Burning of the Gaspee a crucial lesson for kids
Pawtucket Times 6 Oct 2017
This spring, I started doing research to create a storytelling presentation for school-aged children about the burning of the Gaspee.
During that research, I discovered things that would help Rhode Islanders be very proud of our past, both in understanding the importance of the Gaspee event in provoking our rebellion against Great Britain, and the incredible impact that Roger Williams had on the independence felt by those raiders in 1772, as well as in the building of America. Roger Williams, due to his independence and originality in his writing and actions, should be included with Washington, Adams, and Jefferson as one of the most important people who helped create the America that we know today.
The Gaspee burning was the match that lit the explosion that was the American Revolution in 1775. Why? Rhode Islanders were an independent crew of merchants and seamen in the 1770s. Along with other colonies, we were involved in fighting for lower taxes, a more fair tax system, and the right to be represented in any decisions concerning our taxation. The Stamp Act, which took effect in 1765, and was not ended until 1776, caused rage throughout the colonies.
In Narragansett Bay, the Gaspee, captained by Lieutenant William Duddingston, was harassing every ship it could. Duddingston was so hated that he had to wear a costume when he visited Providence. So, it is believed that John Brown, Benjamin Lindsey, and others had actually toured the bay to find the best place to maroon the Gaspee. Once the plan was put into action, the Gaspee was marooned off Namquit Point. The raiders met at Sabin’s Tavern, decided to take whatever goods were on the Gaspee, and then to set it aflame. As we all know, that is what happened.
That is not the end of the story, though. King George became enraged, and ordered that once the raiders were apprehended, they would be taken to England for trial. This was a clear violation of the Charters of the colonies — defendants would be judged only by a group of their peers. The Gaspee burning and this demand by the king caused Samuel Adams and others to create the Committee of Correspondence, and their first subject was this demand by King George. Rev. John Allen brought the struggle forward in his “Oration on the Beauties of Liberty,” written in December of 1772, which delivered the demand for freedom from England.
That brings me to my second discovery: Roger Williams stands as a giant in the history of America, while he means literally nothing to most Rhode Islanders, except for the name of “his park.” Why is this true? First, he was, in my mind, a genius. By the time he was eight years old, he had learned stenography so well that the highest jurist in England, Edward Coke (pronounced “Cook”) brought him to the court to work. Coke sent Roger to the best schools, and by 15, he had learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and Dutch. He grew up in Anglia, a neighborhood of London, which was a center for Puritan Separatists. Oliver Cromwell was his cousin. He emigrated to colonial America to convert the native population. In little time, he learned Narragansett (now called Algonquin). He was the first European to write a dictionary and cultural study of a native people in 1643.
He was a master linguist, the founder of the Baptist Church in America. He helped Chaddus Brown, the father of John Brown, to become the second minister for the church.
He wrote “The Bloudy Tenant Against Persecution due to Conscience,” which demanded that there were no reasons to persecute a person because of difference in religious belief. This brilliant work became the core of our Constitutional separation of Church and State, as well as the desire for tolerance. I cannot here write all of his contributions to America’s life, but I do know that, without a doubt, his life story should be known by all of us. He stood up against the Massachusetts theocracy, speaking for the separation of church and state as well as for complete religious freedom. On October 9, 1635, after being arrested, tried, and convicted, Williams was banished to serve his sentence in England. The authorities allowed the sentence to be delayed, for Williams had become ill. Finally in January 1636, he escaped to Seekonk, and without the care of an Indian woman known as Margaret, he would have died during the trip.
In time, and in part due to his having learned the language of the Narragansetts, he negotiated with Chief Canonicus(1565?-1647), and made an agreement that Williams could set up a camp as long as he would make items available to the tribe from his trading post. Here is another irony: nobody knows that both Roger Williams and Chaddus Brown were both trading post merchants. At the end of his life, he became destitute, but he still wrote: “It was not price nor money that could have purchased Rhode Island. Rhode Island was purchased by love.”
That is all that can I fit into the limits of this essay, but you can contact me for more. You can visit the fine Rangers at the Roger Williams National Memorial. The Gaspee Days Committee offers a brilliant set of archives about the Burning of the Gaspee (http://gaspee.org/#Contents)