Gaspee Days CommitteeHistory Files

Origins of Gaspee Days
by David Ludlow Stackhouse

The inspiration for the modern celebration of the Gaspee Affair, popularly known as Gaspee Days, goes back to the weekly radio broadcasts by Jack Haley. The Gaspee Affair was wildly celebrated at the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Great Republic in 1826, when three survivors of the attack appeared in carriages in parade. And it was further promulgated in 1839 when the final survivor, Ephraim Bowen of Pawtuxet, published his brief story of that fateful night, the chief eyewitness account we have.

By 1872, the 100th anniversary of the Gaspee adventure, it had become ensconced in Rhode Island lore as the "First Blow for Freedom", the motto which appeared on a handsome souvenir teacup and saucer that marked the occasion just a century ago. Before that and since, sporadic observances of the Gaspee burning have formed a hit-or-miss pattern, the latest around 1907. Since then, during the two world wars, it languished until the present Gaspee Day Committee took hold thirteen years ago, about the time the Pawtuxet villagers were considering historical zoning for their famous community.

To bolster their cause, on September 2, 1965, this writer called a meeting which was attended by about 18 other patriotic citizens at the Carder Tavern on Post Road, Warwick when it was unanimously voted "to plan a celebration for Gaspee Day for the coming Spring." The grand concept of the celebration, very nearly as it is today, was then presented, along with plans for a National Monument at Gaspee Point, a State Memorial Park at Gaspee Point, a State Memorial Park at Gaspee Overtook on Narragansett Parkway, and the finest historical parade in the United States.

Invitations were issued to every possible civic and patriotic group for the next meeting, October 6, at the offices of Mason and Winograd, 1065 Warwick Avenue still called Gaspee House, where the Committee would meet for many months. With the sum of $60 cash collected from the persons present, the Gaspee Day Committee then became an operating organization; and a dozen committees went to work on the details, including requests for funds from Cranston, Warwick, and the State of Rhode Island, which have been honored every year since. (2000 ed. Note: No longer the case, unfortunately).  By the time of the first observance, June 3.4. and 5.1966. there has been no question of its continuation.

The Gaspee Day celebration won an award from Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge the very first year, and the winning scrap book of the event is preserved in the Warwick Public Library. One year later, a similar award from the National Association of Travel Organizations (NATO) named Gaspee Days as one of the top 20 tourist attractions in the country. With its incomparable combination of Centennial Legion Historical Military Commands and units of the National Company of Fifers and Drummers, the Gaspee Day parade has more than fulfilled its original promise as the finest of its kind, unique in the United States.

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Rev 4/2009    Origin.htm