in a May 1972 Providence Journal article. In December 1965 team divers searched fruitlessly for wreckage off of Gaspee Point in Warwick. Jencks and his colleagues used maps drawn by the French in 1776 and 1778 and superimposed them on modern navigational maps to assess the effect of two centuries of movement on Gaspee Point.
Independent scuba divers have also searched the area as recently as 1989 only to come up empty handed. Researchers from the URI Department of Ocean Engineering, the Marine Museum of Fall River (MA), and the Marine Archaelogical and Historical Research Institute (ME) in 1989 to use CHIRP sonar searches of the area. While some suspicious sonar contacts were made, nothing came of their efforts. The Providence River channel has been dredged several times over the past two hundred years and, combined with the effects of worms, wood rot and occasional hurricanes, has made any attempt to find remains of the Gaspee impossible.
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