GaspeeVirtual Archives
How Many Longboats Attacked the Gaspee?

Results of an e-mail feud between Dr. John Concannon, Webmaster of the Gaspee Virtual Archives, and Leonard Bucklin, Esq., Webmaster of the Joseph Bucklin Society, August 2001
Len, I'd like your critique of this new piece of original research on the Gaspee. I'd value your input of logic. Just follow this link:  Thanks!
The idea that the Gaspee was deliberately lured aground shows up in the worst collection of half and un-truths in print about the Gaspee affair in What they didn't teach you about the American Revolution, by Mike Wright, who unfortunately sold a lot of books.

Nowhere do I find any hard evidence of a deliberate trap of the Gaspee.

While I don't go out on a limb to state that the Gaspee attack was deliberately planned well in advance, the conjunction of the tides and moon (see are certainly curious in that they occurred only in a window of one or two days a month....or about a less than 7% chance that any attack would occur during such favorable times.  Yes, this is well within chance variation, but we cannot entirely exclude the idea that John Brown and others waited for an opportune time.  I do believe that Benjamin Lindsay (who was an employee of John Brown), once being pursued, deliberately led the Gaspee aground by tacking across Namquid Point to the West, creating an inviting target for the Gaspee to chase (see Ephraim Bowen's account at: and map at GaspeeMap2.jpg). He could've assumed that Dudingston, who spent most of his time plying the waters closer to Newport, would be relatively unfamiliar with the hazards of the 'spit of land' that was covered by a high tide.

Apparently, Namquid (Gaspee Point) is still a hazard even when known about by modern sailors.  State Representative, Joseph McNamara (D-Warwick and a member of the Gaspee Days Committee), related the story of how he and his family were out on a 35' sailboat with another family one summer evening, and with he and his daughter at the helm, ran aground at Gaspee Point.  The relatively small outboard engine on the sailboat was to no avail in getting the hapless sloop off the sand.  They received an offer of a tow off from a teenage boy who was cruising the bay in a boat with twin outboards, who then promptly blew out both his engines in a misguided attempt to help.  Finally, they had to call SeaTow, a commercial sea towing and recovery service at a cost of $500 to rescue them from their plight. "It was quite a night," he said.

I agree. That is,  I do think a deliberate plan to attack, made in advance of the Hannah chase, is a possibility. But I do not think the evidence rises to the level of "more likely than not". Among other things, Gaspee crew member William Dickinson (see Staples p23) said that the attackers wanted to know where there local pilot was.  This suggests that they thought a local pilot was aboard, which goes against the idea of plan and suggests happenstance. But I do agree that once the chase began, the Hannah captain deliberately did what he did as a trap at that point.

But why on your map do you say 7 longboats from Providence instead of 8???  The report was that Brown ordered 8 longboats readied.  Presumably he was ordering them from his fleets of ships at Providence.  Bowen's account to me suggests he tries to name 8 boat captains.  And Potter, from Bristol, according to Briggs (see Staples p63-65), was expecting more than 8 boats from Providence to join in the attack. Am I missing something?

Your comments bring to light another great Gaspee controversy...exactly how many boats attacked the Gaspee.  Traditional sources (eg, cite 8 longboats, hence, knowing that one longboat came up from Bristol, I subtracted one to make 7 boats from Providence.  But in actuality, I think there may have been nine in total.  The eight from Providence are cited by people, such as John Howland, who witnessed them leaving the wharfs of Providence to attack.  It could be that the boat from Bristol left early enough to join up in Providence to give a total of eight, one of which was crewed by men from Bristol.....or as I have on my map, the Bristol boat could've rendezvoused someplace above Namquid Point with the other seven (or eight) boats coming down from Providence, leaving a total of 8 (or 9) boats...your guess is as good as mine.  Most citations ( give a count of 64 attacking men @ 8 men per boat, but it could've have just as easily been 72.  I guess I kept the Bristol boat separate to answer yet another great Gaspee controversy: were the attackers disguised or not? Reports from Bristol say they were, but reports from Providence say they were not, at least when they left the docks. For my discussion of this, see: My contention is that the Bristol boat, being separate from the control of Whipple et al until they met up with the other attackers, took it upon themselves to provide disguises in the form of Indians.  Alas, I may be wrong, and your unique insight into this matter would be appreciated.
I suspect Aaron Brigg's account of the path of the Bristol boat is correct.  It is the only account we have of the path.  That means the Bristol boat did not get to Providence.

(Incidentally, how many sea miles is it from Gaspee Point to: Bristol, Newport. and Providence?)
Seems to me that it would be tough without telegraph and telephone, to get the news to Bristol and have Bristol row to Providence in time.

I saw several years ago in the Smithsonian in DC an exhibit on the Gaspee attack, which included a full size replica of the longboats.  They were big! These were longboats like a ship would take on a voyage to Africa where they anchored offshore and exchanged the "goods" using the ship's longboat. When the report of Brown says he ordered 8 of the largest longboats with five sets of oars each, it fits with what the Smithsonian had.  Five sets of oars means 10 men rowing, plus one steering.

I know that the crew of the Gaspee were trying to justify their surrender, but they were the only persons estimating the number of attackers, and they tell of a hundred or more attackers.

Consider the Statement of Dr. John Mawney (see Staples, p15-16).  [After hearing the drum beat, he went to Sabin's tavern, where he learned the object of the meeting; and was asked to accompany them, as surgeon.]

