A brief history of the affair of the British revenue schooner Gaspee
in the investigation of the burning of the Gaspee;
Daniel Vaughan, Deputy Governor Sessions relative to the Deposition of Aaron Briggs,
&c.,Report from the Honorable the Commissioners, appointed by Royal Commission.
"The activities of this vessel [the British revenue schooner Gaspee] had long been a source of exasperation to the colonial merchants and seamen. On the night of June 9, 1772 the Gaspee ran aground at Namquit Point (now know as Gaspee Point) while chasing the sloop Hannah up Narragansett Bar. News of the Gaspee's distress was received at Providence as a call to action. That same night, to the beat of drums, volunteers rallied at Sabin Tavern and having equipped themselves, proceeded by whaleboat, rowing silently, to Namquit Point. As the raiding party approached the Gaspee, challenges were exchanged. Lt. Dudingston, commander of the stranded vessel, mounted his starboard gunwale, partly clad, and was immediately shot in the abodomen by one who mistakenly cried, 'I have killed the rascal!' The raiders quickly overpowered the British crewmen, put them on shore, fired the Gaspee, and left her to burn to the water's edge. This time the British offer £500 for the identification of perpetrators, but as in the case of the Liberty, the reward went unclaimed."
|Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, 1862|
A History of the Destruction of His Britannic Majesty's Schooner Gaspee, in Narragansett Bay, on the 10th June, 1772; Accompanied By the Correspondence Connected Therewith; the Action of the General Assembly of the Colony of Rhode Island Thereon, and the Official Journal of the Proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry Appointed by King George the Third, on the Same. Volume 7, January 1773
[Note: The warrant for the arrest of Aaron Briggs identifies him as Aaron Bowler, alias Briggs.]
The examination of Aaron, a mulatto, upon oath, taken this 14th day of January, A. D. 1773.
Aaron Briggs, aged eighteen years, or thereabout, declares, that at the age of five years, he was bound by the town of Portsmouth, an apprentice to Capt. Samuel Tompkins, of Prudence Island, until he should arrive at the age of twenty-four years; from which time, until he went on board the man-of-war, he was constantly in the service of the said Capt. Tompkins, as a laborer, on his farm.
That his master kept a two-mast boat, in which to transport his farm produce to market; which was the only sail-boat within five miles of his masters farm, at the time the Gaspee was burnt.
That, at that time, one Remington, who lived about one mile from where the deponent lived, had a row-boat, large enough for six hands to row; also, one Ephraim Peirce, at about a mile and a half distance, had a two-mast boat; and that the sails of his masters boat, had been taken off some time before the night on which the Gaspee was burnt; and she leaked in such a manner, that she could not sail.
That was a little after sunset, on the night on which the Gaspee was burnt, he left the island of Prudence, but does not know the day of the week, or the day of the month; that he went off the island in a little fishing-boat, of two oars, which boat lay just before the house; that before sunrise, and about an hour after day-break, he returned to his masters house, from the shore where they landed the people belonging to the Gaspee; which shore, was about a mile above said Gaspee; and the Gaspee about six miles from his masters house; and that it was four or five miles from his masters house, to the place where they landed the Gaspee people; that he found the oars in the boat, that he went off said island in.
That the reason he went off the island, was to carry the boat round to the east side of said island, to carry a man named Samuel Faulkner, a hired man, to Bristol the next night; and that this young man told the deponent, that he would ask his masters leave, for that purpose.
That going round said island, at about half a mile from said shore of said island, he met a boat and one Potter, whose Christian name he does not know, and whom he, in company with Faulkner, above named, had once seen on a wharf, at Bristol, and there heard him called by the name of Potter.
And further says, that said Faulkner told him, that that was the person who owned the rope-walk at Bristol, which he had been in; that when he met said Potter, as above mentioned, he was in a boat which was rowed with eight oars; that the time he met the said Potter, was about an half an hour after he, this deponent left the island, and he, said Potter, was about five miles from Bristol; that there were eleven men in said boat; said Potter was in the stern sheets; that the weather was cloudy; that when Potter hailed him, they were about fifteen rods distant.
The first words Potter spoke, was by asking who was in that boat.
The deponent answered, he was in there.
Potter told him to come that way, he wanted to speak to him.
Upon which, he went to him; Potter told him he wanted this deponent to go up with him, about a mile, and that he would be back in an hour.
This deponent said he could not; he was in a hurry to go home.
To which, Potter replied, he must go with him.
The deponent answered, he could not; he must go home, or his master would punish him; and this deponent then began to row away.
Potter told him he wanted this deponent to go with him, to fetch something down, which this deponent had forgotten; and he would pay him for doing so.
This deponent said he had rather go home, for if his master should miss him, he would say he had been out all night, and flog him.
