Centuries of Democracy
Webmaster's Note: This chapter has been excerpted in its entirety from Charles Carroll's Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy. Attempts to contact the author and the publisher have been unsuccessful. It is presented here with apologies, and attesting to the value of this work in recounting the historic relevance of the actions taken by Rhode Island citizens in the years preceding the American Revolution. The original book was copied, then scanned into PrimaPage98, through Microsoft Word97, then transferred into Netscape Composer for presentation on the Internet. Page numbers have been preserved at the beginning of each page. Whole sentences have been placed into their page of origin, and the few footnotes have been incorporated into the body of the text.
Three Centuries of Democracy
A.M., Ph.D., LL.D.
THE IMPENDING REVOLUTION.
The ink with which the Treaty of Paris had been signed had scarcely been sanded ere that discord appeared between England and her American colonies that had been foreseen by French and other, statesmen of the period. Joseph Sherwood, Rhode Island's agent in England, under date of August 4, 1763, suggested England's purpose to impose the maintenance of a standing army upon the colonies, writing: "It is rumored here, and I believe upon good foundation, that the government will expect a number of troops (some say 10,000) to be kept on foot and at the sole expense of the American provinces, for their own preservation and safeguard, in order to prevent encroachments and hostilities." The Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, in October, complained that the revenue failed to defray a fourth part of the expense of collecting it, and commanded "suppression of the clandestine and prohibited trade with foreign nations." The customs service was strengthened by the appointment of new and also additional officers. For these the General Assembly established a table of fees in October. Admiral Colvill, commanding his majesty's fleet, stationed the "Squirrel," ship, in Newport harbor "for the encouragement of fair trade by the prevention of smuggling." The General Assembly on January 24, 1764, directed Governor Hopkins to send to England, addressed to Sherwood, copies of a remonstrance (See Chapter X) against renewal of the sugar act, which had expired by limitation at the end of thirty years. The remonstrance, drafted by Governor Hopkins, reviewed the economic situation of the colony, and undertook to prove that a free trade in sugar would be advantageous to Rhode Island by maintaining a profitable trade, and to England as a prosperous Rhode Island would become a better market for English goods, and if harmful to anybody, harmful only to the French, by reason of losing the brandy trade in Africa. Parliament revived the sugar act, but reduced the duty from sixpence to threepence. Imposts on other articles, including coffee, wines, and spice, were ordered. Export of iron and lumber except to England was forbidden.
The legislation of 1764 included also an announcement of the stamp act, which required the placing of a revenue stamp upon every piece of vellum, parchment and paper used for commercial and legal purposes, including court processes; upon playing cards, dice, newspapers, pamphlets, advertisements, almanacs, calendars, apprenticeship agreements, and documents in any language other than English. The preamble declared the purpose of the stamp act to be "the raising of a revenue for defraying the expenses of defending, protecting and securing his majesty's dominions in America." The stamp act was not to be put into effect immediately; an opportunity was to be given for Americans to choose another form of taxation. The form of taxation was of much less importance to them than the fact of taxation. Stamp taxes have become familiar in America as devices for raising revenue. America in 1764 was opposed to any taxation by England, and the stamp act immediately aroused a storm of protest in America. America interpreted the tax policy as a device for transferring to America part of the burden of an English national debt that had been accumulated principally through European wars. The spoils of conquest, the territory acquired from France and Spain under the Treaty of Paris, alone should compensate England for war expenditures in America. The Earl of Halifax, in August 1764, requested the Governor to transmit without delay "a list of all instruments made use of in public transactions, law proceedings, grants, conveyances, securities of land or money within your government."
"RIGHTS OF COLONIES EXAMINED"--Governor Hopkins in a message to the Assembly at the opening of the November session, said: "The burdens put on the trade of the northern colonies by a late act of Parliament are already severely felt; the stamp duties intended to be laid upon them will he a still heavier burden; and the plan formed by the British ministry to raise as much money in America as hath been expended for its defense, must complete our ruin. To all this let me add the information I have received that a petition is already sent to England by a considerable number of the inhabitants of this colony, full of complaints against it, praying that our Charter may be taken away and a new form of government introduced. These are certainly matters of the utmost importance to your constituents; and as such will, I hope, be seriously considered by you; every remedy that is possible properly applied and, should slavery become the portion of the unhappy people, let no part of their misfortune be chargeable on any neglect, or inattention of their representatives." Governor Hopkins in his final plea, beginning "should slavery become the portion of the unhappy people," had struck once more the note sounded by Governor Cranston in the address in which he was accused by Bellemont of insinuating that his majesty's government was "little better than bondage and slavery." The General Assembly adopted the address to his majesty prepared by its committee, and also requested Governor Hopkins "to correct the piece lying before this Assembly entitled 'The Rights of Colonies Examined,"' and directed a committee "to view the said performance after it shall be completed" and "if they shall approve the same," to send two fair copies to the colony agent "to be by him but in print, and to make use of the same in conjunction with the other agents, as they shall think will be most for the advantage of the colonies." The address to the King, written by Governor Hopkins and his associates, was dignified and respectful, but lacked altogether the fawning attitude assumed in communications to his majesty earlier than 1750. It asserted a contract as the basis for the relations between the colonists and the King, thus: "Before their departure, the terms they removed upon, and the relation they should stand in to the mother country, in their emigrant state, were settled. They were to remain subject to the King, and dependent on the kingdom of England; in return, they were to receive protection, and enjoy all the privileges of freeborn Englishmen." The address complained to the King that "the restraints and burdens laid on the trade of these colonies by a late act of Parliament are such, as if continued, must ruin it," and instanced the sugar act as a measure that would destroy utterly the most important commerce of Rhode Island.
"The Rights of Colonies Examined" was a finely reasoned exposition of the situation confronting the colonies and the government of England, the appeal of a free and liberty-loving people against the curtailment of their liberties and the inauguration of a tyranny. The theme was epic and the treatment was masterful; the logic was reinforced by citation of historic episodes. "Liberty is the greatest blessing that men enjoy, and slavery the heaviest curse that human nature is capable of'"--this opening sentence struck the key note.
The British constitution, "the best that ever existed among men, will be confessed by all to be founded on compact, and established by consent of the people. By this most beneficial compact British subjects are to be governed only agreeably to laws to which themselves have some way consented; and are not to be compelled to part with their property but as it is called for by the authority of such laws. The former is truly liberty; the latter is truly to be possessed of property, and to have something that may be called one's own. On the contrary, those who are governed at the will of another, or of others, and whose property may be taken from them by taxes, or otherwise, without their consent. and against their will, are in the miserable condition of slaves." Passing immediately to a consideration of the question, "whether the British American colonies on the continent are justly entitled to like privileges and freedom as their fellow subjects in Great Britain," Hopkins cited, first, the emigration from England under charters granted by King Charles I as establishing these privileges and freedom by contract; secondly, abundantly from the history of colonies, Greek, Roman, French and Spanish, to prove that colonials universally had "equal liberty and freedom with their fellow subjects" in the mother country; thirdly, the British practice theretofore of treating the "colonies as possessed of these rights" and "as their dependent, though free, condition required." After 150 Years "the scene seems to be unhappily changing. The British ministry, whether induced by a jealousy of the colonies, by false information, or by some alteration in the system of political government, we have no information; whatever hath been the motive, this we are sure of, the Parliament in their last session, passed an act limiting, restricting and burdening the trade of these colonies much more than had ever been done before; as also for greatly enlarging the power and jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty in the colonies; and also a resolution that it might be necessary to establish stamp duties, and other internal taxes, to be collected with them."
AFFAIR OF THE "ST. JOHN" AND THE "SQUIRREL"--Meanwhile stirring events had been taking place in Narragansett Bay. Early in June, 1764, Admiral Colvill sent four armed vessels "to spread themselves in the principal harbors between Casco Bay and Cape Henlopen, in order to raise men." Lieutenant Hill, commanding the "St. John," schooner, reported "very little success, the merchants having, to all appearances, entered into a combination to distress us, as far as they are able, and by threats and promises, to prevent seamen from entering for those vessels." Lieutenant Hill reported also "the behavior of the people of Rhode Island . . . . extremely insolent and unprecedented." From the Lieutenant's narrative it appeared that while the "St. John" was lying at anchor at Newport on June 30, news was received that a brig was unloading in a creek near Howland's Ferry. The vessel had unloaded her cargo and sailed before Lieutenant Hill reached Howland's Ferry. The cargo consisted of ninety-three hogsheads of sugar. Lieutenant Hill sent an armed boat in pursuit of the brig, which was captured and proved to be the "Basto" of New York, Wingate, master, from Monti Christo. The Lieutenant loaded the sugar, which he had seized, on board the brig; thereupon the owner of the vessel, fearing that the latter might be taken to Halifax for trial in the admiralty court, had Lieutenant Hill arrested and compelled him to give bail to take the "Basto" into Newport for trial there. On July 4 the Newport collector of customs seized the brig and cargo again, alleging that the first seizure had been irregular because Lieutenant Hill had not qualified by taking the oath of office. Lieutenant Hill was in Boston on July 9, when further events occurred, of which a relation by British officers is the only report that has been preserved.
As to the causes for the commotion in Newport in July there was disagreement. The "St. John" was on a mission to raise seamen, and probably was resorting to impressment, which was a practice approved by the British navy at the time, and one of the issues involved later in the War of 1812.
