GaspeeVirtual Archives
James Sabin (1732-1806)

The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the 1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating James Sabin:

James Sabin is well known to have been the purveyor of Sabin's Inn (or Tavern), where on the night of June 9th, 1772 brave Rhode Island patriots met to make final plans and preparations to attack the Gaspee. From Ephraim Bowen's account at <>

Mr. Brown immediately resolved on her destruction and he forthwith directed one of his trusty shipmasters to collect eight of the largest longboats in the harbor, with five oars to each, to have the oars and rowlocks muffled to prevent noise and to place them at Fenner's Wharf, directly opposite the dwelling of Mr. James Sabin, who kept a house of board and entertainment for gentlemen, being the same house purchased a few years after by the late Welcome Arnold, and is now owned by and is the residence of Colonel Richard J. Arnold, his son.
From Staples, The Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee: <> p.53
John Andrews, Esq., Judge of the court of Vice Admiralty within the Colony of Rhode Island; Mr. Arthur Fenner, Clerk in the Supreme Court in the county of Providence; Messrs. John Cole, George Brown, and Daniel Hitchcock, Attorneys at Law in the town of Providence; James Sabin, Vintner in the town of Providence.

It is the desire of Admiral Montagu that the above named persons may be summoned and examined before the commissioners relative to the assembling of people in the town of Providence, in the evening of the 9th of June last as a measure necessary towards the discovery of the persons concerned in the burning his Majesty's schooner the Gaspee.

From: < p. 70>

PROVIDENCE, January 19th, 1773.
To the Honorable the Commissioners appointed to enquire into the circumstances relative to the destroying the schooner Gaspee:

GENTLEMEN:—I now address you on account of a summons I received from you, requiring my attendance at the Council Chamber in Newport, on Wednesday, 20th inst. Now, gentlemen, I beg leave to acquaint you what renders me incapable of attending. In the first place, I am an insolvent debtor; and therefore my person would be subject to an arrest by some one or other of my creditors; and my health has been on decline these two months past, and it would be dangerous should I leave my house; and further, were I to attend, I could give no information relative to the assembling, arming, training or leading on the people concerned in destroying the schooner Gaspee. On the 9th day of June last at night I was employed at my house attending company, which were John Andrews, Esq., Judge of the court of Admiralty, John Cole, Esq., Mr. Hitchcock, and George Brown, who supped at my house and stayed there until two of the clock in the morning following; and I have not any knowledge relative to the matter on which I am summoned; which I am ready to make oath to before any Justice of the Peace.

I am, gentlemen, most respectfully, your most humble servant,

Obviously, Mr. Sabin is lying through his teeth in this account, as we know that there must've been over fifty armed and angry men at his tavern that night all intent on the destruction of the Gaspee. We therefore recognize James Sabin as an unindicted co-conspiritor in the Gaspee Affair. We have no evidence, however, that he actually took part in the raid itself, although it is certainly possible. As to his insolvency, we do know that he merely rented the building used for his tavern, and did not own it.
Biographical notes:

From the RI Historical Cemeteries Database we have only one candidate:

Sabin, James c1731 -- 27 Apr 1806
He is buried in the Old North Burial Ground in Providence. He was 41 years old at the time of the Gaspee raid.  We note also his name appearing in a list of owners of privateering vessels, specifically the Lark in 1779 (Field, Edward, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century:  A History.  Boston, Mason Publishing Co. 1902, Vol II, pp424-430). Per the Early American Newspapers collection available through the NEHGS portal, we see that as early as May 1763, James Sabin was advertizing that he desired to collect all debts owed him or he would take legal action to collect.  In the early 1780s his store on the West side of the Great Bridge was distiguished by the 'sign of General Washington' and had suncontractors selling patend medicines and horse saddles.
In 1788 the copartnership of James Sabin and James Atwood was dissolved, and Atwood later opened his own shop nearby.  In 1800 to 1802 Sabin's house was used as a hairdressing/barber shop. His short obituary in May 1806 indicates he was 75. After his death Sabin's store was taken over as a liquor, fireworks, and hat store.

