GaspeeVirtual Archives
Webmaster note:  It's quite amazing what snippets one can find in a deep search on Google for the term "Gaspee". While we don't necessarily agree with this author's line of reasoning, we will strive to present a balanced view of the Gaspee Affair at all times...warts and all.
Freedom .... (or Can the Gaspee Affair be compared to the present day war on drugs?)
by "Ripper"
This article originally appeared at, December 6, 2000

Lieutenant William Dudingston served the Royal Navy well. And by so doing, brought on what might be called a preliminary action of the American Revolution in the year 1772. With admirable vigilance, Dudingston spotted, pursued, and captured smugglers who operated among the many tricky channels and rocky coves of Rhode Island Narragansett Bay. And served himself well, too. When his swift patrol ship, the revenue cutter Gaspee, succeeded in catching one of the smugglers, and the victim's goods were sold after court action, Lieutenant Dudingston got a handsome share of the proceeds. He was fierce toward American merchantmen who dared bring in such goods as molasses from the French West Indies. For he was determined to force obedience to the Acts of Trade, which sought to keep colonial business within the confines of the British mercantile system. And he was equally fierce toward skippers of whatever law-abiding ships he stopped and inspected - for who knew what they might be carrying. The colonists had begun to demonstrate a rebellious mood, and the Navy must be on the alert.

This officiousness was intolerable for such enterprising merchants as John Brown of Providence. His firm Nicholas Brown and Company, had been doing business in many parts of the world for the better part of the century. His ships, and those of other Rhode Islanders, would one day reach China and the East Indies and were presently plying between Europe, Africa and the West Indies. If the cargo from Africa often consisted of slaves, and if the cargo from the Antilles was not always British produced - wasn't that the way fortunes were made?

On the afternoon of June 9, 1772, Lieutenant Dudingston pressed his luck a bit to far when chasing a smuggler close to shore: he ran aground on a sand pit below Providence. Hearing of the Gaspee's accident, John Brown recalled how Rhode Islanders had wrecked another customs boat some four years earlier. And, collecting a band of armed men ready for any action against the crown, he rowed out to the helpless ship, wounded the lieutenant and set the Gaspee ablaze.

Somehow the culprits could not be found, even though the outraged British cabinet demanded that the offenders be brought to justice they offered a 500 pound reward. Parliament, for its part, had declared 4 months before that setting fire to a Navy vessel was a treasonous crime, punishable by death. The investigation accomplished nothing, besides persuading many Americans, by the severity of its language, that England was determined to put a noose around the neck of all who believed in freedom.

The Gaspee assault was but a prelude to many other battles, including the one on April 19, 1775, at Concord and Lexington which is generally treated as the opening engagement of the American Revolution. This sounds very much like the drug war to me. What do you think?

Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 2001    Last Revised 06/2009    Freedom.htm