"On Monday, the 9th of July, 1764, at two o'clock in the afternoon, sent the boat, manned and armed, on shore to bring off Thomas Moss, a deserter, who had left the vessel some days before, and was then on the wharf; a large mob assembled and rescued him; and seeing our people in great danger, we fired a swivel, unshotted, as signal for the boat to come on board. The mob took Mr. Doyle, the officer of the boat, prisoner, and wounded most of the boat's crew with stones, which fell as thick as hail round and in the boat; and they threatened to sacrifice Mr. Doyle if the pilot was not immediately sent on shore and delivered up to their mercy; they even threatened to haul the schooner on shore and burn her. At five we sent the boat on board the 'Squirrel' to acquaint the commanding officer of our situation. In the meantime the mob filled a sloop full of men, and bore right down on board us; but, seeing us determined to defend the vessel, they thought proper to sheer off and. go on shore again. At six the boat returned from the 'Squirrel' with orders to get under way and anchor close under her stern. The mob growing more and more tumultuous we fired a swivel and made a signal to the 'Squirrel' for assistance, and got under sail. As soon as the mob saw our design they sent a sloop and two or three boats full of men to the battery on Goat Island, and began to fire on us, notwithstanding the Lieutenant of the 'Squirrel' went on shore and forbade the gunner to do any such thing. They even knocked him down, and it was with much difficulty that he got from them; they fired eight shot at us, one of which went through our mainsail whilst we were turning out. At eight we anchored in ten fathom of water within half a cable's length of the 'Squirrel,' and received one shot more from the battery, which went close under the 'Squirrel's' stern. They threatened to sink us if we did not immediately weigh and run into the harbor again; but on the 'Squirrel's' getting a spring upon its cable and bringing her broadside to bear upon the battery, they left off. At eleven next morning they set Mr. Doyle at liberty."
An officer on the "Squirrel" reported that soon after the scuffle at the landing place "several gentlemen came on board and said they came to represent the occasion of the disturbance, lest the officer of the schooner should have made a misrepresentation of the affair. They said there was a theft committed by three of the schooner's people; that a peace officer went off, and they had refused him admittance; and they now imagined he would return with an armed force, to gain admittance. I told the gentlemen the offenders should be sent on shore. The signal was then made by the schooner pursuant to my former directions. I immediately sent a boat and a petty officer to order her out of the harbor; on which the gentlemen told me they would fire on her from the fort. I then told the officer if they fired from the fort, to go on shore to the fort, and let them know it was my orders for her to move and anchor near us; and that the men should be delivered to justice; and if he fired again, I should be obliged to return it. They still continued their fire. I then ordered a spring in our cable, and went ashore to the fort to let them know the consequences of their behavior. I found no other officer than the gunner, governed by a tumultuous mob, who said they had orders to fire, and they would fire. They used me with great insolence, and knocked me down, and would have detained me. I then returned to the boat, ordered the ship to prepare for action, and proceeded on board the schooner, and brought her to anchor near the ship; they then ceased firing. I then went on shore to demand justice of the Deputy Governor for the treatment I had received at the fort.
Captain Smith of the "Squirrel" reported that the gunner at the fort "produced an order for stopping the vessel signed by two of the council, the Deputy Governor being absent at that time. I, in company with my Lieutenant, waited on the Governor and council to demand a proper acknowledgment for the insult they had committed. . . . I found them a set of very ignorant council. They agreed that the gunner had acted by authority, and that they would answer for it when they thought it necessary. It appears to me that they were guided by the mob, whose intentions were to murder the pilot and destroy the vessel. I am very sorry they ceased firing before we had convinced them of their error. But I hope it will . . . be the means of a change of government in this licentious republic."
However exaggerated, possibly, the narratives were, there was no doubt that the King's colors had been fired upon, and that British naval officers were not popular in Newport. Admiral Colvill reported the matter to England, and the English government issued an order to the Governor and Company of Rhode Island to return "with all possible dispatch an exact and punctual account of the whole proceeding, authenticated in the best manner the case will admit of; together with the names and descriptions of the offenders, and what means were used at the time of the tumult by the government and magistracy of that colony for the suppression thereof, and the protection of his majesty's vessels and their crews; particularly whether anything and what was done by the government of said colony when the populace possessed themselves of the battery upon Goat Island; and what measures had been since taken to discover and bring to justice the offenders." Governor Ward had succeeded Governor Hopkins by the time, June, 1765, the inquiry reached America. He replied that "as I was out of the administration last year and was out of town when the affair happened, it will require more time for me to acquaint myself with and prepare a statement of the case properly authenticated than if I had been present at the time of the transaction." He promised to lay the letter from England before the General Assembly at the September session, 1765, and did. There were changes of officers in England also, and the affair of the "St. John" and the "Squirrel" was lost sight of in a series of events of greater immediate significance in England and America, also. The General Assembly's resolution in September, 1765, that the Governor "issue a proclamation for apprehending the rioters, and commanding all persons to apprehend and bring them to justice, and to prevent any such riots for the future," referred to other disturbances as well as the firing on H. M. S. "St. John."
THE "MAIDSTONE" AFFAIR--H.M.S. "Maidstone" replaced the "Squirrel" in Rhode Island waters in 1765, combining enforcement of the revenue laws with impressment of seamen. For both purposes all vessels, even fishing smacks and small sloops carrying firewood to the town of Newport, were visited and searched. Impressment excepted for a time only Newporters, lest too great offence be given to the latter, on whom the "Maidstone" was dependent somewhat for supplies of food and water. Interference with vessels and impressment of seamen soon had the effect of banishing all shipping, save incoming vessels from foreign voyages, from Newport. Fishing and wood carrying stopped, and Newport was effectually cut off from supplies. Vessels were tied up at the wharves without cargoes, and hundreds of sailors loitered in the streets for want of employment. On June 4, 1765, the King's birthday, the "Maidstone" sent a boarding party to a vessel arriving from Africa, and impressed the entire crew, including several inhabitants of Newport. This aroused the people. At nine in the evening of June 4, a boat from the "Maidstone," landing at one of the Newport wharves, was seized by a crowd, estimated as including 500 sailors and boys, dragged up Queen Street at a speed so great that the iron keel left a trail of sparks, carried to the Common and publicly burned.
The men whose discharge I requested were detained several weeks; many others, in the meantime impressed; the very fishing boats which daily supplied the town were fired at, and interrupted so much in their fishing that some of them dared not go out of the harbor; and the town, if these measures had been continued, would soon have greatly suffered; nay, to such an extravagant height of imprudence and insolence had your people arrived as to enter on board a wood boat (upon the King's birthday, the very day upon which you affect to lay so great stress), having only two men in her, and to take one of them out, and even to follow the vessel to the wharf. This encouraged the populace, and was the immediate occasion of the riot, which ended in burning the Maidstone boat. These things gave a general uneasiness to the inhabitants, who not only saw the great disadvantage they must suffer in their trade and commerce, but were also apprehensive that the supplies which came to the town by water (without which they cannot subsist) would be so much obstructed as greatly to enhance the price of the necessaries of life.
And here, sir, I must observe, that the impressing of Englishmen is, in my opinion, an arbitrary action, contrary to law, inconsistent with liberty, and to be justified only by urgent necessity. You assert that while your ship is afloat the civil authority of this colony does not extend to and cannot operate within her. But I must be of opinion, sir, that while she lies in the body of a county, as she then did and still does, within the body of the county of Newport, all her officers and men are within the jurisdiction of this colony, and ought to conform themselves to the laws thereof; and while I have the honor to be in the administration, I shall endeavor to assert and maintain the liberties and privileges of his majesty's subjects; and the honor, dignity and jurisdiction of the colony. As the men whose discharge I was anxious for have been dismissed, and no further complaints have been made me on that head, I am content to drop the dispute, and hope for the future there may be no occasion for renewing it.
The Governor mentioned in his letter a formal complaint of the destruction of the boat to the Chief Justice of the county, and added: "But in justice to this town I must observe, that by the best information I can get, no person of the least note was concerned in the riot; the persons who committed the crime consisting altogether of the dregs of the people, and a number of boys and negroes." The famous Boston tea party, several years later, was conducted by a strange band of Indians who appeared suddenly in the quaint and quiet Puritan town. Who shall say that disguise was not known by the strange tatterdemalion band, including negroes, who burned the boat of the "Maidstone"? The courts of Rhode Island were open to the British officers for prosecution of offenders, "supposed to be known,". but there were no convictions.
THE STAMP ACT--The exasperation aroused in Newport by the activities of the "Maidstone" including what was described by a contemporary writer as "the hottest press ever knon in this town," had not subsided when news reached America that Parliament had passed the stamp act, to become effective November 1. and that it had been signed for King George III, who was mentally deficient and under guardianship. Venturesome sea captains, sailing to and from ports farther up Narragansett Bay, no doubt had found ways of avoiding the "Maidstone" by use of the West Passage or by night sailing, which were not available to Newport vessels, which must lie at wharves commanded by the 'Maidstone's" batteries. But the stamp act could not be avoided by seamanship. Providence expressed its discontent with the stamp act in resolutions. At a special town meeting on August 7, 1765, Stephen Hopkins, Nicholas Cooke, Samuel Nightingale, Jr., John Brown, Silas Downer and James Angell were appointed a committee to draft instructions to the town's representatives in the General Assembly. Resolutions drafted by the committee were adopted August 13; in large part they were similar to the resolutions adopted by the Virginia House of Burgesses on motion of Patrick Henry, and, with variations emphasizing Rhode Island's unusual independence in legislative matters, were subsequently adopted by the General Assembly at its session in September, 1765.
The General Assembly met at East Greenwich on the second Monday in September, 1765, for a most momentous session. The Speaker of the House of Deputies announced receipt by him of an invitation to send representatives to a conference to be held at New York on the first Tuesday in October and Metcalfe Bowler and Henry Ward were thereupon chosen to attend the Stamp Act Congress. Careful instructions for the delegates were drafted, and the Assembly itself adopted solutions more emphatic and dating than any others of the period, as follows:
This Assembly, taking into the most serious consideration an act passed by the Parliament of Great Britain at their last session for levying stamp duties, and other internal duties in, North America, do resolve:Though the record of the General Assembly session of September, 1765, concluded with the formal "God save the King," the General Assembly, by striking out from the first draft of the fourth paragraph of its resolutions the words "his majesty or his substitute" had denied even to the King a right to participate in imposing taxes upon the colony, and had declared that the tax right lay exclusively with the General Assembly.
