GaspeeVirtual Archives
By  George Lansing Raymond

Taken from: Ballads of the Revolution:  And Other Poems.
by George Lansing Raymond. New York. Putnam's Sons. 1887. 
Pages 22-37
The Last Cruise of the Gaspee

ONE windy day in March,
Ghost-white against the gray,
A cruiser fleet, through snow and sleet,
Made Narraganset Bay.

There were smugglers in the bay,
And smugglers on the shore;
But loyal still to the royal will
Ten times as many more,--

Ten times as many more,
Though every smuggler there
But thrived because of England's laws
And taxes none could bear.

Yet the cruiser's captain drawl'd,
The while he quaft his ale,
"These islands low are full you know,
Of fellows fled from jail,

"Of Puritans fled from law
And kings they curse and fear.
Aha!" he laugh'd, "our loyal craft
Has brought the Cavalier!

"Our guns shall speak in tones
To make the whole bay ring;
And teach to each within their reach
The reverence due the king.

"Their ships upon the bay
Shall heed our cannon's call,
And dip their flags, or sail in rags,
And yield us bounties all.

"Their sheep upon the shore,
A royal tax shall be.
No lack of food or kindling wood
Is here," quoth he, "for me!"

There were smugglers in the bay,
And smugglers on the shore;
This ship, I ken, a band of men
Ten times as lawless bore.

Our sheriff went and warn'd
Their captain, o'er and o'er,
To keep in sight the bounds of right,
And not to plunder more.

The captain waved his hand,
Said he: "The fleet has made
A vow devout to carry out
The English 'Acts of Trade.'"

Judge Hopkins wrote him then:
"Our men demand their due."
"I write because you break our laws,"
Wrote Governor Wanton too.

The captain bade them go
To Boston with their plea;
"Not his affair; the admiral there
Had sent his ship to sea."

And then he turn'd away.
One heard him mutter near:
"I think I see the one they fee
Ship back his bounties here."

The judge and governor wrote
The admiral, who but swore
His fleet would hang the island gang,
If they should vex him more.

"The navy know their trade,"
His scribe to Wanton wrote;
"In mere pretence and insolence
You board the sovereign's boat."

Wrote Wanton: "We shall ask
The throne to judge your note
And every time it hints of crime,
We'll board the sovereign's boat.

"The English crown should serve
The English people's cause,
And honor those, nor make them foes,
Who stand by English laws."

But months and months went on.
The cruiser fired away.
None plied an oar, lived near the shore,
But feared to be her prey.

Cried Captain Lindsey then:
"This outrage none should bide!
Rhode Island grit must yet outwit,
And trip the scoundrel's pride.

"He knows my packet here,
And where I sail, and why;
And if he will may sink me, still
His guns will I defy.

"If down we go, the law,
Will float to stand upon;
If that go too, this case is through;
But, Britain, more anon!"

So high his flag he flew;
And wide his sail he spread.
The cruiser fired; her crew grew tired,
Her captain wroth and red.

"All hands aloft! "he cried;
"All sail!" and at the words,
The masts were fill'd with sailors drill'd
To climb and cling like birds.

Wide flew each flapping sheet,
And sagg'd and bagg'd the gale,
And cloud-like lash'd the waves that dash'd
As if they felt a flail.

When off of Nauquit Point,
Shrewd Lindsey knew his ground;
He steer'd afar, and clear'd the bar;
Then turn'd his ship around.

Up toss'd her canvas high;
And dipp'd, as round she ran,
A saucy way that seem'd to say
Now catch me if you can.

The cruiser's captain look'd,
And mouth'd an awful oath
"Now catch I not, let fire and shot
Or bottom catch us both.

"Mind not the bar," he cried,
"Straight on! there's depth to spare.
The tide is high, and, sailing by,
We 'll head them off tip there."

Deep plow'd the cruiser's prow
The broken waves below,
So bows a bull whose pride is full
To toss a stubborn foe.

She plung'd and reel'd and roll'd.
Ah, better had she tack'd!
The water flew the bulwark through.
The mainmast sway'd and crack'd.

The wind, it whistled there;
The boatswain whistled here.
The captain swore; the mainsail tore;
The jib had ript its gear.

A flood was on the deck.
The crew were floundering round.
Then, clean and chill, the whole was still;
The cruiser lay aground.

When Lindsey saw her fate,
So loudly cheer'd his men,
The hostile crew, that heard them, flew
To man their guns again.

But Lindsey kept his course--
He now could do no more--
And told ere night the cruiser's plight
To those he met on shore.

"There stays the ship," said he,
"Till lifted by the tide."
"Till Providence shall lift her thence,"
John Brown, his friend, replied.

