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 George Washington's Reaction to the Gaspee Incident
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Gettysburg Compiler
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Wednesday, October 9, 1822 - Page 4
From the Washington Republican.

MR. PRINTER—The authenticity of the following communication may be confidently relied on by the public as there are now alive those who heard the person that now furnishes it, narrate the facts contained therein, immediately after his return from Mount Vernon to the city of Annapolis, precisely as he is now about to state them.
B. G.

        WASHINGTON COUNTY, Sept. 5, 1822.
    Whilst I was a student at law, in the city of Annapolis, and the late Mr. John Parke Custis, was a pupil under the Rev. Jonathan Boucher, of the same place, by permission of his father-in-law, the then Col. George Washington, I accompanied young Custis to Mount Vernon, and passed the last week of the year (I think) 1772, and the first week of 1773 at said place. Lord Sterling and Capt. Foye, the latter of whom was at that time private secretary to Lord Dunmore, the then governor of the Ancient Dominion, (Virginia was so called at that day,) being on the way from Williamsburg to the city of New York, stopped at Mount Vernon, and continued there during three days, the weather being very tempestuous & snowy. The last night that said characters were there, just after the cloth was removed from the supper table, a man of colour named Billy, Col. Washington's favourite servant, who had been sent by his master to Alexandria for letters and newspapers, entered the supper room and delivered to his master a large bundle containing letters and newspapers. Col. Washington, with a cast of his hand, placed the newspapers about mid way the supper table, around which there were then sitting a large company, Lord Sterling on the right, and Capt. Foye on the left hand of Mrs. Washington. When Col. Washington so placed the papers, he requested that if they contained any important information, it might be read aloud to the company. It so happened that I laid my hand on an Eastern paper, which contained an article of intelligence to the following effect—"That a Yankee smuggler, being pursued by one of the King's vessels of war, (and I think she was called the Gaspee,) hugged the shore so closely that the former (the wind then blowing extremely hard,) missed stays and run plump ashore. The neighboring brother Jonathans quickly collected in great numbers, the tide being at ebb, they soon boarded and burned her." I read said article aloud to the company, and was immediately requested by Capt. Faye to pass the newspaper to him, who, when he had read the article, he had the audacity to declare that "The Yankees must be phlebotomized!" and that HE yes, that HE, " would engage, at the head of five thousand British regulars, to march from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina, and put down all opposition to the revenue acts," that had been recently passed by the British Parliament for the purpose of raising a revenue in the British colonies. Col. Washington, at the close of this insulting declaration, instantly fixing his eyes on Capt. Foye, observed---“I question not, Sir, that you could march from  Boston to Charleston, South Carolina, at the head of five thousand British regulars: but do you mean to say, Sir, that you could do so, as a friend, or as an enemy If as the latter, and you will allow me a few weeks notice of your intention, I will engage to give you a handsome check with the Virginia riflemen alone." When Col. Washington was uttering the words " with the Virginia riflemen alone," he struck the table so violently with his clenched hand, that some wine glasses and a decanter near him with difficulty maintained their upright positions. Captain Foye made no reply; but turned his face immediately towards Mrs. Washington, said a few words to her, looked very silly, and soon after requested to be showed to his chamber! Col. Washington appeared to be very much displeased. Not a word was said by any of the company, in reference to said article of intelligence, while They remained in the room; but when the Rev. Walter Magowan, who was one of the company, and who had resided some years before in the Mount Vernon family as a private tutor to young Custis, had, with two other gentlemen and myself, arrived at our bed chamber, he remarked that, during the whole time he had lived in Col. Washington's family, he had never seen the master of Mount Vernon so displeased as he appeared to have been that evening with Capt. Foye. I remained two or three days at Mount Vernon after Foye took his departure therefrom, and then returned to Annapolis. This occurrence took place some years (say four or five) before the commencement of hostilities, between a detachment of the British army and the Provincials, at Lexington, and is now communicated as a strong proof that Col. George Washington had determined, long before hostilities did so begin, to oppose force to a British army should such attempt be made as the braggadocio Foye had the effrontery to say, in his presence, and at his own table, he would carry into effect, at the head of 5000 British regulars.

George Washington Celebrates the Gaspee Incident

Webmaster's Commentary:  The following passage is found in George Washington by Shelby Little - New York: Minton, Balch & Company, 1929. Page 99. In this book, the author writes about what Washington wrote in his personal diary; unfortunately, we do not have the exact writing in Washington's own words   The fireworks celebrating the anniversary of the Burning of the GaspeeRaleigh apparently took place near Williamsburg, VA on June 11th, 1774, 'the Raleigh' referring to the name of a tavern (restaurant) in Williamsburg, not the City of Raleigh, NC.  This Raleigh Tavern was the site of gathering for many famous Sons of Liberty in the PreRevolutionary era, including Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

Right: The Raleigh Tavern, Williamsburg, VA

The importance of all this, is that in Virginia, the first state to reestablish the Committees of Correspondence in reaction to the Gaspee Affair, also celebrated its importance in starting the united colonies on a path towards independence. Such a celebration would have been....unwise in Rhode Island at the time.  Any talk leading to the identification of those who took part in the Burning of the Gaspee would have still possibly led to the demise by hanging of those so identified.

(June 1774)

Through all the growing agitation, Washington moved quietly, unobtrusively, thoughtfully. His actions might have been a little puzzling if any one had been calm enough to notice. At the dwindling meetings of the dissolved Burgesses, he was always to be observed paying earnest attention; he visited his plantation and farms in the vicinity of Williamsburg and once he took a gay party of friends by water to look at Woromonroke plantation; on June 1st, he went to church with the rest of the town and was strict in his observance of the fast; ten days later, he spent 3s.9d. to see the fireworks in celebration of the anniversary of the burning of the Gaspee; and just before leaving for Mount Vernon, he dined again with the Royal Governor of Virginia. He may have believed that this, like other disputes with England, would blow over. The situation was anything but clear. And even in his reckless youth, when he had so often moved by impulse, he had not been one to burn his bridges until he was sure he was through with them.
From: The Diaries of George Washington. Vol. 3. Donald Jackson, ed.; Dorothy Twohig, assoc. ed. The Papers of George Washington. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978. Page 255 available on-line at:

(June, 1774)

Dined at the Raleigh & went to the fire works.

Fireworks were occasionally used to celebrate a public event, as in the "elegant set of fireworks . . . displayed in this city [Williamsburg] on the arrival of . . . Lady Dunmore" (Virginia. Gazette, R, 10 Mar. 1774; CARSON [2], 200203). They may also have been to commemorate the second anniversary of the burning of the British revenue cutter Gaspee.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 2/2004    Last Revised 07/2017    WashingtonGaspee.htm