RHODE ISLAND AT THE STAMP ACT CONGRESS--Meeting at South Kingstown on the last Wednesday in October, 1765, the General Assembly received the report of the delegates to Stamp Act Congress that the latter had adopted "several declarations of their opinion respecting the rights and liberties of the colonists, and agreed upon a loyal and dutiful address to his majesty, and humble application to both houses of Parliament to procure the repeal of the stamp act and of all clauses of any other acts of Parliament whereby the jurisdiction of admiralty is extended beyond its ancient limits in the colonies, and of the other acts for the of American commerce." Resolutions of cordial thanks to Colonel Isaac Barre "for his generous and patriotic endeavors in a late session of Parliament, for the interest of the colonies" were adopted. It was voted and resolved "that the last Thursday in this instant November be observed throughout this colony as a day of public thanksgiving to Almighty God, for the many favors and mercies received the year past; and that prayers be put for a blessing on the endeavors of the colony for preservation of their invaluable privileges; and that his honor the Governor be, and he is hereby requested to issue a proclamation accordingly." This was the earliest precedent for the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day (In each of 1759 and 1760 the Thursday preceding the last Thursday was Thanksgiving Day).
Near as Rhode Island seemed to be to revolution in 1765, resistance to injustice rather than independence was the dominating purpose. Governor Ward's statement in a letter to the colony agent under date of November 7, was clear upon this point: "The complaints of this colony on their present grievances do not arise from any unwillingness to contribute to the interest of Great Britain, or the least desire of throwing off or lessening, in any manner, our dependence upon her. We unanimously esteem our relation to our mother country as our greatest happiness, and are ever ready, and at the hazard of our lives and fortunes, to do anything in our power for her interest, and all we desire in return is the quiet enjoyment of the common rights and privileges of Englishmen, which we imagine we have a natural right and just title to." Samuel Ward was true as steel, however; he alone of American Governors in 1765 refused to take the oath to enforce the stamp act prescribed for Governors. As the Revolution drew nearer he was identified with the patriot cause; in 1774 he accompanied his colleague at the Albany Congress and his opponent in Rhode Island internal politics, Stephen Hopkins, as delegate to the Continental Congress.
RESISTANCE TO THE STAMP ACT--November 1, 1765, arrived, and with it the time for putting the stamp act into effect in America. Practically no public business could be transacted in a legal way without the use of stamped paper; and none was to be had, whether "distributors" feared to sell or good Americans refused to buy. In Rhode Island public business proceeded as usual, because the General Assembly had ordered it so, and had guaranteed to sustain colony officers. Only the officers at the custom house in Newport were interested in stamps. Their application for stamps to Augustus Johnston as distributor elicited an answer to the effect that stamps had been consigned to him and received; that he had been persuaded by duress to resign his office; and that he had carried the stamps on board the "Cygnet."
REPEAL OF STAMP ACT--Parliament, on receiving news from America, early in 1766, of the sturdy opposition to the stamp act, faced the alternative of enforcement or repeal, and eventually chose the latter. The petitions of "the merchants of London, Leeds, Bristol, Glasgow and other places, trading to America," and complaining already of loss of trade through the American policy of boycotting English goods, mentioned by Sherwood in his letter of February 25, 1766, undoubtedly had an effect in producing in the House of Commons the majority of 108 for repeal. William Pitt and Edmund Burke were powerful in the debate. Sherwood, the colony agent, and Secretary Conway, each announcing the repeal, mentioned Parliament's wish that compensation should be paid for losses in recent riots and other disorderly procedure, and urged a display of generous gratitude in America. , The General Assembly voted resolutions of thanks to his majesty, and ordered the salutes in honor of the repeal and of the King's birthday, fired at the fort, paid for from the colony treasury. The Governor was directed to thank the merchants of London for promoting the repeal of the stamp act. The "Providence Gazette " recorded a celebration in Providence of the King's birthday, June 4, as a day of public rejoicing. "The auspicious morn was ushered in by the ringing of bells, and a discharge of several cannon from a battery planted on the parade. The courthouse, a most elegant structure, was beautifully ornamented with colors, and the shipping in the harbor hove out theirs at a signal given. Joy and gladness shone in every countenance; and nothing was to be heard but mutual congratulations until eleven o'clock, when, according to the order of the day, there was a general gathering of the people on the parade. From thence they marched in order, with drums beating, trumpets sounding, and colors displayed, to the Presbyterian meetinghouse, where thanks were given to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, for His kindness to His people, in releasing them from the heavy burdens which, were imposed on them, and for continuing their liberties. There was an animated and well-adapted. discourse delivered by the Rev. Mr. Rowland from Psalm cxxvi, 3, and the religious exercises were concluded with a beautiful anthem performed by a company of musicians. The assembly returned in like good order as they came, to the courthouse, where his majesty's health was drunk by many hundreds under a royal salute of twenty-one cannon, when the company adjourned to four o'clock. Upon their reassembling they drank thirty-two of the most loyal, patriotic and constitutional toasts, under a discharge of seven, five and three cannon, accompanied with the sound of drums, trumpets and loud huzzas of the loyal multitude, who were liberally treated by the gentlemen of the town. In the evening 108 sky rockets with a beehive containing 108 serpents, were played off before the courthouse (which was most beautifully illumined), with divers other kinds of fireworks.
Lest repeat of the stamp act establish a constitutional precedent, in accord with the English usage of applying to resolutions of Parliament defining policies a doctrine resembling judicial stare decisis, Parliament enacted with the repealing statute the so-called "declaratory act," asserting explicitly a right vested in Parliament to make laws for "the colonies and people of America, subject of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever." At the same time the acts of trade were revised, and adjusted practically upon a revenue, rather than a regulatory or prohibitory, standard. The reduction of the duty on molasses to one penny per gallon, and modifications of the tariff on sugar, coffee and spice were considered favorable to American colonial trade, and promised revival of colonial prosperity. The Duke of Richmond, writing June 12, 1766, announced the "opening and establishing certain ports on the Islands of Jamaica and Dominica for the more free importation and exportation of certain goods and merchandises," and continued: "Thus, you see, gentlemen, that not only the greatest attention has been shown to his majesty's American subjects, by the repeal of an act which they had complained of, but those grievances on trade which seemed to be the first and chief object of their uneasiness have been taken into most minute consideration, and such regulations have been established as will, it is hoped, restore the trade of America, not only to its former flourishing state, but be the means of greatly increasing and improving it." The Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, under date of August 1, requested information concerning new manufactures set up in Rhode Island since 1734; Governor Lyndon reported "ten forges for making iron out of ore; two furnaces, one for making ore into pigs, and the other for making hollow-ware out of ore; six spermacetti works; twelve potash works, three rope-walks, and one paper mill, at which is manufactured wrapping, package and other coarse paper . . . . neither for these nor any other manufactures is any bounty or other encouragement given by the colony."
NEWPORT MASSACRE --The benevolent disposition manifested in England was not destined to be long continued. On Townshend's return to the Ministry in 1766, he resumed almost immediately his American colonial policy, involving (1) billeting 10,000 English troops in America; (2) Strict enforcement of trade and navigation and revenue acts; and (3) effective taxation of the colonies. Duties were laid on tea, glass, red and white.lead, and paper in 1767; a board of commissioners to supervise enforcement of the navigation acts was created; and the New York Assembly was suspended because of refusal to furnish supplies for a detachment of British troops. Thus England furnished America with pretexts for renewing the quarrel that appeared to have ended with the joyously good feeling that attended repeal of the stamp act. America was as prompt as might be expected in taking up once more the defense of liberty. Colonial committees of correspondence established first during the stamp act controversy resumed activity. Colonial assemblies passed resolutions and exchanged copies. Stout resistance to customs officers appeared in places, with open quarrels between Americans and English officers, which indicated deep-seated hostility. One of these resulted in the Newport massacre, May 3, 1768. As in the instance of the Boston massacre, which occurred nearly two years later, (March 5, 1770) reports of the Newport massacre vary, one alleging-murderous assault upon an unarmed youth by a British naval officer provoked by derisive laughter as he and two companions passed by on a Newport sidewalk; the other alleging an affray in which the British Officers drew in self-defense, and slew the youth and wounded one of his companions.
Recourse to the concerted action by resolutions in colonial assemblies, by resolutions in Congress, and by resistance that had procured the repeal of the stamp act was indicated early in 1768 as about to be taken against the Townshend policy. On February 11 the Massachusetts House of Representatives addressed a letter to the Speaker of the "House of Representatives in Rhode Island," in which it was suggested that "it seems to be necessary that all possible care should be taken that the representations of the several assemblies, upon so delicate a point, should harmonize with each other." The letter then summarized a protest sent by Massachusetts to the Ministry. Hillsborough, writing from Whitehall in April; cautioned Rhode Island, with reference to the Massachusetts protest, thus: "As his majesty considers this measure to be of a most dangerous and factious tendency, calculated to inflame the minds of his good subjects in the colonies, to promote an unwarrantable combination, and to excite and encourage an open opposition to and denial of the authority of Parliament, and to subvert the true principles of the constitution; it is his majesty's pleasure that you should, immediately upon the receipt hereof, exert your utmost influence to defeat this flagitious attempt to disturb the public peace by prevailing upon the Assembly of your province to take no notice of it, which will be treating it with the contempt it deserves. The repeated proofs which have been given by the Assembly of Rhode Island of their reverence and respect for the laws, and of their faithful attachment to the constitution, leaves little room in his majesty's breast to doubt of their showing a proper resentment of this unjustifiable attempt to revive those distractions which have operated so fatally to the prejudice of his kingdom and the colonies; and, accordingly, his majesty has the fullest confidence in their affections and expects that they will give him the strongest proofs of them in this and every other occasion." Governor Lyndon, answering, promised to lay the matter before the General Assembly. Hillsborough, on September 2, wrote: "The King having observed that the governors of his colonies have, upon several occasions, taken upon themselves to communicate to their councils and assemblies either the whole or parts of letters which they have received from his majesty's principal secretaries of state, I have it in command from his majesty to signify to you that it is his majesty's pleasure that you do not, upon any pretence whatever, communicate to the Assembly any copies or extracts of such letters as you shall receive from his majesty's principal secretaries of state, unless you have his majesty's particular directions for so doing." Governor Joseph Wanton answered the foregoing.thus: "Your lordship's letter of, September 2 last, having been laid before the General Assembly, I am, at their request, to observe to your lordship that, by the Charter of this colony, the supreme authority is vested in the General Assembly; the constitution all letters, intelligence and correspondence relating to public matters the welfare of the colony must necessarily be laid before them, and there receive a final decision. The instruction contained in your lordships letter, I imagine, must have without a sufficient attention to the nature of this government, which clearly appears from the letter itself, it being addressed to the Governor and Company, which is the General Assembly. The letter being circular, I think easily accounts for the mistake."
