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The Great Gaspee
Reader's Request wants insight on an old wooden ship.
Another end of the work week is here, and to spare you the reactions from another round of ranking the states, I'm going to dive into another lesson of a Reader's Request.
As always, thanks for reading Okay History and sending in historyish stuff you want to learn more about.
This lesson inquiry comes from cousin Tim. Tim gives me beers regularly and laughs at almost all of my jokes. So it's only fair to answer his submission:
Although I could go on and on about how unjust your ranking of Rhode Island is, I won't do that.
But, what I would like is a good story about the HMS Gaspee.
Tim, your mercy is appreciated. I had never heard of the Gaspee, so I hope this lesson ends up being Okay!
We begin our journey to old Europe in the 16th century. Since there was no internet machine, NFL, or even reality television shows to occupy the brains of millions of people, Europeans developed a nasty habit of raging war to pass the time.
By my count, around thirty wars took place on the continent during that century. They had some interesting names, like the Prayer Book Rebellion, The Count's Feud, The First and Second Desmond Rebellion, and my personal favorite, the Dacke War in Sweden. It's Dake, except with a "c" tossed in, so I speak it as if the "c" is silent.
I HAVE A WAR NAMED AFTER ME! I also have a Bible, but that’s another story.
Speaking of the Bible, remember in 1517, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther wrote a laundry list of issues he had with the Church, including people paying for indulgences as get-out jail cards. Luther also wrote that just having faith alone got you to heaven. He inspired the Protestant Reformation, and for fun, Europeans went around and killed each other over it. Just killed each other for Christ.
One war spilled over into the 17th century. It was the battle for Dutch independence from Spain and was called the 80 Years War. Whoever branded it simply rounded up because it was actually 79 years, eight months, and one week. The point is here; this war connects to our American roots.
Wars tend to be expensive. You need to tax people to pay for them. It was challenging to tax dead people, so England looked to the colonies to relieve the financial burden incurred by helping the Netherlands become independent.
By the 1760's America was experiencing some of its exceptionalism. Colonialists had defeated the French and Indians in what we weirdly refer to as the French and Indian War. We didn't feel like handing out money to people across the Atlantic and being referred to as subjects. We were big boys now.
However, England was an empire and spent many years passing laws regulating trade to ensure the money kept coming in. They called these regulated laws the Navigation Acts, which came about after the end of the 80 Years War. Its basic premise was that England ships with English crews could trade only with England and English colonies.
Outside of war raging, England also enjoyed coming up with additional taxes, so they taxed stamps, then taxed people to pay for the people who taxed them. Heck, England even passed tax laws that said they could pass tax laws. No wonder we got pissed off.
Rhode Island was particularly upset that their ships would be boarded by the British to check whether they had paid their taxes. The Gaspee was one of these ships, led by a Lieutenant William Duddingston, who would patrol the bays of Rhode Island, then use the opportunity to help themselves to the goods on these ships because really, who is going to stop them.
Well, I know who.
On June 9, 1772, two colonialists, Abraham Whipple and John Brown, led members of a group called the Sons of Liberty, boarded a small boat and swam out to the Gaspee, which got played by another colonialist's ship, which lured the Gaspee into shallow waters where it got stuck.
Whipple, Brown, and crew proceeded to open a can of whoop-ass, which also included shooting Duddingston in the groin region, which seems a bit much.
I mean, beat up a guy, sure. Shoot him in the head and make it quick, but aiming for the reproductive area just isn't very nice.
Having forced the British off the ship, they torched it.
Unsurprisingly, the British weren't happy with this outcome and wanted justice. Immediately they passed another act because that's what Britians do, stating anyone who torched British ships would be extradited to England to face trial for treason. The governor of Rhode Island was equally outraged but also held that shipping Rhode Islanders off to England to face the music wasn't a good idea.
So nothing happened.
The Gaspee Affair, as it's known, was a significant incident that inched the American colonies closer to revolution. The Boston Tea Party took place about a year later, when Britain, having not learned its lesson on taxes, implemented the Tea Tax. The good folks of Boston proceeded to toss tea into the water.
Fast forward, and in 1775 Americans were shooting at the British at Lexington and Concord, and in a few years, The United States of America became a thing.
As for the main characters in this lesson, Duddingston would die back in England in 1817 as a rich man. Whipple would go on to found the city of Marietta, Ohio, named after the famous French queen, Marie Antoinette. Brown would go on to create Brown University, a school that would never have admitted me.
Thanks, Tim! I hope this is helpful information. Please remember what you learned here while kayaking all over Rhode Island.
If you want to have me dive into a subject, just email me at email@example.com.
Until Monday, have a great weekend!