GaspeeVirtual Archives
An Unsigned Letter

Webmaster's Commentary:  The following letter was found in the Manuscripts Collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Gaspee Papers MSS434, and is evidently a handwritten copy made by a clerk at the Kent County Courthouse c1909 in an effort to preserve those documents that were deteriorating.  The letter is unsigned, but was apparently written by a loyalist spy that lived in the Providence area in June 1772, and who had good intelligence regarding both the political climate and the specific events that took place during the attack on the Gaspee. This person was in communication with Admiral John Montagu, Chief of the Northeast sector of the American Coast for the Royal Navy during the period, and this letter was enclosed in a packet of other correspondence that the Admiral apparently forwarded on to his superiors in England. The letter has not been published previously to our knowledge.

The letter is considered useful in several respects.  It gives evidence that the Admiralty mistrusted the citizens of Rhode Island to a degree necessary to employ spies to gather intelligence, particularly in the Providence area.  It relates that the Gaspee raiders wore facial camouflage, not to disguise themselves as Indians, but to ensure tactical surprise. It numbers the boats embarking from Providence at six or seven, leaving the eighth attacking boat to come from Bristol, which has long been a matter of discussion. It clearly cites that the Captain of the Gaspee fired his weapons first, and that the attackers were returning fire when Dudingston was shot.  It points out that the British and loyalists, at a very early stage, distrusted the judicial system of Rhode Island in making any prosecution of the attackers.  Finally, it shows the great resentment held amongst some loyalists against the Charter granted by King Charles II to Roger Williams that gave Rhode Island citizens unprecedented liberties and self-government.

                       Extract of a Letter from Newport, Rhode Island dated 16 June 1772
No. 35(f)

Dr. Sir,

About three Months ago the Admiral sent his Majesty's armed Schooner the Gaspee under the Command of Capt. Dudingston on this Station with Instructions to be very attentive & diligent in suppressing smugling.  In consquence of these Instructions he was to so diligent as to look into all the little Harbours & Creeks in this Bay & River, which made him very troublesome to the trading Vessels that wished to go on in the old way.  His Vigilance alarmed the Gentlemen in Trade at Providence so much that they in a Memorial to Our Governor represented Duddingston as a Pirate & desired the Govr. would take proper steps to have him apprehended.  Great Pains were taken to decoy Him ashore, & when that failed they threatened to serve his Schooner in the same way that they had done the Commrs Sloop Liberty__ All this Duddingston took care to inform the Admiral of, who wrote our Governor, that if any such thing should be attempted that he might depend upon it the Perpretrators (sic) should be tried as Pirates, & if condemned he would have them hanged at his Yard Arm as such.  However all this did not prevent it, for on 9th Inst:  one of the Providence Packetts, being a good Sailor, disregarded the Signal & refused to be brought to by Captain Duddingston, who immediately weighed & followed Him up the River.  The Master of the Packet knowing the River well, run into shallow Water, where he knew if Capt. Duddingston followed him with the Schooner he must get ashore--This happened agreable to his Expectations a little to the Southward of Pawtuxent about seven Miles from the Town of Providence.  As soon as the Master of the Packet got up to the Town he gave the Alarm, on which a Party beat up through the Town of Providence for Volunteers, & in the Night about Eleven o'Clock, fifty or sixty Men, armed, whose faces & hands were all blacked, embarked in six or seven boats, got very near the Schooner unperceived , which they found fast aground.  The two Men that were the Watch upon Deck informed the Captain that a Number of Boats were standing towards them very near.  On this Duddingston with his two Pistols in his hands, jumped up upon deck, went forward & hailed them.  They answered they wanted Him & by God they would have Him dead or alive.  He oredered them to keep off on their Peril.  They continued to advance & he fired his Pistols amongst them, which hurt nobody.  They returned the Fire immediately, shot the Captain in the Arm, & wounded him in the Body, of which its thought he will die.  Before Duddingston's Sailors could get upon Deck the People in the Boats were all on board of the Schooner, seized the Sailors as they came up, bound them, put them into their Boats & carried them ashore  Then returned again to the Schooner, hoisted in Capt. Duddingston's Barge upon Deck, hoisted up the Sails of the King's Schooner, & set her on fire, where she burnt up.  Thus ended the Rebellion.  What will follow is yet uncertain.  I have inclosed Mr. G_____ who will deliver you this, our Governor's Proclamation, who must study to keep appearances, but if it is left to this Government to find out the Perpetrators they will I am confident remain very safe.  I will not comment upon this extraordinary Action.  You know us well, & the many Outrages we have been guilty of.  Therefore I need say no more on this Head; but I hope Government will make a proper use of this unheard of Event, & take this Opportunity of depriving us of what to some of us is the greatest Curse, the Charter.
I am Dr Sr
Yours, &ca
Endorsed:  Extract of a Letter from Newport, Rhode Island with an Accot of the Destruction of the Schooner Gaspee dated 16 June 1772.  In Adml. Montagu's Ltre of 18th June 1772.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 12/2003    Last Revised 07/2009    UnsignedLetter.htm