If the Colony House did not rock with laughter at Hillsborough's commendation, in his letter of April 21, of the "reverence and respect for the laws" displayed by the members of the General Assembly, it was because their sense of humor was suppressed for the time being by the seriousness of the situation.
Hillsborough, in May, 1768, complained that customs officers "meet with great obstructions and are deterred from exerting themselves in the execution of their duty." The General Assembly answered by resolution directing the Governor to "inform his lordship that this Assembly knew of no obstructions his majesty's officers have met within this colony."
SCUTTLING OF THE "LIBERTY"--In July the first overt act of the Revolution occurred in Rhode Island; the "Liberty," armed British sloop, was seized, dismasted and scuttled, and her boats were burned at Newport. The "Liberty" had been fitted out by the commissioners of the King's customs in Boston and sent to Rhode Island waters to detain and examine all vessels suspected of violating the revenue laws. The "Newport Mercury" of May 22, 1769, reported: "Last Tuesday a sloop from the West Indies belonging to Providence, in this colony, was seized by the officers of the 'Liberty,' sloop of war." The "Providence Gazette" of May 27: "On Monday, arrived here, his majesty's armed sloop "Liberty," Captain Reed, from Newport." Both the "Gazette" of July 22 and "Mercury" of the same date reported the destruction of the "Liberty. The following narrative is in part from each of the papers, which agreed on the essential details:
Captain Reed, commander of the sloop "Liberty," having seized a brig, Captain Packwood, and the "Sally," sloop, Edward Finker, master, both belonging to Connecticut, on Monday, July 17, brought both into Newport on the same day. The brig was seized on suspicion of "having done an illicit act," and the "Sally" was alleged to be loaded with a cargo of prohibited goods. Up to Wednesday no prosecution of either brig or sloop had been undertaken. The reports in "Gazette" and "Mercury," and the statements in proclamations issued subsequently indicate that probably the seizure of the brig was unwarranted, and that Captain Packwood had obtained clearance papers at the custom house at Newport. On Wednesday Captain Packwood went on board the brig for some necessaries. The "Gazette" reported that his clothing and other personal efforts had been removed to the "Liberty," and that he found sailors from the "Liberty" unbending the sails on the brig, probably to prevent sailing. The "Mercury" reported that officers of the prize crew on board the brig refused to allow Captain Packwood access to his clothing. Both papers agree that there was a quarrel on board the brig, in the course of which Captain Packwood drew his sword and with it cleared his way to his boat. While the latter was proceeding to the wharf at Newport it was fired upon by the "Liberty," two musket balls passing close to Captain Packwood. Attempts to fire a swivel and pistol failed. In the evening of Wednesday, July 19, Captain Reed of the "Liberty," who was ashore, was seized by a crowd on Long Wharf, and compelled to order the crew of the "Liberty" ashore to answer for the attack on Captain Packwood. The "Liberty" was then boarded, her cables cut, and she was allowed to drift to shore. There her masts and rigging were cut away, her guns were heaved overboard, and she was scuttled. Her two boats were dragged to the common and burned. The brig, Captain Packwood, and the "Sally," sloop, were released and sailed away.
At the session of, the General Assembly in June, 1769, a committee was appointed to consider a letter received from Payton Randolph, Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, enclosing resolutions adopted by Virginia on May 16. At the October session the Assembly adopted as its own the second, third and fourth Virginia resolutions, excepting the first, because Rhode Island had already adopted and sent to the King a resolution, stronger than that from Virginia, declaring the Assembly's exclusive right to levy taxes in Rhode Island. Otherwise the resolutions declared the rights (1) to petition the King for redress of grievances; and (2) to trial by a jury of the vicinage. The latter was a protest against the threat to carry persons arrested on the charge of treason to England for trial there, because American juries invariably acquitted their fellow-citizens charged with the violation of laws which, from the American point of view, were unconstitutional. Meanwhile Sherwood, with resident agents of other American colonies, had been in conference with Hillsborough; the latter, Sherwood wrote, "repeatedly assured us that the legislature and ministry here had laid aside every idea of raising a revenue in America for the service of the government; and that it was resolved upon by them to repeal the act laying duties upon paper, glass and colors; and that every reasonable and proper measure would be taken to remove the jealousies, fears and apprehensions of the Americans." A more effective weapon than resolutions and disorder--the boycott of English goods which had been so convincing as a protest against the stamp act--had been revived, and associations of merchants bound by agreements not to import English goods and of consumers bound by agreements not to buy English goods, had risen throughout the colonies. The Sons of Liberty, and in Rhode Island the Daughters of Liberty, organizations suggested by Colonel Barre's appeal for America in the debate on the stamp tax, were revived. Liberty trees, dedicated as meeting places for patriots, were found in most towns. The Providence Liberty Tree had been dedicated July 25, 1768, by Silas Downer, thus:
We do, in the name and behalf of all the true sons of liberty in America, Great Britain, Ireland, Corsica, or wheresoever they may be dispersed throughout the world, dedicate and solemnly devote this tree to be a tree of liberty. May all our councils and deliberations under its venerable branches be guided by wisdom, and directed for the support and maintenance of that liberty which our renowned forefathers sought out and found under trees and in the wilderness. May it long flourish, and may the sons of liberty often repair hither to confirm and strengthen each other; when they look toward this sacred elm may they be penetrated with- a sense of their duty to themselves and their posterity; and may they, like the house of David, grow stronger and stronger, while their enemies, like the house of Saul, shall grow weaker and weaker. Amen.250
As orator of the occasion, Silas Downer pronounced a discourse upon the problems of the time, including paragraphs so incisive as these:
But of late a new system of politics has been adopted in Great Britain, and the common people there claim a sovereignty over us although they be only fellow subjects. It is now an established principle in Great Britain that we are subject to the people of that country, in the same manner as they are subject to the Crown. The language of every paltry scribbler, even of those who pretend friendship for us in some things is after this lordly style--our colonies, our western dominions, our plantations, our islands, our subjects in America, our authority, our government, with many more like imperious expressions. Strange doctrine that we should be thus subjects of subjects, and liable to be controlled at their will. It is enough to break every measure of patience that fellow subjects should thus assume such power over us. If the King was an absolute monarch and ruled us according to his absolute will and pleasure, as some Kings in Europe do their subjects, it would not be in any degree so humiliating and debasing, as to he governed by one part of the King's subjects who are but equals.One year later "the merchants, traders, farmers and mechanics, and in general, all the sons of liberty, in this and the neighboring towns," were invited to meet at the Liberty Tree to consult and agree upon effectual measures to discourage the importation and consumption of European goods. Another meeting at the Liberty Tree was held October 17, and at the town meeting on October 24, 1769, it was resolved by the freemen "that they would not, directly or indirectly, from that time until the act imposing duties upon glass, paper, etc., shall be repealed give any orders for importing, by land or water, into this colony, either for sale or for their own families'-use, or. purchase of any other person importing any of the articles enumerated in an agreement entered into and signed by a number of the inhabitants of this town on the second day of December, 1767 . . . . and that they would strictly adhere to the measures thereby adopted, by endeavoring most effectually to discountenance luxury and extravagance in the use of British and foreign manufactures and superfluities; and by exerting their utmost endeavors to promote and encourage, by all laudable methods our own manufactures, more especially the articles of wool and flax, the natural produce and staple of this colony." At the same meeting the merchants of the town agreed to place in bond "divers parcels of goods" ordered for import and daily expected to arrive from England. Stubborn as were the English ministers of the period in maintaining what they considered the principle involved in taxation of the colonies, even when the impracticability of taxation had been demonstrated by failure of both the stamp act and the Townshend measures, they were too far removed from America to understand that they had awakened there a devotion to liberty, amounting to a consecrated idealism, that would not yield. The boycott was continued vigorously until the repeal of the Townshend tariff on all articles save tea; thereafter there was disagreement in America as to the necessity of continuing the boycott on all articles of British manufacture, and eventually the non-importation, non-consumption, policy was abandoned except as to tea.
Only the tariff had been repealed, and that in part. The English ministry was persistent in pursuing its policy of maintaining an army in America and in enforcing the trade and navigation acts. Hillsborough, in December, 1770, announced an augmentation to the King's forces, consisting of an additional light company to every battalion, and of twenty men to every company . . . . and it being of great importance in the present situation that the several battalions now serving in America should be completed as soon as possible," urged the Governor to assist in raising "such a number of recruits as shall be sufficient for that purpose. Early in 1771, General Gage, commanding the British forces in America, requested the Governor to provide quarters for his majesty's Sixty-fourth Regiment. The General Assembly deferred action, authorizing the Governor to call a special session should occasion arise. At the May session, 1772, the Assembly approved and ordered paid a bill for the expense of billeting a detachment of British soldiers passing through the colony. A suggestion of revival of the old controversy concerning control of the colony militia appeared in a letter from Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts under date of September 2, 1771, announcing his commission as "captain-general and commander-in-chief of the militia, and of all our forces by sea and land within the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and the Narragansett Country, or King's Province in New England, and of the forts and places of strength within the same."
