|Gaspee Days CommitteeHistory Files|
by L Hazard Knowles. April 29th. 1983
(Editors note: L. Hazard "Hap" Knowles was a charter member of the Gaspee Day Committees and a life long resident of Pawtuxet. He lived for many years at 18 Post Rd. in what was once the Carder Tavern. His death in February 1988 saddened us all. The following article written by Hap many years ago is his personal vote of confidence in the Gaspee Day Committee.)
When I reflect upon the origin of the Gaspee Day Committee, some of the early events come to mind and some I am sure have slipped from my memory. Since 17 years have elapsed this is understandable, and to postpone this writing for a longer period would only tax the memory more.
Back in the early Fall of 1965, Mr. Stackhouse came to my office and explained that he had been referred to me by the officials at the Warwick City Hall as a probable interested party to his proposal of a celebration to commemorated the burning of the schooner Gaspee. Although historians agree that this event was the first overt action taken by colonists in which English blood was spilled, it is sadly neglected in our history books. At about the same time, he (Stackhouse) contacted Mrs. Hazel Kennedy, another Pawtuxetite interested in the magnification of Pawtuxet.
Because Mr. Stackhouse wanted to exploit the similarity between that night in June 1772 when Sabin's Tavern was used to organize the assault, he suggested our first meeting to organize the celebration be held in my home which was also a tavern in 1772. Realizing that I cannot remember all who attended that first meeting, I am going to list those who come to mind. Hazel, of course, who immediately became our unofficial secretary, Mr. and Mrs. George Paulson, Ed Yatsko, Lewis Taft, Lem Jackson, Forrest Sprague, Manuel Cooney, and Arline Russell. The first meeting brought out an agreement to form the suggested committee and how to proceed, namely, draw up a charter, etc. The next meetings were held at the Mason and Winograd Building on Warwick Avenue, thanks to Ed Yatsko who was associated with that firm. I do remember that while writing the charter, the name to be used was being discussed. Mayor Hobbs of Warwick was present and being a former school teacher, he proposed "The Gaspee Affair Committee". This is the wording used when mentioned in the history books. I countered with "Gaspee Day" which rolls from the tongue more easily. The group agreed with me. The charter was written by Eugene McCaffery, a lawyer and assistant to the Mayor. He was later mayor himself.
The 1966 program lists the officers, sub committees, and events. The parade was, of course, the main event and the original plan was to use only colonial troops and fife and drum music with its slow, even pace. However, it was impossible to leave out the local high school bands without creating a slight since both Warwick and Cranston helped with the finances, as did the State. The original budget was between six and seven thousand dollars and the first parade was said to be the finest in the area. The early parades also included a portrayal of Lt. Dudingston who led the parade in shackles.
At the inception of the committee back in 1965, Forrest Sprague was designated President and Stackhouse sat at his right hand as Advisor. This system worked rather well, for in addition to dreaming up the idea, Stackhouse's enthusiasm was a driving force that dissolved many difficulties and the success of the early performances was undoubtedly due to his efforts. However, in 1967 Mr. Stackhouse became more interested in a scheme to build a replica of the Gaspee than the continuance of the annual celebration. The other members of the committee did not want to become involved in the responsibility and expense this grandiose project would entail. Because of the reluctance of the committee to join in this new enterprise, he (Stackhouse) became disgruntled and, among other things, had articles printed in the newspapers to the detriment of the Gaspee Day Committee in general. (These were trying times.) While this information is unpleasant, it is impossible to dispense truth without telling the whole truth.
Shortly after the 1967 celebration, the entire committee (with the exception of Stackhouse and Sprague) agreed to disband and abandon all future parades and events. At this time, some of the wiser heads suggested another attempt if I would take the presidency. Acknowledging that I would be a poor leader but very interested in preserving a noble cause, I took office for one year. During this year. Mr. Stackhouse's hand was often the first I would recognize at meetings and the problems gradually diminished.
During my term in office, Fred Connell first donated his trophy for the Children's Costume Contest, which has become one of the main interests at our June celebration. Also. the First Ward Republican Club of Warwick started their annual donation of clambake money to our cause. This presented a mild problem because I did not want the public to consider this to be a political football and therefore suggested the Democrats do something similar, which they did.
Shortly after the 1968 parade, my term expired, and I nominated Rene Bellevance to succeed me, and the committee elected him unanimously, and by the end of his one year term all our growing pains had disappeared
There have been many dedicated presidents in the past — some of the earlier ones you may not recall. After Rene Bellevance there was Tony Moretti, 1970-71, then Ed Yatsko who had the anniversary year 1972. We thought this would be the biggest celebration, but it turned out to be the second biggest, 1976 surpassing it due to the national enthusiasm. Zack Terzian had the years 1973-74 and died in office, as did Marguerite Dube at the later date. Jim Collinson was president in 1975-76 which turned out to be the best of all both attendance and weather wise.
Among the interesting entrants were the famous Clydesdale horses. For the bicentennial year 1972, the Navy sent two of their ships up from Newport, namely USS Dale and even though we were passing Gaspee Point in mid-afternoon June 9,1972, almost 200 years to the minute of the commemorated events, I could not convince the captain to put the ship aground.
Of the original members of the committee (1965) perhaps only one or two are still active, yet of those still alive, I do not believe any have lost interest in the original reason for the celebration. Much that has been good for Pawtuxet can be attributed to "Gaspee Days". There was a time before 1966 when many people in our state did not know where Pawtuxet was - they do now.
The Pawtuxet Rangers were revived because a member of the committee suggested it and Joe Walsh, who was then a member and also a member of the legislature, took care of the legal part. The gas lamps and brick sidewalks, trees planted, etc., are a result of a personal pride instilled in the community by Gaspee Day.
Before closing, and in the hopes of instilling even more pride to inhabitants of this village, I would like to inform those who are not aware of the fact that Pawtuxet is the name of the very first white settlement in New England, although the first settlers renamed it Plymouth. Squanto, the famous Indian who helped the pilgrims was the last Pawtuxet Indian. William Arnold brought the name with him when he migrated from Plymouth in the Spring of 1936 (sic?). Until then early records seem to indicate that what we now call Pawtuxet was called Sassafrax by the Indians, and some early records continue to use that name to describe the cove and what is now Pawtuxet Neck. These are verifiable facts.
Perhaps I am guilty of having a love affair with Pawtuxet, but I am certainly not alone. For I am sure that many feel the same way. This was not true twenty years ago.
It is a comfort to know that my children and grandchildren who will live in this area in the future, will have the benefit of improvements, protection of historic zoning, and the pride that comes from living among a deservedly proud group of neighbors. For all this. they should be eternally grateful to the past, present, and future Gaspee Day Committees.