Gaspée Affair

Burning of the HMS Gaspée
Photo by: Chowbok Creative Commons

What happened on June 10, 1772 became one of the most significant events that provoked the start of the American Revolution. The Gaspée Affair is the incident when a group of the Sons of Liberty burned down the HMS Gaspée, one of the schooners of the British Empire. What reason had led the notorious faction to carry out this act?


The end of the Seven Years’ War marked the victory of the British Empire, as well as the start of their reputation as one of the most powerful countries in the world. However, their war was not without sacrifices. Many lives were lost, and many ships and supplies were destroyed. Due to the harsh effects of war, even a powerful country like Britain could not bear to recover from its battle scars. That is why the Parliament decided to change an aspect in their rule: redirect the administration by collecting more proceeds from the colonies to cover for war debts and military assets.

This led to numerous uprisings in the colonies, one of the most notable of which were the acts done by the Sons of Liberty. After years of tolerating unfair taxes, the Sons of Liberty decided to seek justice through violence and mass rebellion. The news of the revolts eventually reached neighboring states, and one of the special cases was the state of Rhode Island. In 1764, a ship named the HMS St. John was attacked by these Rhode Island rebels, and in 1769 another ship named the HMS Liberty was burned down while it was docked. These minor mutinies, however, were masked by another insurrection.


At the start of 1772, William Dudingston cruised on the HMS Gaspée towards Rhode Island in order to heed the orders of the Parliament. It was another day of revenue collection for them, but it unfortunately wasn’t for the colonists. Another thing that is not certainly new in Rhode Island is its reputation for trade smuggling with enemies. Another ship, named Hannah, caught the eye of Lieutenant William, and shortly thereafter he followed in pursuit of the ship. Just as the HMS Gaspée was about to close in, a group of the Sons of Liberty known as Providence suddenly boarded the British ship. The crew of the ship was not able to hold the rebels off effectively, and in the process the lieutenant was shot down by a man named Joseph Bucklin, a member of Providence. The ship was looted and then burned down after the attack.

In the aftermath of the chaos, not one local official made a move to counteract the Sons of Liberty. Lieutenant Dudingston and his crew tried to point out the criminals, yet they did not know that the officials themselves were also mad at them. In effect, they were ironically charged for illegally confiscating goods. When these news came to the Parliament, they immediately ordered the restraint of all those who participated in the mutiny. Not even one case of arrest was reported back.

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