GaspeeVirtual Archives
Captain Samuel Dunn

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
Evidence implicating Samuel Dunn:

Per Staples < > p15, Dr. John Mawney identifies Captain Samuel Dunn at being at the attack, and he was in the longboat with him, and Mawney claimed a very well aquaintance with him.

Per Staples p 12, Ephraim Bowen identifies a Benjamin Dunn, though this was, in all probability, actually Samuel Dunn (see State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century, A History , edited by Edward Field, Boston, Mason Publishing Co., 1902 Vol. I, p. 467-468 for the discourse on Benjamin vs. Samuel Dunn). Bowen identifies Dunn as one of the sea captains assigned to command one of the longboats that, together with seven other such boats, attacked the Gaspee in 1772:

....and a sea captain acted as steersman of each boat, of whom I recollect Capt. Abraham Whipple, Capt. John B. Hopkins, (with whom I embarked,) and Capt. Samuel Dunn. A line from right to left was soon formed, with Capt. Whipple on the right and Capt. Hopkins on the right of the left wing.
Biographical Notes:

Samuel Dunn's hatLeft:  This hat up for auction on Martha's Vinyard in 2009 carries the label inside of Capt. Samuel Dunn.

According to the RI Historical Cemetery Database at   there are two possibilities here.  Captain Samuel Dunn does not have his birth or death dates listed on the grave in St. John's Cemetery in Providence. There is also a Samuel Dunn born c1743 and died December 15, 1785, and buried in the Knightsville Meeting House Lot in Cranston.  This latter Samuel Dunn would've been 29 years old at the time of the Gaspee attack. Of course, it is also possible that there were other Dunns to be implicated, but there are no other male Dunns (including any Benjamin) that were of the appropriate age at the time of the Gaspee attack listed in the RI Historical Cemetery Database.  The Index to Providence, RI Probate does list a 1790 will of Samuel Dunn.
An ad appearing in the Providence Gazette of  January 11, 1772. lists a Samuel Dunn as advertizing a lease for a large house in the North End of Providence.

From the Providence Gazette of 30Jan1773 comes a report from Capt. Samuel Dunn who had arrived in Providence from Cape Francois (Haiti) on the political instabilities there.

According to Field, Edward, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century:  A History.  Boston, Mason Publishing Co. 1902, Vol II, p424 Samuel Dunn, Jr. served as master, then owner, of the privateersman Revenge in 1776.  We have discovered that there were several Samuel Dunns in America at the time, several who had served in the Revolution, notably from Virginia, New York, and New Jersey.  There was also a Samuel Dunn from Providence who married an Esther Tourtellot and had several children, including a Samuel Dunn, Jr. born in 1747.   And there was a Samuel Dunn from Newport who had children with a Sarah Bailey in the 1720s. This all may create some genealogical confusion.

