skip navigation and jump to page content The Library of CongressThe American Folklife Center 
Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
Collage of Local Legacies
Children's Colonial Costume Contest
Children's Colonial Costume Contest June 4, 1995

Gaspee Days

Held annually in the city of Warwick, Rhode Island, Gaspee Days celebrates the June 1772 burning of the British revenue schooner HMS Gaspee by the colonists of Rhode Island. Provoked by the "Intolerable Acts" of the government of King George III, which levied taxes on colonial goods -- everything from glass to stamps to tea -- some colonists turned to smuggling to avoid the unjust levies. One haven for such smuggling was the site of modern-day Warwick on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.

To enforce the Crown's anti-smuggling policies, George III sent the British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee under the command of Lt. Wm. Dudingston to the waters of Narragansett Bay. Lt. Dudingston and his crew stole firewood and livestock from the locals and required that all ships lower their flags as a sign of respect to the Gaspee. The packet sloop Hannah, under the command of Captain Benjamin Lindsay, refused to lower her flag. When Dudingston and his crew gave chase, the Gaspee became stranded on a sandbar. After Capt. Lindsay alerted officials in Providence to the Gaspee 's misfortune, the colony's leading citizens were called to a meeting at Sabin's Tavern on Planet Street in Providence to decide on a course of action. Fortified by anger and ale, 64 Rhode Island colonials rowed out into Narragansett Bay to the Gaspee under cover of darkness, boarded the ship, took the crew prisoner, and shot Dudingston with a musket ball -- marking the first blood shed for American independence -- and then set the vessel on fire. The news of the destruction of the Gaspee soon reached the other colonies, who started debating what course of action to take. The burning of the Gaspee was the first step toward the formation of the Committees of Correspondence, the convening of the Continental Congress, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1965, the Gaspee Days Committee was formed to find appropriate ways to commemorate these 64 brave Rhode Islanders' inaugural blow for freedom and to educate the general public about the importance of the buring of the HMS Gaspee in the fight for American independence. The Pawtuxet Rangers, Rhode Island's first militia, was rechartered, the Pawtuxet Village Association was founded to preserve the village, the Warwick Historical Society was founded and the Daughters of the American Revolution unveiled monuments -- all in time for the 1972 bicentennial of the burning of HMS Gaspee. 

The "first real blow for freedom" is now celebrated annually in June, under the leadership of the Gaspee Days Committee, by both colonial and contemporary events. The colonial events include a ball, children's colonial costume contest, colonial dinners, johnnycake breakfasts, colonial muster and encampment, and a re-enactment of the burning. The contemporary celebration features an arts and crafts festival, parade, band concert, 5K road race, kayak and boat races, softball games, dances, steak fries, and raffles. The diversity of events is carefully planned to engage and stimulate as many visitors as possible.

The project is documented with an 8-page written report, fourteen 8 x 10 photographs with descriptions, a videotape of the 1993 Gaspee Days Parade, a newspaper clipping, brochures, a poster, bumper sticker and map, a 45 rpm record of the "Ballad of Gaspee," a blue banner, four muster streamers, and a silver coin specially minted for the 1972 bicentennial.

Originally submitted by: Robert Weygand, Representative (2nd District).

link to www.loc.govMore Local Legacies...

The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

disclaimer for external linksLearn More About It...
  The Library of Congress 
The American Folklife Center
Contact Us
AFC Icon