GaspeeVirtual Archives
Letters from Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson re: the Gaspee Affair

We present here excerpts of three letters written by Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson to various British officials.  Hutchinson, unlike the Governor of Rhode Island who was popularly elected, was appointed by the King to his position. He was a strong loyalist, and had a particular dislike for the chicanery of the citizens of the neighboring colony of Rhode Island, which he felt were a bad influence on the citizens of his own colony. He felt that Rhode Island's charter was much too liberal, and advocated rescinding it on several occasions.

Source of all three letters: Warren, Mercy Otis. The Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution Interspersed with Biographical, Political, and Moral Observations. 1805. Mercy Otis Warren was a noted playwright, sculptor, and historian who wrote one of our first compilations of the history of the Revolutionary War.  She particularly despised the guts of Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson.

To Commodore Gambier1
Boston, June 30, 1772.
Dear Sir,
... Our last ships carried you the news of the burning of the Gaspee schooner at Providence.  I hope if there should be another like attempt, some concerned in it may be taken prisoners and carried directly to England. A few punished at Execution Dock would be the only effectual preventive of any further attempts...

Thos. Hutchinson

To Secretary Pownal.2
Boston, August 29, 1772.
Dear Sir,

I troubled you with a long letter the 21st of July.  Give me leave now only to add one or two things which I then intended, but, to avoid being too tedious, omitted.  People in this province, both friends an enemies to government, are in great expectations from the late affair at Rhode Island of burning the King's schooner, and they consider the manner in which the news of it will be received in England, and the measures to be taken, as decisive.  If it is passed over without a full inquiry and due resentment, our liberty people will think they may with impunity commit any acts of violence, be they ever so atrocious, and the friends to government will despond, and give up all hopes of being able to withstand the faction.  The persons who were immediate actors are men of estate and property in the colony.  A prosecution is impossible. If ever the government of that colony is to be reformed, this seems to be the time, and it would have a happy effect on the colonies which adjoin to it.  Several persons have been advised by letters from their friends that as the ministry are united, and the opposition at an end, there will certainly be an inquiry into the state of America, the next session of Parliament.  The denial of the supremacy of Parliament and the contempt with which its authority has been treated by the Lilliputian assemblies of America can never be justified or excused by any one member of either house of Parliament....

Thos. Hutchinson

To Samuel Hood, Esq.3
Boston, September 2, 1772.
Dear Sir,

Captain Linzee4 can inform you of the state of Rhode Island colony better than I can.  So daring an insult as burning the King's schooner, by people who are as well known as any who were concerned in the last rebellion and yet cannot be prosecuted, will certainly rouse the British lion, which has been asleep these four or five years.  Admiral Montague4 says that Lord Sandwich4 will never leave pursuing the colony, until it is disenfranchised.  If it is passed over, the other colonies will follow the example.

Thos. Hutchinson


1. Commodore John Gambier was Commanding Officer of the Royal Naval Station at Halifax, NS. Gambier would be in the position of holding prisoners pending their transmittal across the Atlantic to London for trial.

2. Secretary Pownal, we are unsure as to which of two brothers Hutchinson addressed his letter.

Their last name was incorrectly spelled with only one "l" at the end, and the error was carried over into the town's name (Pownal, Vermont). Thomas Pownall (1772-1805) enjoyed a long and successful career as an administrator in the Colonies for England, serving as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, governor of South Carolina, secretary to the governor of New York and lieutenant governor of New Jersey. Thomas advocated making concessions to the colonists in hopes of avoiding bloodshed, but eventually turned and joined with Lord North's ministry, which was largely responsible for precipitating the Revolution by snubbing conciliation.

The other Pownall, John, was Thomas' elder brother who held the position of secretary of the board of trade and plantations, and later served as undersecretary of state for the American colonies and as commissioner of excise and customs. Like Thomas, he also eventually sided with the North ministry in 1775 when Edmund Burke's bill to conciliate the colonials was defeated by the English Parliament.

3. Samuel Hood (1724–1816) was a British admiral. Entering the navy in 1741, he served with distinction in the Seven Years War. In 1781 he was sent to the West Indies as second in command to Lord Rodney. He fought in many engagements in the American Revolution, including the victory (1782) over the French fleet under the comte de Grasse (who had earlier defeated Hood) off Dominica. As commander in chief in the Mediterranean he captured Toulon (1793) and Corsica (1794). He was created viscount in 1796.

4.  Captain John Linzee was commander of the HMS Beaver, like the Gaspee, stationed in Newport to enforce trade laws imposed by the British on American colonies. Admiral John Montagu(e) was Commander of the British fleet in the Northeast sector of the American colonies at the time. Lord Sandwich, also named John Montague, (and yes, the sandwich was named after Lord Sandwich) was his cousin, First Lord of the Admiralty, one of the chief strategists of British colonial policy, and from whom Admiral John Montagu presumably received accurate information that he then relayed to Hutchinson. See <> Stale link 2006.

Back to Top    |    Back to Gaspee Virtual Archives

Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 7/2002    Last Revised 7/2009    Hutchinson.htm