|Captain John Linzee
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the bottom of this page, there is an excellent biography re-posted in whole from the Linzee Family Association web site at: http://www.linzeefamilyassn.org/bios.htm#captainlinzee to which little can be added. So as to be fair to this organization, we have made the text of the biography unreadable on this site, but retain it only so that our search engines can index the text. So go now to the original site by clicking here: http://www.linzeefamilyassn.org/bios.htm#captainlinzee Besides, only at the Linzee Family Association web site can you see the portrait of Captain John Linzee.
specific to the Gaspee Affair:
First, let's clear up any potential name confusion. Captain John Linzee was the commander of the Royal Navy brigantine HMS Beaver, stationed in Rhode Island waters at the time of the Gaspee affair. Benjamin Lindsay was the captain of the packet sloop Hannah, which was being chased by the HMS Gaspee when Lindsay led it over the shallows of Namquid Point, causing the Gaspee to run aground. Unfortunately, several early historical writers have intermixed the names
While certainly not a ship-of-the-line, the brig Beaver was still a large and imposing 3-masted complex naval warship, and she often was assigned smaller vessels, called tenders, to carry out the more mundane tasks of supply and liaison while in a hostile port. Both the schooner Gaspee and the sloop Swan were used as tenders to the Beaver at the time of the Gaspee Incident in June 1772. But the Gaspee was uniquely adapted for use as a chase boat when the occasion warranted, her fast rigging and (relatively) shallow draft gave her speed and maneuverability that the larger Beaver lacked. While the Gaspee was sometimes utilized as a tender to other, larger ships, it is important to realize that the Gaspee was a separate warship that could and did act independently for most of her service life.
Immediately after the attack on the Gaspee, it was Linzee's Beaver that ultimately provided the refuge for the displaced crew members of the Gaspee upon their return from Pawtuxet, and later that summer provided a safe haven for the wounded Lt. William Dudingston. It was presumably Capt. Linzee that contracted with Samuel Aborn of Pawtuxet for the use of his sloop to remove iron and salvageable remnants of the burnt hull of the Gaspee. Coincident with this operation, Aaron Briggs came aboard the Beaver, was put in chains and threatened by Linzee with a whipping and hanging at the yardarm. Linzee had become suspicious that this runaway servant had participated in the attack on the Gaspee, and coerced both Aaron's confession and the naming of several other participants, including,
"John Brown and Joseph Brown, principal men of the town of Providence; Simeon Potter of Bristol; Doctor Weeks, of Warwick; Richmond, of Providence."
All of this occurring within a few days of the attack, Capt. Linzee must of been incited to protect the interests of Great Britain and to extract revenge on the culprits. Perhaps his zeal in coercing the confession from Briggs was a reflection of this. But, Linzee further compounded the anger of colonists by refusing to deliver Briggs over to Rhode Island officials, even when properly subpoenaed to to so. We're not sure what, if any, specific orders Linzee received on this topic from his superior, Admiral Montagu, but it is likely that no one in the Royal Navy was in a mood to be cooperative with the local colonists they perceived as being in open rebellion. As loyalist Massachusetts Colonial Governor Thomas Hutchinson said,
Captain Linzee 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 Montague says that Lord Sandwich will never leave pursuing the colony, until it is disenfranchised. If it is passed over, the other colonies will follow the example.
Due to Linzee's missteps, Aaron's 'confession' and naming of names was ultimately thrown out by even the loyalist Gaspee Commission of Inquiry as useless testimony. Capt. John Linzee was roundly skewered by the Commissioners' Report to the King:
In July following, a warrant was granted for the apprehending one Aaron Briggs, a negro, then on board your Majesty's ship the Beaver, commanded by Capt. Linzee, for being concerned in burning the Gaspee and wounding the Lieutenant. The same was delivered to a sheriff, who, after making his business known, was refused admittance into said ship, but the captain was not then on board. Very soon after such refusal the captain was informed of said warrant and requested to deliver up the negro, whom he acknowledged was on board, but treated the civil authority in a most contemptuous and unjustifiable manner.
In the political sphere of what was, after all, the prelude to the American Revolution, the Rhode Island courts were also of the opinion that any testimony from Aaron Briggs was fatally tainted by Linzee's initial coercion. It is intersting to ponder the irony that Capt. John Linzee, the man whose actions so contributed to the failure of the Gaspee Commission of Inquiry, ultimately married an American, settled in America, and was buried in America.
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Prepared in 2006 by the Linzee Family Association Historian
Captain John Linzee was born on March 25, 1743 at Kingston, Portsea, Hants, England. He joined the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of captain at the age of 27. In 1769, he sailed to America as part of the British effort to maintain order in the increasingly demonstrative town of Boston. He became friends with a number of local Bostonians, including the merchant John Rowe, for whom Rowe’s Wharf is named. Captain Linzee dined often at Mr. Rowe’s home, and it was there he met Susannah Inman, daughter of Ralph and Susannah (Speakman) Inman (Mr. Inman was a loyalist whose home in Cambridge was seized by colonials in 1776 and used as the headquarters of General Israel Putnam). Captain Linzee and Susannah were married on September 1, 1772.
During his initial tour of duty in America, Captain Linzee was responsible for patrolling the waters off the New England coast to detect, and in certain cases punish, those colonists who attempted to evade the customs and tariff laws passed by Parliament. These “taxes” were passed in order to repay part of the cost for the recently ended French and Indian War. The British felt justified in exacting some recompense for, in their view, protecting and defending the colonies against French and Indian attacks. The colonials, on the other hand, generally took the view that Britain cared little for the lives of Americans and had fought the last war only to defend her own territorial and economic interests.