The enforcement of the trade and navigation acts involved more substantial difficulty and was made particularly vexatious by reason of the officiousness of customs officers and naval officers. The former were frequently in conflict with the colony officers; the latter ignored the laws of the colony on an assumption of higher authority. Both kept a steady stream of complaints moving toward England, some of which were disregarded by the English government as trivial, although occasionally an outburst of indignation was indicated by exchanges of curt correspondence with colonial officers. The situation was difficult and fraught with danger. The dissatisfaction with an unjust law that appears to warrant disregarding or breaking it tends to breed contempt for other law and sometimes for all law. For England it had been unfortunate that so much of legislation as affected America had been interpreted as violating dearly cherished rights of Americans. The ultimate effect was the disposition in America to regard all English officers as agents for tyranny. Coincidentally the almost utter disregard by English officers of colonial laws and of colonial officers left the latter in an embarrassing situation. Occasionally, however, it served the purpose of absolving the colonial government from responsibility. Thus, in July, 1771, Hillsborough complained of certain outrages committed on customs officers and "the neglect of the governors and civil magistrates in giving their assistance and protection," and particularly "that some of the most violent of these outrages have been committed at Newport, in Rhode Island, particularly in April last, when the collector of his majesty's customs at that port, was, in the execution of his duty, assaulted and grossly ill-treated, even to the danger of his life, by a number of the inhabitants, without any protection being given him; that, in general, the officers of the customs have received no support or countenance from that government, and have in vain applied to the superior court for writs of assistance in cases where such writs were adjudged necessary."
BURNING OF THE "GASPEE"--The "Gaspee," armed sloop, appeared in Narragansett Bay in March, 1772, and almost immediately began to harass shipping. Deputy-Governor Sessions, on March 21 wrote to Governor Wanton from Providence:
The inhabitants of this town have of late been very much disquieted in their minds by repeated advices being brought of a schooner, which for some time past hath cruised in Narragansett Bay, and much disturbed our navigation. She suffers no vessel to pass, not even packet boats, or others of an inferior kind, without a strict examination; and where any sort of unwillingness is discovered, they are compelled to submit by an armed force. Who he is, and by what authority he assumes such a conduct, it is thought needs some inquiry; and I am requested by a number of gentlemen of this town, on their behalf, to acquaint your honor therewith, and that you would take the matter under consideration; and if the commander of that schooner has not yet made proper application, and been duly authorized, to bring him to account. It is suspected he has no legal authority to justify his conduct; and his commission, if he has any, is some antiquated paper, more of a fiction than anything else, and this seems to be confirmed by Mr. Thomas Greene, who says he saw it, and believes it to be no other than the commission the famous Reed had, who lost his sloop at Newport, or something else of no validity. In consequence of the above-mentioned application, I have consulted with Chief Justice Hopkins thereon, who is of opinion that no commander of any vessel has any right to use any authority in the body of the colony without previously applying to the Governor, and showing his warrant for so doing, and also being sworn to a due exercise of his office; and this, he informs me, has been the common custom in this colony.253
Governor Wanton thereupon sent the high sheriff on board the "Gaspee" with a statement that a complaint had been made because the schooner had "in a most illegal and unwarrantable manner, interrupted trade by searching and detaining every little packet boat plying between the several towns." The Governor directed the commander of the "Gaspee" "to produce me your commission and instructions, if you have any, which was your duty to have done when you first came within the jurisdiction of the colony." Lieutenant Dudingston, commanding the "Gaspee," replied: "When I waited on you on my arrival I acquainted you of my being sent to this government to assist the revenue. I had my commission to show you, if required as it was ever understood by all his majesty's governors I have had the honor to wait on, that every officer commanding one of his majesty's vessels was properly authorized, and did produce it, unasked for." Governor Wanton thereupon repeated his request, thus: "I expect that you do, without delay, comply with my request of yesterday; and you may be assured that my utmost exertions shall not be wanting to protect your person from any insult outrage on coming ashore." The correspondence, up to this point, reflected the tensity of the situation, and the animosity against the "Gaspee" aroused within a short time after her appearance in Rhode Island waters. The searching of packet boats plying wholly within the waters of the bay could scarcely be justified without reasonable evidence that they carried cargoes that could be identified as smuggled.
Lieutenant Dudingston reported his correspondence with Governor Wanton to Admiral Montagu at Boston; the latter wrote to Governor Wanton early in April, asserting that the "Gaspee" had been sent to Rhode Island "to protect your province from pirates, and to give the trade all the assistance he can, and to endeavor, as much as lays in his power, to protect the revenue, and to prevent (if possible) the illicit trade that is carrying on at Rhode Island." The Admiral continued: "He, sir, has done his duty, and behaved like an officer; and it is your duty as a governor to give him your assistance, and not to distress the King's officers from strictly complying with my order. I shall give them directions that, in case they receive any molestation in the execution of their duty, they shall send every man so taken in molesting them, to me. I am also informed the people of Newport talk of fitting out an armed vessel to rescue any vessel the King's schooners may take carrying on an illicit trade. Let them be cautious what they do, for, as soon as they attempt it, and any of them are taken, I will hang them as pirates. I shall report your two insolent letters to my officer, to his majesty's secretaries of state, and leave them to determine what right you have to demand a sight of all orders I shall give to all officers of my squadron; and I would advise you not to send your sheriff on board the King's ship again, on such ridiculous errands. The captain and lieutenant have all my orders, to give you assistance whenever you demand it, but further, you have no business with them; and, be assured, it is not their duty to show you any part of my orders or instructions to them."
The Governor's answer was worthy of a Wanton: "Lieutenant Dudingston has done well in transmitting my letters to you, which I sent him; but I am sorry to be informed there is anything contained in them that should be construed as a design of giving offence, when no such thing was intended ' But Mr. Dudingston has not behaved so well, in asserting to you 'he waited on me, and showed me the admiralty and your orders for his proceedings, which agreeably_to his instructions, he is so to do; but in that he has altogether misinformed you; for he at no time ever showed me any orders from the admiralty or from you; and positively denied that he derived any authority either from you or the commissioner; therefore, it was altogether out of my power to know, whether he came hither to protect us from pirates, or was a pirate himself. You say 'he has done his duty, and behaved like an officer.' In this I apprehend you must be mistaken; for I can never believe it is the duty of an officer to give false information to his superiors. As to your attempt to point out what was my duty as Governor, please be informed that I do not receive instructions for the administration of my government from the King's admiral stationed in America....
Governor Wanton, in conformity with a vote of the General Assembly, transmitted the correspondence to London in May, with a letter relating the circumstances, and an additional cause for complaint: "It is now my turn to complain of Mr. Dudingston's illegal proceedings in carrying a quantity of rum he had seized on board a small boat, lying within the county of Kent, in this colony, to Boston, for trial; notwithstanding, by the Eighth of his majesty, it is expressly declared that all forfeitures of this kind shall be tried in that colony where the offence is committed." Dudingston in a letter to Montagu referred to this seizure of twelve hogsheads of rum as "a bait the inhabitants of this government would willingly put in my way if that could fix the schooner," adding, "I could expect no quarter from people of that stamp. On the 20th the sloop was condemned. I have taken the liberty to enclose my letter to the commissioners for your perusal, open; as it was the intention of the people here, to have the sloop sold in the manner they have been used to, and which always falls into the old owner's hands, without opposition."
The Governor's letter to Hillsborough continued: "To recite every particular of his unwarrantable procedure would, my lord, be too tedious. Let it then suffice, that since the 'Gaspee' and 'Beaver' have been stationed in this colony the inhabitants have been insulted without any just cause, with the most abusive and contumelious language; and I am sorry that I have reason to say that the principal officers belonging to said vessels have exercised that power with which they are vested, in a wanton and arbitrary manner, to the great injury and disturbance of this colony. I have, my lord, constantly afforded the King's officers all the assistance in my power in the legal discharge of their trust; but if any of them, through prejudice, ignorance of their duty, or youthful indiscretion, insult this colony, it is my duty as his majesty's Governor to remonstrate against it."
The "Gaspee" continued to harass Rhode Island commerce; so far as it was possible to do so, it overhauled, boarded and searched for contraband every vessel entering or leaving any Rhode Island harbor, particularly Providence vessels and small boats plying between Newport and places up the bay and rivers. Relatively the results were meager in captures and confiscations. While there was smuggling in Rhode Island waters unquestionably, most of the traffic was lawful and regular. Besides that, Rhode Island captains were resourceful sailors, and soon learned methods of avoiding or escaping the "Gaspee." Decoys were used to draw the "Gaspee" off on merry chases, while other vessels took advantage of the distraction to sail without molestation. The English officers and their crew were overbearing and insulting in their demeanor; the delays incident to searches were vexatious, and interfered seriously with the regular sailing of packets, planned to take full advantage of favoring winds and tides.
