GaspeeVirtual Archives
Capt. John Greenwood

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 to implicate Capt. John Greenwood

While blissfully preparing for Christmas 2005, we were presented with the following surprise e-mail from Pam R. Thompson who was doing some genealogical research of her own.

I found the following curious entry in the Revolutionary War Pension File, #S21404, for Ezra Ormsbee, born 30 March 1751 in Warren, RI, son of Ebenezer Ormsbee (sometimes spelled Ormsby) and Hannah Cole (Benjamin3, Hugh2, James1)  Ezra applied for his pension in Warren, RI, on 24 August 1833.
". In June 1772 when the English Revenue Cutter Gaspee was burnt in Providence River, I was one that went from this town and helped do it. Capt John Greenwood, James Smith, Abner Luther, Abel Easterbrooks, Nathaniel Easterbrooks, Hezekiah Kinnicut and myself went together in a whale boat and we helped burn her. I mention this merely as a revolutionary incident and not as connected with my pension claim. All the above named persons who were with me in burning the Gaspee have a long time now decd."
I do not find any of these names on your lists of participants.

We have long known that people from the Bristol and Warren, RI area participated in the attack, but we have only known of the names of Simeon Potter, and possibly Thomas Swan.  In fact, we only know the names of about half of the 64 men alleged to have participated in the attack on the Gaspee. This gives us a first hand list of an additional seven men to investigate to be patriots of the forthcoming American Revolution.
Biographical notes and random musings

Nicholas Cooke was a maritime merchant based in Providence, and if he did not actually take part in the burning of the Gaspee, he was certainly of the like ilk to do so.  He is one of the subjects (along with Esek Hopkins, Stephen Hopkins et al.) of a very early American painting by John Greenwood entitled "Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam".   This is a very famous painting in American history. I'm not an art critic, but this painting appears to be the direct inspiration for the later (and sadly, much more famous) "Dogs Playing Poker".
This brings up the possibility that John Greenwood, the artist, was associated with Bristol's Simeon Potter in the triangular trade to the Caribbean and South America c1750-1770.  But we get from Greenwood Genealogies 1154-1914, p40 further info about John Greenwood, the artist.  He was born in Boston, MA 7Dec1727 He ramined in the Dutch colony of Surinam for five years between 1752 and 1757 painting 133 portraits. But in 1763 he permanently settled in London, England, and died in England in 1792.  This is not our man.

We also note that there was another famous John Greenwood (1760-1819) born in Massachusetts who served as a fifer in the Revolutionary War at Bunker Hill (he wrote a book about it in 1809), went on to become George Washington's personal dentist, and invented the dental drill.  However this John Greenwood was only 12 years old or so at the time of the burning of the Gaspee, and we discount him having played a role.

From Greenwood Colonial and Revolutionary Services 1695-1783 by Isaac Greenwood 1899,  we come across a John Greenwood (Isaac4, Isaac3, Samuel2, Thomas1) who was descended from the Boston clan of Greenwoods, and who served in the Privateer service, enlisted Dec 1778 as a midshipman under Commodore J. Manley, and who rose to the rank of Captain before the close of the Revolutionary War.  This is highly likely to be our man.  From the US Navy []
Journal of John Greenwood, midshipman in American privateer Cumberland, captured by HMS Pomona, 26 January 1778: The Cumberland's colors were "a very large white flag, with a green pine tree painted in the middle of it, beneath which was represented a large black snake in thirteen coils and cut into as many pieces, emblematic of the thirteen United States; under the snake, in black letters, was the motto-"Join or Die.'"

From the March 20, 1775 Newport Mercury we see the report of the arrival of the ship, King George, John Greenwood, master, from a four month journey to the Falkland Islands for whaling and sealing.  This is unlikely to be the same young midshipman of 1778 referred to above.

In LDS files we do find a John Greenwood born January 6th, 1739 in nearby Rehoboth. MA who married a Rebecca Hunt.  There is no John Greenwood listed in the RI Historical Cemeteries Database that would be of the correct dates. 
The Gaspee Days Committee proudly recognizes Capt. John Greenwood as a Gaspee raider, one of the select group of true American patriots.  We unfortunately do not know more about this man.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 1/2006  Last Revised 7/2009      JohnGreenwood.html