Upon which, Potter said, there is no cant in the matter; you must go along with me; we shall be back in an hour; and further said, give me your painter, you need not row, we will carry you up there.
Upon which, this deponent gave him the painter; that he, this deponent, being in his own boat, was rowed up by Potters boat, till they came within half a mile of the schooner.
Potter then said to this deponent, get into my boat; that he got into the boat; Potter then told him, they were going to burn the man-of-war schooner, and that he, this deponent, must go with him.
To which he replied, that it was hard for him to be brought there, where he might lose his life.
Potter then said, they were all upon their lives.
This deponent still repeated, it was hard for him to go.
But Potter said he must go, now he was there; that they would give him a weapon, and he must do as they did, knock them down, and not let them kill him, if he could help it, and gave him a hand spike; the rest were armed some with cutlasses, some with muskets; this happened about 10 oclock, at night.
Potter further told this deponent, that they expected sixteen or seventeen more boats from Providence.
In about an hour afterwards, they met eight boats, about a half a mile from the schooner, which appeared to be pretty full of people.
Upon their meeting, Potter and two men, called Brown by the people, whom this deponent did not know, talked about how they should board the schooner. One of these persons, called Brown, got into Potters boat, on which they were hailed from the Gaspee, and told to stand off; upon which Brown said row up.
Immediately after, he, this deponent, saw the captain of the schooner come upon deck, in his breeches, and fired a pistol into one of the boats, and wounded one of the men in the thigh; that he saw a man who was in the boat with Potter, and who was called Brown, fire a musket, which wounded the captain; after which there was no more firing; but they instantly boarded the schooner; that the captain of the schooner, when he was wounded, he thinks, stood by the fore shrouds, upon the left hand side.
When they got on board, there were about four of the schooners men on deck, and the rest were coming up out of the hold; and somebody said, Knock em down and kill them; no matter what you do with them.
That this deponent did not know the Browns, nor hear them called by their Christian names; and further declares, that it was John Brown, who shot the captain; and that he hath never seen either of the Browns since.
That after they got possession of the vessel, they took the hands belonging to the schooner, and threw them down the hold; and this happened about 3 oclock in the morning.
Then the people searched the vessel, took the captains papers, which he desired they would give him; but they refused, tore them, and threw them overboard. Then they took the Gaspees people, tied their hands, and put them into the boat, and carried them ashore, this deponent going with them.
By the time they got half way ashore, the schooner was on fire; that before they went ashore, a doctor, whom they called Weeks, from one of the boats, dressed the captains wounds; that when they had landed the people, they untied their hands, and let them go, and the captain of the schooner they carried up to a house.
After they had landed the men, they put off to return, and Potter told them he would give him two dollars for what he had done, which he accordingly did; upon which, this deponent set off in his own boat, and rowed home; it was about 4 oclock, when they had landed the schooners people; that it was a moonlight night, but sometimes cloudy; that soon after the people had boarded the schooner, they hoisted the top-sails, her head laying up towards Providence; and he saw nothing further done to her, or her sails; that the schooner, when they boarded her, was aground; that the person who acted as surgeon, he thinks he has seen at his masters house; but is not sure it was the same person.
This deponent further says, that the person to whom he first gave an account of the above affair of burning the Gaspee, was Capt. Linzee, of the Beaver.
Some time after the burning of the schooner, he went on board the Beaver, in his masters said boat; That immediately upon his going on board, they put him on irons, because they imagined he intended to run away from his master; it was about 10 oclock, at night, when the deponent was put in irons, and was released about 10 oclock, the next day, and then they were going to flog him.
After he was tied up to the mast, one of the Gaspees men, called Paddy Alis, jumped up, and told the captain, that he thought he, this deponent, was one that was aboard the schooner Gaspee.
About this time, the deponent had said nothing about the burning of the schooner, nor had made no discovery relating to what he knew.
The captain asked the man if he was sure of it.
He said yes.
The captain asked what clothes he had on.
The man said two frocks.
Then the captain told the man to examine what clothes he had, which they found were two frocks.
There was no mention made of any other clothes. The next day, Paddy Alis, and the deponent, were called up before the captain, who asked Paddy if he was sure that this deponent was one concerned in the attack on the schooner.
He said yes.
He further asked him, if he could swear to it.
He answered yes.
That the captain then administered an oath to the said Paddy, upon the Bible, who swore that this deponent was there.
The captain then said, My lad, you see this man has declared you was there; and if you dont tell who was there with you, I will hang you at the yard arm, immediately; and if you do, you shall not be hurt.
Upon which, this deponent told the captain all the heads that were there; the captain saying he did not want to know anything about the poor people, but only the heads.