The 1770 List of Providence Taxpayers give the following names of landowners at that time:
  • Timothy Sabin is located on the map at what would now be intersection of South Main Street and Williams Street., a couple of blocks south of the original Sabin Tavern location.
  • Thos. Sabin is located at what is now approximately 155 South Main  Street, interestingly, across the street from the original location of the Sabin Tavern.  Thomas Sabin apparently had three properties; two in III B 4, and one in III B 6
  • S. Sabin is  located at what is now College Street and where South Main becomes North Main Street.  This location is adjacent to what was the Town Parade or Market Square in later years.
From: Providence City Directory 1836-1837 at <> we have the following Sabins, none of whom appear to have been known direct descendants of the tavern owner
James Sabin of 1732-1806, in fact some may have been the family of one Col. Hezekiah Sabin (4 Aug 1778- 16 Jul 1853) hailing originally from New Haven, CT.  These might be descendants
  • Sabin Amey, widow, 155 South Main
  • Sabin Hezekiah, tallow-chandler, rear 15 & l l Market
  • Sabin James Hosmer  tallow-chandler, 17 Market (b 5 Apr 1810)
  • Sabin John, Star
  • Sabin Mary, widow, 155 South Main (this could be James Sabin's daughter in law)
  • Sabin William, shoemaker, 180 and 155 South Main
  • Sabin William H. house-carpenter, 155 S. Main
The gaggle of Sabins located at 155 South Main Street indicate that they were all closely related, and their address across the street from Sabin's Tavern indicate it is highly likely that were all related to James Sabin as well. 155 South Main Street is no longer the location of Fenner's Wharf, long since filled in all the way past Water Street, and is now the site of The Packet Building (with a ship logo), presumably named after the packet ships that docked at the site long ago. The shoemaker, William located at 180 South Main Street would be, ironically, be located at what had been the original site of the Sabin Tavern.
Definition: Tallow chandler--one whose occupation is to make, or to sell, tallow candles.
Definition: Tallow--The fat of some other animals, or the fat obtained from certain plants, or from other sources, resembling the fat of animals of the sheep and ox kinds.
This could be more commonly referred to as spermaceti candles, derived from whale brain matter, and for which the Brown brothers and Rhode Island were famous for producing. There does appear to have been a business operated by the Sabins back in 1835 located in Market Square, and based on the info above, perhaps it was a candle factory. On the other hand, we know from Caroline Frank (in "John Brown's India Point" Rhode Island  History, Fall 2003 Vol 61:3 p 62), that one Hezekiah Sabin managed John Brown's gin distillery in the late 1790s while Brown was away attending US Congress.  Perhaps this knowledge led to the formation of another house of spirits.

Right: "Market Square, Providence, R. I." c1835 and in which buildings are labeled, left to right: Sabins, Washington Insurance Co., First Baptist Meeting House, Coffee-House, Granite Block, Market House, and Franklin House. Providence Public Library Collection wc 865. This is not the original Sabin Tavern, but was probably Sabin's spermaceti chandelry, assumably present at 11-17 Market Square. The original Sabin's Tavern of 1772 fame can be seen  at our sister website History of the Sabin Tavern.

James & his brother William (1741-1800) ran the Dolly Sabin Inn at Pawtucket, RI together for a time. Rehoboth of old extended into what is now East Providence, RI. Perhaps the Dolly Sabin Inn was named after their sister, Dolly Sabin (1737-1830). Pawtucket adjoins both East Providence and Providence, RI. There was bad blood between William Sabin and his older stepbrother David Sabin (1723) of whom he expressly cut out of his will.

As to the Sabin Tavern, the establishment operated by James Sabin in 1772, the famous location wherein Rhode Island citizens met to plot the attack on the Gaspee; the original location was at the intersection of what now corresponds to 178-180 South Main Street and Planet Street in Providence.  According to records from landowner Mary Morris, she had rented the building to Sabin for use as a tavern until December 1773, after which Sabin " purchased a tract of land on the west side of the river, near the Great Bridge, about where the Merchants Bank Building now stands, and left the tavern."  So, what we conclude from all this is that James Sabin apparently came into some money by 1774 and moved the tavern location to a more central location in what was considered Market Square.

  Drawing of "Old Tavern" c1848
Lossing relates that this was the site for meetings of the Sons of Liberty.  From Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution by Benson J. Lossing . Vol I, 1850, Chapt XXVII.

This second location of the Sabin Tavern is the source of some confusion from Benson Lossing's account in 1850, wherein he draws an old tavern, but places it at the beginning of North Main Street, which is where a photo taken in 1848 shows it to be, Lossing says that it was at this tavern that he drew, that the Sons of Liberty met.

Photo of Market Square in Providence c1845. The building in the center is Market House, aka Board of Trade Building. The possible second site of the Sabin Tavern is on the left and is identified in other photographs as the Manufacturers Hotel.

We know that Lossing described the "Old Tavern" as forlorn, but at which time, and at least by 1835, it might have been known as Manufacturers Hotel and that it was torn down sometime before the 1870s and replaced by the What Cheer Building. 

In analyzing all this, it is important to realize that Benson Lossing was an itinerant author and illustrator who traveled throughout the new country documenting as best he could the sites of Revolutionary War incidents.  We know from Lossing's work that during his stay in Rhode Island in 1848 he interviewed John Howland, the (by then) elderly first president and founder of the Rhode Island Historical Society, and from whom he probably got much of his information about the Gaspee Incident. It is likely that when Lossing asked about the location of the Sabin Tavern he was directed to the second Sabin Tavern location on Market Square, and not the original one at Planet Street. James Sabin having died 42 years previously, the second site was no longer a Sabin's Tavern, had become the Manufacturer's Hotel for a time, but then fell into a state of disrepair by the time of Lossing's 1848 drawing. The manufacturere's Hotel was torn down sometime later and became the site of a Merchants Bank Building, then the What Cheer Building

The second site of Sabin's Tavern corresponds to the east side of the Great Bridge at Market Square. As to Mary Morris' reference to Sabin having purchased land on the west side of the Great Bridge, it is possible that that property was transferred to the extended Sabin family that operated the spermaceti works located there.