Note that there is an outside possibility that it was Samuel Dunn that wrote the Gaspee Song, a famous poem whose author is not totally clear. See < TheodoreFoster.htm >
Genealogical Notes:
From DAR records we have some definitive clues: The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Volume 50, page 250:
    Mrs. Kate S. Baldwin Andrews.
    DAR ID Number: 49568
    Born in Nashua, N. H.
    Wife of Frank A. Andrews.
    Descendant of Capt. Samuel Dunn, of Rhode Island.
    Daughter of Josephus Baldwin and Lucy Stone, his 2nd wife.
    Granddaughter of Daniel Stone and Mary Ann Cole, his wife.
    Gr-granddaughter of Thomas Cole and Desire Dunn, his wife.
    Gr-gr-granddaughter of Samuel Dunn, Jr., and Lucy Pierce, his wife.
    Gr-gr-gr-granddaughter of Samuel Dunn and Priscilla Ball, his wife.
    [p.250] Samuel Dunn (1710-87) was captain in the Continental army and assisted in blowing up the British ship “Gaspee,” off Gaspee Point, which was one of the events leading up to the Revolution. He was born and died in New Shoreham, R. I.
From: Colonial Families of the United States of America: Volume 2, p236
The American family of DUNN traces its ancestry to Capt. Richard DUNN, a descendant of Robert DE DUNN, Lord of Breadsall, temp. Henry I, 1100-1135, who came from England to America about the middle of the 17th century and who settled at Newport, R. I., in 1647, and d. circa 1712. He was a Deputy to the Colonial Legislature in 1681, 1705, 1707-8, -9 and -11. He held the rank of Lieutenant and Captain in the “Train Band,” of the Colonial Forces of the Colony. m. (name unknown).
I. Richard, b. circa 1669.
II. Samuel, b. circa 1670.
III. NATHANIEL, b. 1671; d. 28th Feb. 1735, at New Shoreham, R. I.
NATHANIEL DUNN, b. 1671; d. 28th Feb. 1735; m. Elizabeth LAWTON, dau. of Daniel LAWTON of Portsmouth, R. I.
 CAPT. SAMUEL DUNN, b. circa 1710; d. 1790. Commanded one of the three boats that captured and destroyed H. B. M. ship “Gaspee,” 9th June, 1772, in the Providence river and shot Lieut. DODDINGTON, R. N., the commander. In 1740 he went with Admiral VERNON on the attack on Carthagena, Columbia, S. A., as a Captain of a company of the Colonial troops of Rhode Island. m. 15th Oct. 1730, Priscilla BALL of New Shoreham, dau. of John BALL.
I. SAMUEL, Jr., b. 3d Jan. 1743.
[p.237] CAPTAIN SAMUEL DUNN, Jr., b. 3d Jan. 1743; d. 15th Dec. 1787. Commanded and afterwards owned the celebrated privateer “Revenge,” also “Prosper,” during the War of the American Revolution, sailing mostly from Newport, R. I.; m. 12th Sept. 1773, Lucy PEIRCE, dau. of Giles PEIRCE, Jr.
I. JOHN, b. 3d Dec. 1774.

This newsclip is especially interesting and ironic, per the Newport Mercury of 15August1774 under "Shipping News", arrived from Hispaniola (Haiti) the ship Admiral Montagu, captained by Samuel Dunn, Jr.  Admiral Montagu, of course, would've been distained by the Dunns.  Perhaps this was a ruse to get the cooperation of British Naval vessels that had interfered with their trade.

In December 2004, we received two more bits of information from a descendant, Charlie Hathaway.

1.) From Vital Record of Rhode Island, 1636-1850 by James N. Arnold:
1790 DUNN: DUNN Capt. Samuel, a nautical commander from this port, at Cape St. Francois, W.I., in 66th year. Chronicle of May 20, 1790 more Death Providence 
(We wonder what to do with this, as he is listed as age 66, which would make his birthyear c1724.  On the other hand, if he was born in 1710, he'd have been 80 years old, perhaps a little too old to be sailing to the West Indies, where he died.)  We also come across the notice in the Providence Gazette of 6Nov1790 from the administrators of his estate, Esther Dunn and Bernon Dunn.

2.)  Extract of modified register for Samuel Dunn courtesy of Charlie Hathaway:
Samuel married Priscilla BALL, daughter of John BALL and Sarah RATHBONE (to Samuel Dunn), on 15Oct1730 in New Shoreham, Newport, RI. Priscilla was born 10Aug1711 in New Shoreham, Newport, RI. They had the following children all born in New Shoreham (Block Island), RI.
  1. John DUNN was born18 Jun1731
  2. Elizabeth DUNN was born 8Mar1734
  3. Jenny DUNN was born 2Oct1738
  4. Catherine DUNN "Caty" was born 28Nov1740 m Thomas DODGE
  5. Capt. Samuel DUNN Jr. was born 3Jan1743. He died 15 Dec 1787 in North Kingston, and was buried in Knightville Meeting House Lot, Cranston, RI. Samuel commanded the ship "Revenge" and "Prosper" about 1776 in Newport, RI.   m.12th Sept.1773, Lucy PEIRCE.
  6.  Alice DUNN was born 10 Mar1754 m Samuel DODGE
  7. Jane DUNN m Unknown ROSE
  8. Ellis DUNN
  9. Sarah DUNN m. Unknown DODGE
  10. Mary DUNN m married Unknown WRIGHT
In the Hall Descendants database, there is a Priscilla Ball, b. Aug. 10, 1711, m. Samuel Dunn.  A check of the Dunn Genealogy site is negative at < >

There's no Priscilla Dunn in the cemetery records, and we can't find offspring data other than the reference to Samuel Dunn, Jr. of 1743.