The day of reckoning for Dudingston and the "Gaspee" came early in June. On the eighth the "Hannah," Providence sloop, Captain Benjamin Lindsey, from New York, sailed into Newport harbor, was entered at the custom house, and cleared to sail for Providence. On the following day, the ninth, about noon, Captain Lindsey beat out of Newport harbor, and was followed shortly after by the "Gaspee." Within a short time it became certain that Dudingston purposed overhauling the "Hannah." The latter was a good sailor, built on the lines that had given Rhode Island vessels a reputation for speed, and Captain Lindsey had, no intention of submitting to search while it was possible to outwit Dudingston and outsail the "Gaspee." Perhaps he planned exactly what happened later. After assuring himself that the "Hannah" was more than a match for the "Gaspee," he permitted the latter to draw nearer, always avoiding the risk of a shot from the "Gaspee's" cannon. Besides the advantage of speed, the "Hannah," being of lighter draft than the "Gaspee," could reach longer and farther into shoal water as she tacked up the bay against a fresh wind blowing from the north. Captain Lindsey soon observed that the "Gaspee" was following the "Hannah" almost recklessly, her pilot depending apparently upon Captain Lindsey's knowledge of the water rather than soundings or other observation. At Namquit Point, since known as Gaspee Point, Captain Lindsey hove the "Hannah," which had been pointing east, sharply to the west, seemingly to elude the "Gaspee," which was then in close pursuit. Captain Lindsey warily avoided shoal water and cleared the spit adroitly, but succeeding in enticing the "Gaspee," following heedlessly, so that the latter ran hard aground on the sand bar. The tide was then about two hours ebb and falling fast; the "Gaspee" was caught securely, with no prospect of escape short of returning high water some eight hours later, perhaps ten hours later because of the strong suction of the sand as the vessel settled. Taking care not to expose the "Hannah" to the broadside of the "Gaspee," Captain Lindsey continued on to Providence, where he hastened to report to John Brown, owner of the "Hannah," the mishap of the "Gaspee." It was then near dusk of the late June afternoon, and John Brown calculated that the "Gaspee" could not be moved earlier than midnight, perhaps three o'clock in the morning. John Brown, merchant, immediately became leader in an enterprise planning the destruction of the "Gaspee." Associated with him were Captain Abraham Whipple, Captain John B. Hopkins, son of Esek Hopkins, and nephew of Stephen Hopkins, and others of the merchants and mariners and professional men of the town, including among the latter John Mawney, a surgeon, who, although enlisted in his professional capacity, appears to have taken his part manfully in the hard, decisive combat on the "Gaspee." Drummers were sent through the principal streets of the town, announcing the grounding of the "Gaspee," and calling for volunteers in an expedition against her, to meet at the tavern kept by James Sabin, at what is now the northeast corner of South Main and Planet Streets. Meanwhile John Brown had sent messengers to borrow or commandeer eight five-oared longboats, and gather them at Fenner's Wharf, near the tavern.
Nearing the "Gaspee," care was taken to assemble the longboats in order for the attack, which was bows on against the bow of the "Gaspee," thus to avoid a broadside from the batteries of four guns on each side. Sixty yards away, the bow watch on the "Gaspee" challenged the Providence party but was not answered, as the flotilla moved closer. A second challenge, also unanswered, brought Lieutenant Dudingston on deck without his coat. Again the call, "Who comes there?" and Captain Whipple answered: "I want to come on board." "Stand off, you can't come on board," shouted Dudingston, and Whipple thundered back, "I am the sheriff of the county of Kent. I, am come for the commander of this vessel, and have him I will, dead or alive; men, spring to your oars!" Shots were fired from the "Gaspee, " and answered from the boats. Dudingston, marked by his white shirt as he fought to repel boarders, fell to the deck with wounds in the groin and arm, from a musket fired by Joseph Bucklin. Thus was the first British blood shed in the Revolution, on the morning of June 10, 1772, in the waters of Rhode Island. The attack had been well planned, and the Providence men were courageous. The onset was vigorous, the boarders were quickly away and soon clambering over the bows and gunwales. With fists, clubs, stones and handstaves, principally, they quickly swept the deck and drove the crew of the "Gaspee" below deck. There was little recourse to firearms after the first exchange of shots, because of the danger to friends battling foes in hand-to-hand combat. Lieutenant Dudingston was carried to his cabin, and the members of his crew were securely tied.
There was no formal surrender; the "Gaspee" had been taken by force. Dr. Mawney, tearing his own shirt into strips to make the first bandage, dressed Dudingston's wounds and staunched the flow of blood. Dudingston was landed at Pawtuxet and taken to the home of Joseph Rhodes. His crew, after gathering clothing and other belongings, were landed on the Warwick shore. The "Gaspee" was then set on fire, and burned to the water's edge after her shotted guns had fired their last salvo, as the flames licked their sides, heated the barrels and exploded the charges. Lieutenant Dudingston heard the cannon from the shore. The Providence men rowed home and dispersed silently. A tradition persists in Bristol that a boat from that town, commanded by Simeon Potter, redoubtable captain of the "Prince Charles of Lorraine," privateer, joined the "Gaspee" party. While the distance between Providence and Bristol, and the lateness of the hour at which the "Hannah" reached Providence, preclude the probability that John Brown dispatched a message to Simeon Potter requesting assistance by Bristol men, Simeon Potter was a resourceful mariner and might have been present, nevertheless.
Immediately upon receiving news of the burning of the "Gaspee," Deputy-Governor Sessions visited Lieutenant Dudingston at Pawtuxet, to offer assistance and to get "a declaration from his own mouth" respecting the affair. Dudingston seemed to have lost the haughtiness and overbearing disposition that had added insult to injury in his treatment of Rhode Island captains and crews previously. He refused to talk, both because of his serious illness and because of his duty to report first to his commanding officer. He anticipated court-martial because of losing his vessel; on his return to England a court-martial acquitted him.
The destruction of the "Gaspee" has been referred to as the Lexington of the sea, in the sense that it was a demonstration in arms by irregularly organized colonial forces against the organized naval force of his majesty. As such it was the turning point in the critical period. From June 10, 1772, the trend in America was distinctly toward what appeared to be an inevitable recourse to war. The liberty party in America found in the "Gaspee" affair a vindication of the freeman's right to resist tyranny, and drew from it a renewed devotion; loyalists made the destruction of the "Gaspee" a pretext for fresh effort to induce England to resort to force of arms to quell the American movement, and particularly for an attack upon Charter government. Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts urged revocation of the Charter of Rhode Island. "The persons who were immediate actors," he wrote of the "Gaspee" affair, "are men of estate and property in the colony. A prosecution is impossible. If ever the government of that colony is to be reformed, this seems to be the time; and it would have a happy effect in the colonies which adjoin it." In another letter he wrote: "So daring an insult as burning the King's schooner by people who are as well known as any who were concerned in this last rebellion, and yet cannot be prosecuted, will certainly rouse the British lion, which has been asleep these four or five years." The British lion had been aroused, and extraordinary measures were prepared as the means whereby to discover those who had burned the "Gaspee" and to punish them. The King, on August 26, 1772, offered a reward of £500 for the discovery of the persons concerned in the "Gaspee" affair; an additional reward of £500 for the discover of the persons "who acted as or called themselves, or were called by their accomplices, the head sheriff or the captain"; and an additional £500 for any member of the expedition except the two leaders, who should discover their companions. Neither this offer nor the reward offered earlier by Governor Wanton elicited any response, although, because there had been no concealment or disguise, the members of the "Gaspee" party were well known in Providence, but not to all its citizens.
A special commission, consisting of Governor Wanton, the Chief justices of New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and the judge of the vice admiralty court at Boston, was appointed to inquire into and report "all the circumstances relative to the attacking, plundering and burning of the 'Gaspee,' schooner." It was ordered that the persons concerned should be taken to England for trial, after first being delivered into the custody of Admiral Montagu. The accused were to be allowed to procure witnesses; these witnesses, "together with all such as may be proper to support the charges against them, will be received and sent hither with the prisoners." The commission was to be supported, should occasion arise, by General Gage and the British army then in America, and by Admiral Montagu and the fleet. The commission met at Newport on January 5, 1773, and continued to hold daily sessions, Sundays excepted, until, January 22. It reassembled on May 26, and in June submitted a record of the testimony taken by it to the justice of the Superior Court of Rhode Island. The justices discredited the testimony of the slave, Aaron Briggs as contradicted, and as obtained in the first instance by Captain Linzee's threat of "hanging him at the yard arm if he would not discover who the persons were that destroyed the 'Gaspee." The justices found: "Upon the whole we are of opinion that the several matters and things contained in said depositions do not induce a probable suspicion that the persons mentioned therein, or either or any of them, are guilty of the crime aforesaid." The commission reported to the King its inability to discover any tangible evidence that would justify an indictment or support a prosecution. Indeed, there was nothing finer connected with the "Gaspee' affair than the fact that no one was found who could be induced by the liberal rewards offered to testify against the leaders and other members of the expedition. The episode was most remarkable for this magnificent demonstration of loyalty. The commissioners, in spite of their failure to elicit testimony, found nothing of which to complain in the attitude or conduct of Rhode Island's Governor or other officers, including the Deputy Governor, and the members of the judiciary. In its report the commission emphasized, as provocation for the "Gaspee" affair, the high-handed conduct, abusive insolence and a behavior of Dudingston in all his relations with the people of Rhode Island; and the overbearing and insulting attitude of English officers in dealing with Americans, as reasons for exasperation. 'The commissioners' report was revealing in this respect of the for unrest in America arising from the disposition of English officers to disregard utterly the legal rights of American colonial officers and inhabitants, and from their unveiled contempt for law and for officers attempting to enforce law. Had wise counsels prevailed in England, the King's ministers could have read in the dignified report of the commission a lesson in diplomacy and statesmanship that the ministry sadly needed to learn, but appeared to be incapable of understanding. Perhaps it was personal loyalty to a King, whose sanity was doubtful, and whose obsession to rule approached madness, which blindfolded his ministers at a time when clear vision was the pressing need of the moment.
EFFECT ELSEWHERE--If the "Gaspee" affair awakened patriots to enthusiasm by the boldness of the stroke at tyranny and oppression, the appointment of the commission, and the procedure outlined for sending to England suspects and witnesses as prisoners aroused them to fury. The commission was the match needed to light a conflagration from Maine to Georgia. A writer in the "Providence Gazette" of December 26, 1772, signing himself "Americanus," said: "A court of inquisition, more horrid than that of Spain or Portugal, is established within this colony to inquire into the circumstances of destroying the 'Gaspee,' schooner; and the persons who are the commissioners of this newfangled court, are vested with most exorbitant and unconstitutional powers. They are directed to summon witnesses, apprehend persons not only impeached, but even suspected! and them, and every of them, to deliver to Admiral Montagu, who is ordered to have a ship in readiness to carry them to England, where they are to be tried.....
