On this day, the 244th anniversary of the actual attack, we are thrilled to announce that the next book in the Journal of the American Revolution book series will be The Burning of His Majesty’s Schooner Gaspee: An Attack on Crown Rule Before the American Revolution by Steven Park.
A minor British naval officer was bent on stifling American trade. Rhode Islanders responded by setting fire to his ship. The investigation that followed was inconclusive due to the unwillingness of American colonists to reveal the slightest details of the attack or the participants.
This standard view of the destruction of HMS Gaspee in 1772 is essentially true, but is an oversimplification of what was in reality a complex and intriguing story, a critical part of the legal and political machinations on both sides of the Atlantic that resulted in the American Revolution. On the British side, trade regulation and customs enforcement were key components of a strategy to improve revenue and close severe budget shortfalls. On the American side, preservation and protection of rights granted in colonial charters were essential to the colonial way of life. Both sides were deliberate and methodical as they planned, organized, and executed conflicting strategies that culminated in violence on the waters of Narragansett Bay in colonial Rhode Island.
Steven Park examines the Gaspee affair more thoroughly than ever before, explaining not only the events on a fateful night in 1772, but the long series of political, legal and commercial activities that led to them. Also compelling is the detailed story of the legal proceedings that followed, which pitted an investigative commission hamstrung by procedural considerations against colonial officials determined to prevent any individual from being brought to trial. Most important, the author demonstrates the critical role that the burning of the Gaspee played in escalating the tensions that had been building for a decade. The Gaspee affair, seen by some as a minor outburst in an already-strained era, was turned into one of the biggest propaganda tools of the era. The destruction of this small ship had an impact that was unimagined when it occurred, leading citizens in throughout the colonies to embrace the spirit of resistance to Parliamentary rule. When the Gaspee was destroyed, so too was the possibility of a peaceful resolution to American colonial unrest.
STEVEN PARK is the director of Academic Services at the University of Connecticut’s maritime campus where he teaches maritime studies. He received his PhD in history from the University of Connecticut, and his articles have appeared in a number of publications, including International Maritime History, American Neptune, Journal of the American Revolution, and Connecticut History Review.
AVAILABLE November 2016 from Westholme Publishing, Journal of the American Revolution Books.