Everybody knows of the Boston Tea Party. This event occurred on December 16, 1773 when a mob of colonists boarded three ships in Boston harbor and dumped 342 chests of tea overboard.1 However, few people today know about the Gaspee Affair, which was an equally critical event preceding the American Revolution. The Gaspee was a British schooner that patrolled the waters off of Rhode Island. The Gaspee was infamous in the area for “swooping down” on ships carrying illegal “contraband,” which at the time was considered to be anything that was imported from anywhere other than England.2 During a pursuit on June 9, 1772, the Gaspee became stranded on a sand bar. Later that night, a mob of American colonists removed the British sailors from the ship, wounded the captain, and set the Gaspee on fire, burning and destroying it.3 No one was ever tried or convicted for being involved with this event. The Gaspee Affair was crucial to the occurrence of the Boston Tea Party due to the fact that during the Gaspee Affair, the colonists saw that they could taunt the English with controlled mob violence without any legal ramifications; however, after the Boston Tea Party, the Coercive Acts were passed by the British which facilitated a harsh set of consequences.4 In my paper, I will discuss the ways that the Gaspee Affair foreshadowed the Boston Tea Party. I will also explore the relationship of the two events. If the British would have tried and convicted the colonists who were involved with the Gaspee Affair, the Boston Tea Party might not have happened.
Some historians completely ignore the Gaspee Affair. For instance, historians, such as William R. Leslie do not link the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party at all, but in my opinion, these two events are inseparable. But even worse than not relating the two events is the way that some historians totally ignore the Gaspee Affair in their works about the American Revolution. I think that this is a travesty. For example, in Ray Raphael’s A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence, Raphael claims to include the accounts of “real people, not paper heroes.”5 This book is incomplete, in my opinion, because it does not even mention the Gaspee Affair. An account from someone involved in the Gaspee Affair is essential to this book because it exemplifies both the title and the first line of the introduction. Also, in The Revolutionary War: A Concise Military History of America’s War for Independence, the Gaspee Affair is overlooked, and the Boston Tea Party is only briefly mentioned. The part of the book that mentions the Boston Tea Party focuses on the ramifications, such as the Intolerable Acts.
However, some historians do show the relationship between the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party. For example, in Understanding the American Revolution: Issues and Actors, Jack P. Greene argues that the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party are the most “extreme examples” of colonists using “collective violence to achieve political objectives.”6 In addition, in his article “Political Mobs and the American Revolution,” Arthur Meier Schlesinger argues that organized “civilian mobs,” such as those who took part in the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party “highlighted grievances as mere words could never have done.”7
While most historians, therefore, do not make a connection between the two events, I believe that the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party parallel each other. I will test the argument that both events were fueled by “radicals who complained about curbs on liberties of individuals.” Both involved the boarding of British ships and the destruction of property belonging to the Crown. They were also both “open attack[s] on… authority.” The two events, however, differ in the fact that the consequences of the Gaspee Affair were non-existent, while the consequences for the Boston Tea Party were, according to colonists, “intolerable.” I will also test the argument that the Gaspee Affair foreshadowed the events that occurred during the Boston Tea Party. Failure of the British authorities to establish consequences for those involved in the Gaspee Affair lead to the colonists in Boston believing “that they could get away with the same kind of behavior at the Boston Tea Party.” 8 The time and location affected the outcomes of each of the events as well. For example, the Gaspee Affair occurred in 1772 at “Namquit Point, near Pawtuxet” in Rhode Island.9 Controlled mob violence had not previously occurred in Rhode Island during previous years to the level that was shown by the colonists during the burning of the Gaspee. However, when the Boston Tea Party occurred, the year was 1773. In the eighteen months that separated the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party, British officials began to see an increase in this controlled mob violence produced by colonists and were getting fed up with the shows of “open attack[s] on… authority.”10 The tea party also occurred in Boston, the headquarters of defiant actions and groups, such as the Sons of Liberty. Bostonians had been thumbing their noses at the British with many bold efforts.
To explore the significance of the Gaspee Affair, I will analyze sources that make a connection between the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party. I will show how the Gaspee Affair foreshadowed the Boston Tea Party because of their similarities in the causes, the actual event, as well as the results. I will use primary sources, such as the proclamations of Governor Joseph Wanton and King George III, which offer rewards of one hundred and five hundred pounds, respectively, to anyone who helps bring “justice” to the people involved in the Gaspee Affair.11 I will also use the first hand account of the Boston Tea Party through the eyes of George Roberts Twelve Hewes, a young shoemaker who was involved in dumping tea overboard, which is included in A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence.12 Also helpful to my paper might be the primary source of the Coercive Acts that were issued by the British Parliament early in the year 1774.
Sovereign George III of Great Britain. “Proclamation. 1772 Aug. 26.” Proclamation, August 26, 1772. www. http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans?p_action=doc&p_queryname=4&p_docid=0F2F8210AE604C98&p_docnum=1&p_nbid=A54E5FBSMTE2NTAwODIyOS40NTk1MDg6MToxMzoxMjguMjI3LjIyLjc5&s_lastqueryname= (accessed November 28, 2006).
King George III wrote this proclamation for the people of Rhode Island after the burning of the Gaspee. He describes the events that took place during on June 10, 1772 and explains how two people lead the mob in burning the ship and wounding Lieutenant Dudington, the ship’s captain. King George III offers a reward of five hundred pounds to anyone who helps bring “justice” to the people involved in the incident and also offers an additional five hundred pounds to anyone who brings “justice” to the two leaders (King George III). This proclamation is important to my research because it shows that the British did make an attempt to persecute those involved in burning the Gaspee.