No Dunn or Dunne family shows up in the 1770 List of Providence taxpayers. This could be expected, since he lived his home life on Block Island.  It appears, that Captain Samuel Dunn is almost unique amongst his fellow Gaspee raiders in not being related to others by blood.  It is more probable, however, that he was connected by the nature of his employment.  As a sea captain, one might surmise that he operated a packet service between Block Island and Providence, probably had been personally harassed by the Gaspee, and happened to be in the town of Providence on the night when the opportunity arose to rid Rhode Island of the British menace.

We note that there is a book we've yet to examine at the RI Historical Society Library, Descendants of Samuel Dunn, by Wiliam Chapin, M118.

In 2018 we were contacted Barry Smith who submitted the following wrench into any of our conclusions:

The main points:  
1. There were multiple Samuel Dunns in Rhode Island at this time, and the page as it is certainly conflates them.  For instance, you mention the death notice of Samuel Dunn in 1790 at age 66 and notes that the birth year would then be off by quite a lot from 1710.  That's because the Samuel Dunn of the New Shoreham branch of the Dunn family was born in 1710, but the Samuel Dunn of the Newport branch was born in 1724.  The latter Samuel Dunn married Esther Tourtellot.  These were the mother of Anne who married future Rhode Island governor William Jones and of Esther who was grandmother to future governor Elisha Dyer.

2. There was a Benjamin Dunn who lived at this time in Rhode Island, although he does not appear in the Rhode Island Cemetery Commission database.  Chapin states that Benjamin Dunn b. 13 July 1749 was the brother of Samuel Dunn b. 1724.  The manuscript claims that a separate manuscript by William Jones Hoppin (which seems likely to be with Hoppins's papers held at the Rhode Island Historical Society) claims that this Benjamin participated in the Gaspee Affair.  Chapin's manuscript states that this Benjamin died in an engagement with a privateer on 9 January 1779, so perhaps it is not surprising that his grave cannot be found.  Would it not also be reasonable that multiple Dunns joined in the attack, especially if they were brothers or cousins and were together when the news of the Gaspee's vulnerability reached them?

3. In spite of the accounts that say the Samuel Dunn involved in the Gaspee Affair was the same who participated in the Cartagena Campaign of 1740-1741, this seems highly unlikely.  The Samuel who captained the Newport Company of militia was most likely Samuel b.1699 father of Samuel b.1724.  Chapin quotes from a family bible belonging to the younger Samuel in which he wrote "my honored father commander of one of His Majesty's companeys on foot against Cartagena died in Jamaica 1740 in the 42nd year of his age". 

This is clearly written by Samuel Jr., who would have been 16 years old at this time and clearly would have known the reason for his father's disappearance.  This account is wholly consistent with Samuel Sr. having died during staging for the operation.  The Rhode Island militias arrived in Jamaica in December, only to find themselves poorly provisioned and having to wait for the bulk of the British fleet.  During the next couple of months, disease decimated the American militias.  Disease continued to take a toll once the operation against Carthagena commenced in March, and there is a report that "no more than 20" Rhode Islanders returned from their group.

4. The most reasonable candidates for Samuel who participated in the attack are then (A) Samuel of New Shoreham (1710-??) son of Nathaniel; (B) Samuel Jr. (1743-??) son of (A); (C) Samuel (1724-1790) son of Samuel and first cousin once-removed to Samuel (A); (D) Samuel Jr. (1747-1815) son of Samuel (C)
I have seen no analysis of the cases for each of these men, but I think it would be hard to rule out three of them conclusively.
We conclude that it was Captain Samuel Dunn, 1710-c1790 of New Shoreham (Block Island), RI that took part in the attack on the HMS Gaspee, and later went on to service in the Revolutionary War.  The Gaspee Days Committee therefore recognizes Captain Dunn as a true American patriot.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 8/2002    Last Revised 11/2018    SamuelDunn.htm