This deponent further says, that he never spoke to any of the Beavers crew till he got on board; that his masters boat, in which this deponent went on board the ship, his master went on board and received again; that this deponent went on board said man-of-war with an intention not to return again to his master; that he, this deponent, never was christened, and that he should have told Capt. Linzee all he knew relating to the Gaspee, immediately upon his going on board, if they had not put him in irons.
The deponent further says, that the morning after the burning of the schooner, when he returned to his masters, he went to bed with two black servants, with whom he usually slept; he lay there a little while, and upon his masters knocking, he got up and fetched the cows.
That when he first returned to his masters house, he got in at a lower window, on the south-west part of the house, which opens into the middle room; that during the whole transaction on said night the schooner was burnt, no man called this deponent by his name or knew him.
AARON [X] BRIGGS
Providence, January 16th, 1773
I, Daniel Vaughan, of Newport, in the colony of Rhode Island, being of lawful age, do depose and say:
That some time in the summer last past, being in a sloop, taking out some old iron from the wreck of the Gaspee, and afterwards going down to Newport, in said sloop, in company with Capt. Linzee, in His Majestys ship, the Beaver, one morning, not far from the island of Prudence, I saw a small boat alongside the Beaver, and immediately told the people on board the sloop, that somebody had gone on board the Beaver that night.
A few days afterwards, as the Beaver lay at Newport, near the fort, I was ordered to haul the sloop I was in alongside the Beaver, in order to take out some sugar; and going on board the Beaver, I saw a mulatto fellow under the forecastle, in irons.
I said unto him, So you are one of the rogues that have been burning the Gaspee.
He replied, He never saw her, nor knew anything about her.
I then asked him what he came there for.
He answered, His master had used him badly, and he was determined to leave him.
Two or three days afterwards, being on board said schooner, I heard Capt. Linzee order said mulatto to be carried out of the Beaver, on board said schooner, and then to be tied up to the mast and whipped; and after he was laid hold on, and they were about to tie him up to the mast, he began to declare he knew some of the people that burnt the Gaspee; and that Simeon Potter, John Brown and others (whos names I have forgotten), were concerned, therein.
Upon this confession, he was released from whipping, sent on board the Beaver, where I afterwards saw him in irons, on the quarter deck.
Providence, January 18th, 1773.
Sir:-- Having been informed by a person, who came from Newport last Saturday, that the mulatto had been examined, and that a report prevailed, that his evidence carried many marks of truth with it; and as I look upon it as my duty to protect the innocent, as well as punish the guilty, I thought it my duty to let Your Honor know of some circumstances that may throw some light on this affair.
I took notice in the mulattos declaration of his having a red and white handkerchief about his head at the time he was on board the Gaspee, and when he rowed the boat ashore.
I suppose he was told to relate this circumstance, that some of the Gaspees people might, with the greater appearance of truth, swear to his being on board the schooner that night.
The day after the Gaspee was destroyed, I examined several of her people, viz.: Bartholomew Cheever, John Johnson, William J. Caple, Joseph Bowman, Patrick Whaler, Patrick Earle and Patrick Reynolds; who, although the questions and answers were not set down in writing, yet I can depose that they were put verbally. The answers given by some of them (the rest agreeing thereto), are as follows, viz.:
Question: Was the moon down?
Q: Was it dark?
Q: Was there any light on board of the schooner, when she was boarded by the boats?
A: Yes; but it was immediately put out before we got on deck.
Q: Was there no other light afterwards struck up?
A: Not that they saw; though there was one lighted up in the cabin, to dress the lieutenants
Q: Were the people who came on board unmasked, or in disguise?
A: Some of them were either blacked or negroes; but it was so dark, we could not tell which.
The above questions put to any of the Gaspees people, who pretend to establish the negroes evidence, by swearing to the identity of him, I think, must convince anyone, that their testimony is absolutely false.
The midshipman at Boston, swore that it was a very dark night; and how is
it possible that the features and dress of a negro could be sworn to, a month
The confession of said Aaron [Briggs], upon his first examination, was made in consequence of illegal threats from Capt. Linzee, of hanging him (the said Aaron) at the yard arm, if he would not discover who the persons were, that destroyed the Gaspee; and besides, most of the circumstances and facts related in both of his examinations, are contradictions repugnant to each other, and many of them impossible in their nature.
It is evident from the depositions of Tompkins, Thurston, and Aarons two fellow servants, that he was at home the whole of that night on which the Gaspee was attacked; especially, as there was no boat on that part of the island, in which he could pass the bay in the manner by him described.
In short, another circumstance which renders the said Aarons testimony extremely suspicious, is Capt. Linzees absolutely refusing to deliver him up to be examined by one of the justices of the said Superior Court, when legally demanded.
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