In March, 1772, while commanding the British sloop of war Beaver, Linzee’s tender, the Gaspee, pursued an alleged “illicit trader.” During the chase, however, she became stuck on a sandbar seven miles south of Providence off Namquit Point, now called Gaspee Point in memoriam to the unfortunate ship. That evening a number of Providence’s colonials sailed out to the Gaspee and attacked it, wounding a number of her crew and burning the schooner until it sank. Captain Linzee managed to capture one of the culprits, who proceeded to “name names” of some of the other participants. The local colonial authorities demanded possession of the captive to rehabilitate his confession. When Captain Linzee refused their request, he was temporarily arrested by the civil authorities in Boston. The “Gaspee Incident” took its place as one of the ever-increasing number of violent conflicts between colonialists and British forces in and around Boston that led to the inevitable boiling point at Lexington.
Several months after the Gaspee Incident, Captain Linzee returned to England where he and his wife remained until his return to Boston on April 16, 1775. In his diary entry of April 16th, the merchant John Rowe records their arrival: “After dinner I went down to Clark’s Wharf to meet Captain Linzee and Sucky, who arrived from Spit Head and Falmouth in the Falcon sloop. I brought them home and their little son Samuel Linzee.”
The very next entry in the diary is dated April 19th and records the first battle of the American Revolution: “Last night the Grenadiers and light companies belonging to the several regiments in this town were ferry’d over Charles River and landed on Phipps farm in Cambridge, from whence they proceeded on their way to Concord, but they arrived early this day. On their march they had a skirmish with some country people at Lexington. The First Brigade commanded by Lord Percy with two pieces of artillery, set off from this town this morning about 10 o’clock as a reinforcement, which with the Grenadiers and light infantry made about 1800 men. The people in the country had notice of this movement early in the night. Alarm guns were fired thro’ the country and expresses sent off to the different towns so that very early this morning large numbers from all parts of the country were assembled. A general battle ensued, which from what I can learn, was supported with great spirit on both sides and continued until the King’s troops got back to Charles Town, which was near sunset. Numbers are killed and wounded on both sides. Captain Linzee and Captain Collins and two small armed vessels were ordered up Charles River to bring off the troops to Boston, but Lord Percy and General Smith thought proper to encamp on Bunker’s Hill this night. This unhappy affair is a shocking introduction to all the miseries of a civil war.”
The very next night the diary records that Captain Linzee had his own armed engagement. “This night some people, about 200, attacked Captain Linzee in the armed schooner a little below Cambridge Bridge. He gave them a warm reception so that they thought proper to retreat with a loss of some men. ‘Tis said many thousands of country people are at Roxbury and in the neighborhood. The people in town are alarmed and the entrenchments on Boston Neck double guarded. Mrs. Linzee dined at the Admiral’s.”
The Battle of Bunker (Breed's) Hill
With the beginning of hostilities, troop deployment became critical. Dorchester Heights commanded a view of Boston on the south, and Bunker Hill in Charleston controlled Boston on the north with a clear view of Boston Harbor. General Gage appeared determined to occupy both, and by mid June Generals Howe, Burgoyne and Clinton had already reached Boston with reinforcements. As such, the colonialists held a “secret call to arms” meeting on Cambridge Common on June 16th, and the Committee of Safety decided to occupy Bunker Hill before General Gage. Thus, during the late evening of June 16th and the early morning of the 17th, approximately 1500 men under the leadership of Colonel William Prescott began to construct the “redoubt.” With the assistance of Samuel Gridley, an engineer, the fort was constructed on the smaller (and nearer to the British troops) Breed’s Hill so that it could not be used as a natural barrier to protect oncoming British infantry. Five British ships stood guard in the harbor that night, one of which was the Falcon commanded by Captain John Linzee. The redoubt was relatively close to the water’s edge, and three times that night Colonel Prescott silently walked to that edge to hear the “all’s well” of the night watchman on the war ships in the harbor.
Not until 4:00 a.m., with the first light of day, was the presence of the American force discovered by crewmen on the Falcon and another British sloop, the Lively. They immediately fired, and the battle had begun. It took the British three separate attacks by infantry before they overcame the much smaller American force and then only because the Americans had literally run out of ammunition (Prescott’s order not to shoot “until you see the whites of their eyes” was said in stark recognition of his limited supply). Just before the battle, Major General Joseph Warren had joined the American force as an example that colonial leaders were willing to share the dangers of battle. Colonel Prescott offered his command, but General Warren refused. At the end of the third and final British assault, and just before the Americans began their retreat, General Warren was killed.
As a result of the American stand at Breed’s Hill and the colonials’ ability to hold their own in a pitched battle against the world’s foremost fighting force, Benjamin Franklin could write to a friend of his in London, “Americans will fight; England has lost her colonies forever.”
General Gage required provisions for his troops. For the next few years Captain Linzee and the Falcon were assigned the duty of foraging and seizing food and materials from the locals along the New England coast from Maine to New York to help feed and supply the British troops. After the French joined the war, Captain Linzee participated in a number of naval engagements against the French Admirals D’Estaing and DeGrasse. During one such naval engagement on the Delaware River in 1777, his wife Susannah was on board during the action.
Captain Linzee returned to England in 1779 and continued his service in the Royal Navy as commander of the Pearl and then the Penelope. On September 9, 1790, he sailed into Boston Harbor and fired, in all probability, the first salute to the flag of the United States of America by a British commander in New England waters. When Susannah died in October of 1792 at age 38, he resigned from the British Navy and returned to America to settle permanently.
Captain John Linzee died on October 8, 1798, at his home in Milton, Massachusetts, at age 56. Per his request, he was buried with his wife in the old Trinity Church, Boston.