And Providence, at dusk,
Was routed out to greet
The drumming fierce of Daniel Pierce
Who cried in every street:

"The cruiser lies aground!
High tide at three o'clock!
Who care to go and meet her so,
Come all to Fenner's dock!"

They came to Fenner's dock;
And found, awaiting there,
Eight yawls, that Brown had lent the town,
In Captain Whipple's care.

The crews that mann'd the yawls
Had muffled every oar;
And they, and men who join'd them then,
All told, were sixty-four.

Their arms were pick'd with care
From all their friends could loan;
And all the yawls, for cannon balls,
Were stock'd with paving-stone.

They battled wind and tide,
Three hours amid the gloom.
The midnight pass'd. They saw, at last,
The cruiser's bulwarks loom.

"Who comes?" her watch call'd out.
"Who comes!" her captain cried.
Then swift alarm'd, in tones that arm'd,
Her crew that toward him hied.

"Move off!" her captain roar'd,
His pistol aiming well;
Then fired --alack! fire answer'd back;
He started, stagger'd, fell.

And then, as dark and fierce
As tidal waves, where fleets
Are whelm'd and whirl'd and downward hurl'd
Till death their deed completes,

Our men, at Whipple's cry,
"Up, up!" clear'd every check;
And dash'd and leapt and slash'd and swept
Across the cruiser's deck.

But hold!--her men were gone.
Ours held the deck alone;
Their work had done, nor fired a gun;
The cruiser's crew had flown.

"Surrender here!" rang out;
And out the cabin glanced
At first a few, then all the crew;
Then one and all advanced.

"First know," said Whipple then,
"That here you sail no more;
And next prepare your yawls to bear
Yourselves and yours ashore."

The sailors went and came,
They came with bags and coats.
They call'd their roll, and said the whole
They own'd was in their boats.

Meantime our men themselves
The captain's wound had dress'd;
And row'd him, sore but safe, ashore
With all that he possess'd.

"All hands embark!" rang out;
And all the yawls were full;
Save one whose crew had more to do
While off the rest should pull.

They set the ship on fire,
Till smoke, well under way,
Flew up the mast as white and fast
As e'er, of old, the spray.

Then swiftly they embark'd,
And swiftly they withdrew;
As flash'd the fire, and, streaming higher,
The red flag redder flew.

The cruiser burn'd in state,
Until she burst at last
With every ball she bore and all
Her powder in the blast.

It fill'd the heaven above,
But could not stay in heaven:
A wounded cloud roar'd long and loud;
Then back the whole was driven.

When all was still, there seem'd
Faint sparks to fill the place--
"There comes," said one, the morning sun;
A new day dawns apace!"

It dawn'd for these, at least;
When soon they hove in sight
Of pier on pier pack'd full to cheer
Those heroes of the night.

But hist! the cheers were check'd.
"Keep mum!" the murmur spread;
The crown, to get these men, had set
A price on every head.

"Five hundred dollars down,
For him who tells of one,"
Was first proclaim'd: but no one named
A man who aught had done.

"Five thousand," then were pledged,
"To know who took the lead;
And half as much to know of such
As join'd him in the deed."

The King's commission, last,
Sat half a year or more;
But not a word it ever heard
About the sixty-four.

Forgotten were they then?
They might have pass'd by day,
Without a wink to make you think,
Or hint that it was they.

But, when the night had come;
And door and blind were lock'd,
And window fast, and blew the blast
Till all the chimney rock'd;

When, safe from eyes and ears,
In homes where all were true,
The way those men were feasted then
A king, full well, might rue.

And when the board was bare;
And round the roaring fire,
The nuts were crack'd and cider smack'd
Till tooth and tongue would tire;

When each his tale would tell
About that ship and night,
And still the way he dodg'd to-day
The British spy and spite;

The boys who husk'd the corn
Would forward bend, and spring,
And draw the cars, like swords, with cheers,
To make the rafters ring!

The host who stirr'd the fire
Would stab it through and through:
You might have thought the flames he brought
Had burn'd a cruiser too.

The girls would fancy then
It was the cruiser flared;
And round the walls would aim like balls
The apples red they pared.

"To arms!" would cry the men;
And each a maid purloin;
While mother's yarn would snap, and darn
The dance that all would join.

Ah, so we hush'd the tale!
Yet spies that nigh would roam
Could not decoy the smallest boy
To tell what pass'd at home.

We hush'd it, till the hush
Became our countersign
To save from those we knew were foes,
And make our men combine.

We hush'd it, till we learn'd
That thousands would-be free,
And long'd to know which way to go
To gain their liberty.
We hush'd it, till we heard
The guns of Lexington;
Then shouted loud, a mighty crowd,
"Our heroes lead us on!"

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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 1/2004    Last Revised 07/2009    Raymond-LastCruises.htm