"To this, I readily consented, and went to Corlis' wharf, with Capt. Joseph Tillinghast, who commanded the barge, it being the last boat that put off; and in going down, we stopped at Capt. Cooke's Wharf, where we took in staves and paving stones; which done, followed our commander, and came up with them a considerable distance down the river; after which, we rowed alone pretty rapidly, till we came in sight of the schooner, when Capt. (the late Commodore Whipple.) ordered us to form a line, which was instantly complied with; after which, we rowed gently along, till we got near the schooner; when we were hailed from on board, with the words, 'Who comes there?'

Capt. Whipple replied, 'I want to come on board.'

The reply was, 'Stand off, you can't come on board.'

On which Capt. Whipple roared out, 'I am the sheriff of the county of Kent; I am come for the commander of this vessel, and have him I will, dead or alive; men, spring to your oars!' when we were in an instant on her bows.

I was then sitting with Capt. Tillinghast, in the stern of the barge, and sprang immediately forward.......

* * ** * ...they brought some tarred strings, with which I tied the hands of two behind, when John Brown, Esq., called to me, saying I was wanted immediately on deck, where I was instantly helped.

When I asked Mr. Brown what was the matter, he replied, 'Don't call names, but go immediately into the cabin, there is one wounded, and will bleed to death.'


First of all, note Mawney's reference to "barge".  These were the big ship's longboats, used for transportation of large amounts of materials and men. Second, note that Mawney and Tillinghast were not rowing, so at least in their boat there were 12 men.

Second, note that Mawney identified John Brown as the leader of the expedition. According to estimates of the RI Historical Society based on his clothing, John Brown was over 260 pounds and over six feet tall.  Six feet plus was indeed a tall man in 1772.  Dickinson says that a tall man, well dressed, was the person called the sheriff.  John Brown was the sheriff of Bristol County (since 1771).  Dickinson said several of the persons appeared to be merchants or sea captains.  In short, the men in the lighted cabin were not dressed as Indians!


(Note that it is said that it was Whipple who shouted that he was the sheriff and had a warrant, but these reports are by persons NOT in Whipple's boat, and it was dark out, and John Brown would definitely not be the sort to be rowing, but probably rather in the boat with the sea captain in charge, i.e., in Whipple's boat.)

I have a theory that really, there was a warrant (torn up the next day when no one was identified when Sessions asked the crew about possible identification of the attackers; and got written statements that they could not identify attackers).   The only reason to get a statement that "I cannot
identify....." is to allow a possible accused to deny being the person who did the crime!

Warrants had been attempted to be served on Dudingston, and he even justified his sending the Greene ship Fortune to Boston partly on the ground that if Dudingston went on shore in Rhode Island, he would be served with a warrant of arrest.

The Gaspee Point is close enough to the Bristol county line that Brown could have been trying to get on board by force and take the captain off "legally" and then have an "accident" to destroy the ship.

Remember also that Governor Wanton could very well have been involved in trying to get evidence of what authority Dudingston had for what the Rhode Island people thought were illegal acts of Dudingston.  Note that the "merchants and sea captains" described by Dickinson as being in the cabin were interested primarily in looking immediately at the captain's papers and authorities for his voyages and actions.

Legally, at the time, if a ship was a pirate ship, it could be destroyed. Cheever testified that three men were addressed as "captain",  "sheriff" and "constable".   If I were Brown I would have assumed that if Dudingston were arrested, and there were no "legal" authority for Dudingston, to do what he was doing,  the sheriff of the county could have ordered the constable to take actions which could lead to the destruction of the pirate vessel.   If I were Brown, I could also form a plan to take the crew off and then have "an accident" leading to fire which the Rhode Island men "tried to extinguish" but were unable to do so.

So, I come to the conclusion that the Providence men were deliberately NOT disguised as Indians, but ready to take the position that they were lawfully trying to investigate possible piracy and actually serve a warrant.

The plan must have been to use the titles: sheriff and constable -- and not some other alias.  Again this suggests no Indian costume, but rather reliance on local Rhode Island law to get Dudingston off the ship.

The Bristol men, not being in on the plan's details, may well have disguised themselves as Indians,  (how do you do that without makeup---blacken your face and wear poor clothes)  which may have lead to the crew's report of Negroes among the attackers.

I forgot to mention that Moses Brown and John Brown were grounded on Namquid (Gaspee) Point when they were on a sloop bound for Philadelphia on June 8, 1760, at sometime after 5 pm, not being able to be refloated until 3 am the next morning.  See Moses Brown Papers at RI Historical Society, Misc. MSS. I, 8.  This certainly gave Brown the idea of what the Gaspee was facing.  I wonder what the tides and moon were like on June 8, 1760, at Gaspee Point?
By eyeballing a VFR sectional map for my fellow airplane pilots, and measuring with a scale ruler, I come up with the following estimates of ROWING distances as shown on the Gaspee Attack Map (see GaspeeMap2.jpg) from Gaspee (Namquid) Point: Bristol: 11 statute, or road, miles miles southeast (crew would have been rowing with the tide),  Providence: 6 miles north (crew would have been rowing against the tide).  Newport is 17  miles south-southeast of Gaspee Point, as the crow flies. Per the McMorran's Interactive Tide Table, high tides on June 8th, 1760 was at 3:35 pm and again on June 9th at 4:01 am.  This is consistent with the story you report finding in Moses Brown's Papers. The fact that he previously ran aground at Gaspee (Namquid) Point adds some credence to my theory that the Gaspee was deliberately led aground, and that this may have been planned in advance.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 8/2001    Last Revised 07/2009    Longboats.html