The "Gazette" of the period printed much of a similar strain in the form of extracts from alleged letters--a favored form of editorial writing in a period in which danger lurked in prosecution for treasonable utterance and criminal libel. The drastic, unconstitutional methods resorted to in England to silence Wilkes had not failed to teach Americans lessons in procedure which they used to good advantage in avoiding responsibility for direct assertion, which could be made with almost equal effect through indirect relation, The towns of Dorchester and Ipswich, Massachusetts, adopted resolutions in town meeting condemning the royal commission as "destructive of the main pillars of the British constitution," and "an infringement upon the liberty of the subject, and of the most dangerous consequence, as the constitution has already provided a method for the trial of these and all other offenders." In the frequent reference to a constitution embodying principles of law paramount to the legislative authority of Parliament may be traced the steady development of an idea that bore fruit in America in the adoption of state and federal constitutions. The idea was very old in Rhode Island; it had been enunciated in the very first instance in which Rhode Island asserted a right existing under the Charter that was paramount to other authority; it had been maintained for a century previous to 1776 in relations with the English government.
VIRGINIA AND RHODE ISLAND RESOLUTIONS PROPOSE UNION--The appointment of the "Gaspee" commission was the occasion for revival of the committees of correspondence, and for the adoption of resolutions by colonial assemblies that marked a nearer advance to union and independence. On March 12, 1773, the House of Burgesses of Virginia adopted resolutions creating a standing committee of correspondence, including Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and seven others, "to obtain the most early and authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British Parliament, or proceedings of the administration, as may relate to or affect the British colonies in America; and to keep up and maintain a correspondence and communication with our sister colonies respecting these important considerations; and the results of such their proceedings, from time to time, to lay before this house." It was further "resolved to instruct the committee, without delay, to inform themselves particularly of the principles and authority on which was constructed a court of inquiry, said to have been lately held in Rhode Island, with powers to transport persons accused of offences committed in America to places beyond the seas to be tried." These resolutions were sent to Rhode Island by Peyton Randolph, Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, and laid before the General Assembly at the May session. The Assembly adopted resolutions (1) creating a standing committee of correspondence, including Stephen Hopkins, Metcalfe Bowler, Moses Brown , John Cole, William Bradford, Henry Marchant and Henry Ward, and (2) requesting the Governor to deliver to the committee a copy of his commission as one of the members of the court of inquiry and of other papers relating to the investigation of the "Gaspee" affair.
THE TAX ON TEA AND BOSTON PORT BILL--England's persistent retention of the tax on tea as a precedent to support the theory of an imperial parliament was equalled by American resistance, which avoided the tax by refusal to import tea. In the battle for principle between a nation with a reputation for stubbornness and colonies that had inherited much of the same characteristic from the mother country, the East India Company was the actual sufferer, through loss of a most profitable market. Action to relieve warehouses, bulging with tea intended for sale in America, was necessary, and Parliament, with the twofold purpose of overcoming American opposition and of assisting the East India Company, adjusted its trade policy so that tea, while still subject to the import duty of three pennies a pound, could be sold in America at price concessions that should, tinder ordinary circumstances, stimulate the trade. Large shipments to America were planned. Citizens of Philadelphia, selected as a port for entry of tea, protested and adopted resolutions. Of Rhode Island towns, Newport, Providence, Warren, Westerly, Little Compton, Middletown, South Kingstown, Jamestown, Hopkinton, Bristol, Richmond, New Shoreham, Cumberland and Barrington, perhaps others, each in town meeting, adopted resolutions between, January and March, 1774. The resolutions, while various in form, agreed generally in sustaining one proposition, to wit, that all persons concerned with importing, buying, selling, distributing or using taxed tea were enemies of their country." Several of the towns appointed committees of correspondence, thus participating in a movement rapidly extending at the period and forming the nuclei for the community revolutionary committees of later days. Boston expressed its disapproval of taxed tea through the tea party of December 16, 1773, and Parliament answered Boston by closing the port to commerce after June 1, 1774.
The Boston port bill was followed by other measures planned to punish Boston and overawe America; thus, General Gage was appointed Governor of Massachusetts; charter government was suspended in Massachusetts and power was centralized in the Governor; town meetings, except annual meetings to elect municipal officers, were abolished; troops were quartered in Boston, and billeted in the homes of the inhabitants. Affecting America generally, English officers, civil and military, who might be charged with murder in sustaining governmental authority, were ordered sent to England or Nova Scotia for trial, to relieve them of the ordeal of facing American juries. Parliament saved Canada for the empire, and thus robbed America of the fourteenth colony, by passing the Quebec act, which restored the civil law, returned and guaranteed church property to the Roman Catholic Church, and extended the boundaries of Canada west to the Mississippi and south to the Ohio. This not only prepared the way for the failure of the American diplomatic mission sent to Canada soon after the Revolution was in progress, but also aroused rancor among American Protestants who were vigorously intolerant and strengthened some of them in opposition to the mother country. The Quebec act was not one of the causes of the Revolution in Rhode Island, which still maintained the faith of the founders that a "civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments." The Quebec act was a toleration measure.
UNION OF AMERICA PROPOSED--A special town meeting was held in Providence on May 17, 1774, at which resolutions dealing with the port bill situation were adopted, including the following: "That this town will heartily join with the Province of Massachusetts Bay and the other, colonies in such measures as shall be generally agreed on by the colonies for the protecting and transmitting the same to the latest posterity. That the Deputies of this town be requested to use their influence at the approaching session of the General Assembly of this colony, for promoting a congress, as soon as may be, of the representatives of the general assemblies of the several colonies and provinces of North America, for establishing the firmest union, and adopting such measures as to them shall appear the most effectual to answer that important purpose, and to agree upon public methods for executing the same." This was the first official action taken by any legally organized political agency proposing a congress and a permanent union of the colonies. On May 28, the Virginia committee of correspondence, following the dissolution of the House of Burgesses for sedition, wrote to committees in the other colonies: "The propriety of appointing delegates from the several colonies of British America to meet annually in general congress, appears to be a measure extremely important and extensively useful, as it tends so effectually to obtain the united wisdom of the whole, in every case of general concern. We are desired to obtain your sentiments on the subject, which you will be pleased to furnish us with." The Connecticut committee of correspondence, under date of June 3, urged "that a congress is absolutely necessary, previous to almost every other measure." Massachusetts, on June 17, issued a call for a convention to meet in Philadelphia on September 1.
At the same session the General Assembly adopted the following resolutions: "This Assembly, taking into the most serious consideration several acts of the British Parliament for levying taxes upon his majesty's subjects in America without their consent, and particularly an act lately passed for blocking up the port of Boston; which act, even upon the supposition that the people of Boston had justly deserved punishment, is scarcely to be paralleled in history for the severity of the vengeance executed upon them; and also considering to what a deplorable estate this, and all the other colonies are reduced when, by an act of Parliament, in which the subjects in America have not a single voice, and without being heard they may be divested of property, and deprived of liberty; do, after mature deliberation, resolve: That it is the opinion of this Assembly that a firm and inviolable union of all the colonies, in councils and measures, is absolutely necessary for the prevention of their rights and liberties; and that, for that purpose, a convention of representatives from all the colonies ought to be held in some suitable place, as soon as may be, in order to consult upon proper measures to obtain a repeal of the said acts; and to establish the rights and liberties of the colonies upon a just and solid foundation." The delegates were instructed to join with other delegates in preparing a petition to the King for redress of America's grievances; to "consult and advise upon all such reasonable and lawful measures as may be expedient for the colonies in a united manner to pursue in order to procure a redress of their grievances, and to ascertain and establish their rights and liberties; and to endeavor "to procure a regular and annual convention of representatives from all the colonies to consider of proper means for the preservation of the rights and liberties of the colonies."
Rhode Island had been earliest to propose, through the Providence town meeting, the Congress; first to elect delegates, and first to enunciate clearly, in the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly, the plan for regular, annual meetings of Congress and the purposes thereof. In December, 1774, the General Assembly received the report of its delegates to the Continental Congress held at Philadelphia on September 5, and approved it. At the same session Stephen Hopkins and Samuel Ward were reappointed as delegates to attend the Congress called to meet at Philadelphia on May 10, 1775. The Assembly expressed itself in resolutions as "being determined to cooperate with the other colonies on every proper measure for obtaining a redress of the grievances and establishing the rights and liberties of the colonies upon an equitable and permanent foundation." The delegates were directed "to enter into and adopt in behalf of this colony all reasonable, lawful and proper measures for the support, defence, protection and security of the rights, liberties and privileges, both civil and religious, of all the said colonies, or any of them."
MILITARY PREPARATIONS--The probability of recourse to arms in determining the questions at issue and in defence of the colony was foreseen as early as May, 1773, when provision was made for repairing "all the platforms for the guns at Fort George agreeably to the directions of John Jepson and Captain Esek Hopkins"; six new gun carriages were ordered for the cannon that belonged to the colony sloop. A year later, in June, 1774, at a session of the General Assembly at which a resolution was adopted, condemning the Boston port bill as a "direct violation of the rights and liberties" of the people, an independent military company, the Light Infantry for the county of Providence, was chartered. The remainder of the year of 1774 bristled with military activity. Five independent companies--the Newport Light Infantry, the Providence Grenadiers, the Kentish Guards, the Pawtuxet Rangers, and the Light Infantry of Glocester--were chartered in October; at the same session the regiment of in Providence County was divided into "three distinct regiments .... forming the whole into one brigade."
Except two eighteen-pounders and one six-pounder and a small quantity of powder and shot to serve them, all the cannon, and all the powder, shot and stores at Fort George were removed to Providence early in December. Captain Wallace of H.M.S. "Rose," then stationed in Narragansett Bay and adjacent waters, returning on December 11 from a cruise to New London found the cannon gone and reported thus to Vice Admiral Graves: "Since my absence from this place (Newport), I find the inhabitants (they say here of Providence) have seized upon the King's cannon that was upon Fort Island, consisting of six twenty-four pounders, eighteen eighteen-pounders, fourteen six-pounders, and six four-pounders (the latter, they say, formerly belonged to a province sloop they had here), and conveyed them to Providence. A procedure so extraordinary caused me to wait upon the Governor to inquire of him, for your information, why such a step had been taken. He very frankly told me they had done it to prevent their falling into the hands of the King or any of his servants; and that they meant to make use of them to defend themselves against any power that shall offer to molest them. I then mentioned if, in the course of carrying on the King's service here, I should ask assistance, whether I might expect any from him or any others in the government. He answered, as to himself, he had no power; and in respect to any other part of the government I should meet with nothing but opposition and difficulty. So much from Governor Wanton. .... Among some of votes you will find they intend to procure powder and ball and military stores of all kinds, whenever they can get them."