Wanton, Joseph. “Proclamation. 1772 June 12.” Proclamation, June 12, 1772. www.infoweb.newsbank.com/iwsearch/we/Evans/?p_action=doc&p_nbid=S58K63WWMTE2NTAxMDg0NS4yMzUxNDQ6MToxMzoxMjguMjI3LjIyLjc5&p_docid=0F2F8270B9735620&f_docnum=1&f_resultsnum=2&p_docnum=1&f_content=image&f_currentpage=2 (accessed November 28, 2006).
Governor Joseph Wanton of Rhode Island makes this proclamation two days after the burning of the Gaspee. He explains the events that occurred during the incident. “[W]ith the Advice of much of his Majesty’s Council,” Wanton offers a reward of 100 pounds for bringing to justice any of the people involved with the burning of the Gaspee. He tells the people of Rhode Island to search for the people involved in the incident with “vigilance” (Wanton).
Greene, P. Jack. Understanding the American Revolution: Issues and Actors. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.
Jack P. Greene graduated from the University of North Carolina and obtained his masters at the University of Indiana. He is a historian of early America who focuses on the Revolution. In this book, Greene analyzes the events of the American Revolution. This book will be helpful to me because of the part that discusses the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party. The two events are used as examples to show how “collective violence” was used to “achieve political objectives” and that “each new crisis produced a greater recourse” (Greene, 64). However, this book does not go into the details of either of the events be discussed in my paper, even though they are central in understanding the causes of the American Revolution. Greene uses many secondary sources as well as a few primary sources, such as letters.
Leslie, R. William. “The Gaspee Affair: A Study of Its Constitutional Significance.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 39 (1952): 233-256. JSTOR. www.jstor.org/.
This article discusses the events that occurred during the burning of the Gaspee and the legal proceedings that followed. Rewards were offered by both Parliament as well as Governor Wanton of Rhode Island; however, Wanton never had any interest in persecuting the patriots who boarded and burned the Gaspee. Rhode Island officials and officials of Parliament debated about who should handle the investigation, but in the end, no one was ever persecuted or convicted. Leslie delves into the question of “what laws, English or American, might constitutionally, that is to say, legally or justifiably impinge upon the colonists who perpetrated the burning of the Gaspee” (Leslie, 234). The article has strong evidence supporting the thesis; however, at times too many direct quotes are used and make the work seem rambling. Many primary sources were used including newspaper articles and the “Records of the Colony of Rhode Island.”
MacDougall, L. William. American Revolutionary: A Biography of General Alexander McDougall. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977.
William L. MacDougall is a “former Washington correspondent for the Los Angeles Times”, and “senior editor for U.S. News & World Report,” where he also “covered Bicentennial and cultural affairs” (MacDougall, 187). In this biography, MacDougall explains the events of the life of the patriot General Alexander McDougall as well as some of the events of the Revolution. MacDougall also writes about the causes and results of the Gaspee Affair as well as the Boston Tea Party. This part of the book will be the most helpful to my research. The strong point of this section of the book is when MacDougall makes a connection between the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party. He explains that because the British did not seriously pursue or convict any of the people involved with the Gaspee Affair, other American “radicals” were convinced “that they could get away with the same kind of behavior at the Boston Tea Party” (MacDougall, 43). MacDougall uses primary sources such as newspaper articles and secondary sources such as scholarly articles.
Matloff, Maurice, ed. The Revolutionary War: A Concise Military History of America’s War for Independence. New York: David McKay Company, Inc, 1978.
This book analyzes the warfare that took place during the American Revolution, beginning with the European style warfare that influenced it. This book discusses the ramifications of the Boston Tea Party, such as the Intolerable Acts. It also states that the city of Boston was places under “military rule of Maj. Gen. Sir Thomas Gage” (Matloff, 30). This book does not include any sources except American Military History, the book that it was adapted from.
Raphael, Ralph. A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence. New York: Perinnial, 2002.
Ralph Raphael graduated from Reed College and obtained masters degrees in political philosophy and teaching social science and history from the University of California at Berkeley and Reed College, respectively. He taught at Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods and is now a senior research fellow at Humboldt State University. In this book, Raphael reproduces many primary sources, such as letters, diaries, and oral accounts of “real people” during the American Revolution, as opposed to “paper heroes” such as Thomas Jefferson (Raphael, 1). This book will be helpful to me because of the parts that discuss the Boston Tea Party as a “contained and disciplined cadre” that was thoroughly thought out and planned (23). A first hand account of George Roberts Twelve Hewes, a young shoemaker who was involved in dumping tea during the Boston Tea Party, is included as well.
Schlesinger, Arthur Meier. “Political Mobs and the American Revolution.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 99 (1955): 244-250. JSTOR. www.jstor.org
Schlesinger was a professor of American History at Harvard University from 1924-1954. He was also the editor of the New England Quarterly. In this article, Schlesinger argues that “mass violence played a dominant role at every significant turning point of the events leading up to the War for Independence” (Schlesinger, 244). Schlesinger discusses that the mob violence which lead to the American Revolution was “organized” and uses many examples to strengthen his argument; however, the sections where he writes specifically about the Gaspee Affair and the Boston Tea Party will be most helpful to my paper. Schlesinger used many primary sources to prove his argument, including letters from the members of the Sons of Liberty.
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