Joseph Bucklin who fired the Gaspee
By Leonard H. Bucklin, Esq.
Webmaster, Joseph Bucklin Society
Who was of the person who fired the shot that wounded the Gaspee ship captain? From Ephraim Bowen, we know his name as “Joseph Bucklin”.1 But beyond that name, we want to know who he was. Since 1760, “Joseph Bucklin” has been a respected name in the Providence area, and many a Bucklin has been named Joseph. We know of two Joseph Bucklins in the Providence area in 1772, when the shot was fired.
Let us assemble the known facts, to aid in the identification.
From John Mawney, we know that Joseph Bucklin was in the cabin in which Lt. Dudingston was laying, and that it was Joseph Bucklin who assisted Mawney in dressing the wounds of Dudingston.2
Joseph Brown seemed to be conscious of keeping control of who was in the cabin. The implication from the description of Mawney was that during the attendance of the wounds of Dudingston, the cabin door was closed and that only limited persons were allowed in the cabin.3 And Lt. Dudingston was of the impression that the two persons giving him medical care were both “ordered down from the deck to dress me”.4 All the persons who left written descriptions of the medical care of Dudingston in the cabin (Lt. Dudingston, Midshipman Dickinson and Dr. Mawney): all speak of only two persons being involved with the dressing of the wounds of Dudingston. We can therefore take it as a fact that Joseph Bucklin was one of those persons.
Dudingston asked for Dickinson to be brought to the cabin, partially to have someone who could also pay special attention to the attackers and give a physical description of them.5 (The cabin was lighted, but the ship otherwise was dark.) Dickinson gives a physical description of the two persons,6 including the facts: one person “appeared to be about twenty-two years of age” and the other “appeared to be about eighteen years of age”. Mawney was 21 plus years old at the time of the Gaspee attack.7 This would mean the other person would have been Joseph, described as: "....appeared to be about eighteen years of age, very much marked with the small pox, light brown hair tied behind, about five feet, five or six inches high."
A second clue about age comes from Ephraim Bowen. In his
Bowen gives the name of the leader (“John Brown”), then apparently
to give the names of the eight boat captains (“Captains Abraham
John B. Hopkins, Benjamin Dunn, and five others, whose names I have
and then goes on to name: “and John Mawney, Benjamin Page, Joseph
Bowen would have been 19 years old at the time of the Gaspee attack.9 Page was also 19 years old. And as we said Mawney was 21 years old. This means that of the five persons identified by Bowen as “my youthful companions, we know that three were in the age range of 18 to 21.
Why did Bowen refer to these three persons plus Bucklin as “my youthful companions”? We can deduce that Bowen refers to these people as “my youthful companions” because the companions were about his age.10
If our deduction is correct, because of age, we should rule out the Joseph Bucklin who was born February 20, 1719/1720. (Herein, Joseph Bucklin 4th, because he was the fourth in a line of Joseph Bucklins.) This Joseph Bucklin 4th most often now is identified as being the Gaspee raider. He was prominent in the Providence area.11 Joseph Bucklin 4th had many merchant activities, and also was a sea captain. In fact, as captain of the Brigantine Providence, he had been accused, and acquitted of smuggling in 1767.12 This would encourage him to be involved with the other ship captains and merchants in the Gaspee attack.13 He also fits as being a man of stature associated with John Brown in Revolutionary War activities.14 But the fact is that this Joseph Brown 4th would have been 52 years old at the time of the Gaspee attack.15
A more likely candidate in terms of age would have been the Joseph Bucklin who was born March 2, 1754 (herein Joseph Bucklin 5th ), son of the Joseph Bucklin 4th. This Joseph Bucklin 5th would have been 19 years old at the time of the Gaspee attack.16
When Bristol, Rhode Island started having 4th of July parades, the parade included persons who had participated in the Gaspee attack. Bowen, Mawney, Page, and Smith appeared in the parades, but not a Joseph Bucklin. Joseph Bucklin 4th had died before that time. Joseph Bucklin 5th was lost at sea at age 27.17, 18 This would explain the absence of Joseph Bucklin 5th from the Bowen group that appeared in the Bristol 4th of July parades.
Conclusion: Joseph Bucklin 5th was the Gaspee raider.
1William R Staples, Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee, ed. Richard M. Deasy, Rhode Island Revolutionary Heritage Series (Providence, 1990). p14.