The USGenWeb 1790 US Federal Census for Providence lists:

Sabins, James                                1    3    4       *       *
That is, one adult male, 3 males less than 16 years old, 4 females, no slaves or other freepersons.  We cannot account for the 3 males less than 16 in the household, but caring for extended family was common at the time.
Genealogical Notes:

Per LDS and
James SABIN b 22 MAY 1696 in Rehoboth, MA
Marriage1 Hannah Mason
b: ABT 1700 in Taunton, MA  m14 Nov 1720
  1. Hepsibeth Sabin b: 28 NOV 1721 in Rehoboth, MA. 
  2. David Sabin b: ABT 1723 in Rehoboth, MA
Marriage2:  Dorothy Hedden  b: 9 Sep 1703  m 20 May 1727 in Rehoboth
Children, all born in Rehoboth, MA
  1. Has No ChildrenJames SABIN b: 5 JAN 1728/29 died before 1732
  2. Has No ChildrenWilliam SABIN b: 15 DEC 1731 died before 1741
  3. Has No Children James Sabin III b: 17 FEB 1732/33 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts died April 1806.  This is our James Sabin
  4. Has No ChildrenThomas SABIN b: 4 AUG 1734 died before 1739
  5. Has No ChildrenDolly SABIN b: 26 MAR 1737  d: 2 Jan 1830 in Providence,  RI
  6. Has No ChildrenThomas SABIN b: 21 JUL 1739 d 26 Sep 1800 m1 Eliz; m2Mary McDonald;  Total 7 kids
  7. Has No ChildrenWilliam SABIN b: 1 JUL 1741 d: 4 Aug 1800 m  Catherine Metcalf b: ABT 1744
  8. Has No ChildrenVassell SABIN b: 19 NOV 1744 d: c1806, m Martha Freeman
  9. Has No ChildrenMolly SABIN b: 9 Mar 1747/1748 m: Christoper Travis
Marriage 3 Lucy Brown

The below pertains to the James Sabin of our concern:

James Sabin III Birth: 17 Feb 1732 in Rehoboth, Bristol, MA
Marriage 1 Phebe Hammond b: c1740  d:7 Aug 1772, the daughter of Jonathan and Ann Hammond (v. Hammon, Hamman)
Married: 27 Jan 1765 in Providence, Providence, RIBut note the discussion below that the gravestone of Phebe Hammond (v Hamman) indicates that she was the Second wife, not the first wife, of James Sabin.
      1.  Capt. James Sabin b: ABT 1768 d 1794 at sea,  m Mary "Polly" Dexter , had two children.  Obit of Oct 1794 says he died at Cape Nichols Mole at the same time and place as a Providence merchant, Mr. Benjamin Cushing., who was the son in law of Nicholas Cooke.
Marriage 2 Anne Bicknell (c1753 -- 1802) daughter of Japhet BICKNELL and Martha TURPIN. Martha Turpin was probably the maternal aunt of Gaspee raider Turpin SMITH.
Married: 30 Sep 1773 in Rehoboth, Bristol, MA
    1.  Catherine Metcalf Sabin b: ABT 1785 in East Providence, Providence, RI m . Joseph Wheaton of Rehoboth in 1810
    2.  Zimroida Sabin b: ABT 1786 in East Providence, Providence, RI (female)
    3. Maria Sabin b: 11 Jul 1794 in East Providence, Providence, RI d 25 Jan 1880 m Capt. Nathaniel Wheaton in 1818
Phebe Hammond is also listed as being buried with her husband in the Old North Burial Ground. She, like many other women of the time, probably died of complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, possibly with Katie Sabin, who has no dates listed and who is buried in the same cemetery.

George L. Hammond was nice enough to research Phebe Hammond by visiting the gravesites of James and Phebe Sabin.  The complicated fact is that Phebe's headstone next to that of James Sabin, list her as the second wife of James Sabin, not the first, and it further indicates that she was age 32 at death, confirming the year of birth given above as c1740, and that she was the Daughter of Jonathan Hamman.  Contrarily, Phebe's mother's nearby gravestone is spelt Hammon.  We suppose that literacy was a rare commodity in early America, and accurate spelling was even more rare.  The variations of the family name, Hammond, Hammon, and Hamman are all pretty much identical when pronounced, and many grave markers are spelt phonetically, no doubt.
Evidence demonstrates that James Sabin hosted the meeting where citizens plotted to attack the HMS Gaspee in 1772, then he lied to the Commission investigating the incident. We therefore recognize James Sabin as an unindicted co-conspiritor to those that burnt the Gaspee.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 1/2003    Last Revised: 8/2009   JamesSabin.htm