The Assembly had voted to empower the captain of the Train
"to purchase at the expense and for the use of the colony, four brass
four-pounders, with carriages, implements and utensils necessary for
them, and that they be lent to the said company to improve them in the
exercise of cannon"; and had also voted to appoint a committee "to
as soon as may be, at the expense and for the use of the colony, 300
of pistol powder, each to contain fifty weight, three tons of lead and
40,000 flints, to be deposited in such place or places as the Honorable
Darius Sessions, Esq., Deputy Governor of this colony, shall direct,
to be delivered to the several colonels of the militia, and the
of the independent companies in this colony, so that each soldier,
with arms, according to law, may be supplied with such quantities
as by law is directed." Darius Sessions was to deliver powder, lead and
flints as directed. The firing of cannon or small arms, except on
public occasions, and for target practice, was forbidden the Militia
independent companies as a measure for saving powder; and it was
"to all the inhabitants of this colony that they expend no gunpowder
mere sport or diversion, or in pursuit of game." Simeon Potter of
was appointed Major General of the colony forces, and the militia act
amended in such manner as to require every enlisted soldier to have a
and bayonet, to provide for monthly training and to provide for two
musters annually in April and October. The amended militia act
also the significant provision: "That the captain general, lieutenant
and major general, or any two of them, be, and they are hereby, fully
and empowered to direct and order when, and in what manner, the forces
within this colony shall march to the assistance of any of our
colonies when invaded or attacked; and also in what manner the said
forces shall be. provided and supplied; and also to direct and make use
of the cannon belonging to the colony, either in or out of the
as they may deem expedient."
CONDITION OF COLONY PRECEDING THE REVOLUTION--The total population of Rhode Island in 1774 was 59,678, of whom 54,435 were white, 3761 black, and 1482 Indian. County populations were as follows: Providence: 19,206; Newport, 15,929; King's, 13,866; Kent, 7888; Bristol, 2789. Newport was the largest town, with 9209 inhabitants., Other towns with more than 2000 inhabitants were: Providence, 4321; Scituate, 3601; Glocester, 2945; Smithfield, 2888; South Kingstown, 2835; North Kingstown, 2472; Warwick, 2438; Coventry, 2023. One new town had been created in the decade since the close of the French and Indian War, when Barrington was set off from Warren in 1769. Petitions for the incorporation of parts of Warwick and Cranston as Pawtuxet (1765), and of the part of Providence lying west of the river as Westminster (1770) had not found favor with the General Assembly. Recovering from economic losses during the French and Indian War and from financial disturbances incident to the process of replacing an inflated paper currency with coin had been rapid. Newport had become most prosperous, with 11,000 population in 1769, seventeen manufactories of sperm oil and candles, five rope walks, three sugar refineries, one brewery, and twenty-two rum distilleries, according to Bull. Five to six hundred vessels traded from Newport, including nearly 200 engaged in foreign commerce, and over 300 in coastwise commerce. Yet in competition between the towns for the location of Rhode Island College, Newport lagged behind Providence in the amount of subscriptions and lost the prize. Manufacturing enterprises of considerable size had been established; a petition by members of the Greene family of Warwick, requesting the privilege of damming the Pawtuxet River without building fish ways (1770) recited the building of forges, anchor works and sawmills, employing upward of 100 persons. An evaluation of the colony in 1767 disclosed 8900 men over eighteen years of age, and property rated at £2,111,295 or $7,037,652. The bulk of colony taxation in the ten years since the war had been applied to retiring paper currency; for the most part internal improvements were financed through lotteries, the proceeds of which were applied to building bridges and roads, paving streets, erecting courthouses, markethouses and wharves. Of quasi-public enterprises, churches were favorite beneficiaries of lotteries, sometimes for complete building and sometimes for a steeple, as in the instances of Trinity Church, Newport, and the Episcopal Church in Providence. In 1767, the parsonage of the Baptist Church at Warren was enlarged to accommodate the students of Rhode Island College then living with President Manning; in 1774, the General Assembly granted a lottery for the construction of the First Baptist Church in Providence, one of the noblest of colonial edifices in America, for the worship of Almighty God and for holding the public commencements of Rhode Island College. Lotteries were granted also for, private purposes, to relieve poor debtors, to assist in providing capital for new enterprises, to reimburse for losses by fire, wreck and accident, including a lottery to replace the Greene enterprises at Warwick. The educational life of the colony was wholesome; the General Assembly chartered school societies, and occasionally assisted a school enterprise by lottery.
The incorporation of church societies indicated not only the development of settled churches with property interest, but also attention to the religious life of the people. Many denominations of Christians were represented in the liberal religious life of Rhode Island; and besides Christian churches, Hebrews had erected a synagogue in Newport, which was dedicated in 1763. God had showered blessings upon Rhode Island; in contemplation of the loss of liberty and happiness, both threatened by the aggressive policy of England, the people turned to God: "Whereas the Supreme Being, upon account of our manifold sins, may have permitted the present invasions of American liberty, and every public evil with which we are threatened, it is therefore voted and resolved that Thursday, the thirtieth day of this instant June (1774) be set apart as a day of public fasting, prayer and supplication, throughout this colony, to beseech Almighty God to grant us sincere repentance; to avert threatened judgment from us, and restore us to the full enjoyment of our rights and privileges."
MARCH TOWARD- LEXINGTON--The outstanding measures for dealing with the situation in America arising from England's determination to tax the colonies and from the drastic enforcement of the Boston port bill were (1) a non-importation agreement operative against all goods originating in or manufactured in England or Ireland, (2) a non-exportation agreement supplementary to the non-importation agreement, and (3) military preparedness against invasion, To all of these Rhode Island was strongly committed. The year of 1775 opened with militia and independent military companies arming and drilling in all parts of the colony; and with the economic policy confirmed by the Continental Congress completely in effect. Committees of inspection paid frequent visits to merchants, and care was taken to inhibit so far as possible increase in prices because of scarcity of certain goods as supplies were depleted. Strict economy, and curtailment of extravagance and luxury, were requested of patriots. Tea, long boycotted, became an outlaw, not to be used after March 1, 1775; on March 2, 1775, 300 pounds of tea, collected from shops, stores, warehouses and homes in Providence, were burned in Market Square, Providence. The Providence tea party was a perfectly orderly and wholly lawful demonstration; the "Providence Gazette" in its next issue carried an obituary notice for "Madame Souchong." Rhode Island was quiet, but waiting watchfully, and all the time preparing earnestly.
When news of the battle of Lexington reached Rhode Island on the night of April 19, 1775, no time was lost; in the morning not less than 1000 armed and disciplined soldiers began to march toward Boston, among them the Kentish Guards, Nathanael Greene in the ranks, noticed particularly because of his limp, by John Howland who watched from the sidewalk. The Rhode Island troops returned after having crossed the colony line and marched into Massachusetts, where they were met by a message that the British army had been driven back. into Boston and that the. movement for the time being was at an end. The General Assembly met at Providence two days later, April 22. The session was called for urgent reasons and devoted principally to military measures. Twenty-five hundred pounds of powder and one-quarter part of the lead, bullets and flints belonging to the colony were apportioned to the towns. May 11 was designated as a day of "fasting, prayer and humiliation." Samuel Ward and William Bradford were sent to Connecticut to consult with the General Assembly there on "measures for the common defence of the four New England colonies." Nathanael Greene replaced Samuel Ward on this delegation, as the latter had already been reappointed a delegate to attend the Continental Congress, soon to meet at Philadelphia. Resolving "at this very dangerous crisis of American affairs; at a time when we are surrounded with fleets and armies, which threaten our immediate destruction, at a time when the fears and anxieties of the people throw them into the utmost distress and totally prevent them from attending to the common occupations of life; to prevent the mischievous consequences that must necessarily attend such a disordered state, and to restore peace to the minds of the good people of this colony, it appears absolutely necessary to this Assembly that a number of men be raised and embodied, properly armed and disciplined, to continue in this colony as an army of observation, to repel any insult or violence that may be offered to the inhabitants; and also, if it be necessary for the safety and preservation of any of the colonies to March out of this colony and join and cooperate with the forces of the neighboring colonies," it was voted to enlist 1500 men "with all the expedition and dispatch that the nature of the thing will admit."
GOVERNOR WANTON DEPOSED--Joseph Wanton was reelected as Governor in May, 1775, but did not attend the session of the General Assembly and was not engaged as Governor. He sent a message to the General Assembly, pleading "indisposition" as his reason for absence, and urging consideration of a compromise proposed in a resolution adopted by the House of Commons, February 27, 1775. This resolution promised exemption from duties, taxes and assessments to colonies which of and by themselves undertook to contribute a share of the expense of the common defence and to make provision for the support of civil government and administration of justice in the colonies, approved by his majesty and Parliament. This belated compromise offer was interpreted in America as a device intended to divide them and destroy the union. Not all of the colonies were as ready to fight for liberty as were Rhode Island and Virginia. The compromise had the appearance of a concession to the colonial assertion of an exclusive right to tax themselves. It was too late, however; no colonial assembly accepted the bait. Far from acceding to Governor Wanton's request, the General Assembly pursued the warlike policy inaugurated in the preceding year. Governor Wanton had neglected to issue the proclamation of May 11 as a day of fasting and prayer as ordered by the Assembly of April 22, and he refused to sign the commission for officers of. the "army of observation." For these three reasons, that is: (1) neglect to take the engagement of office; (2) failure to proclaim the day of fasting, and (3) refusal to sign commissions, "by all which," the General Assembly resolved, "he hath manifested his intentions to defeat the good people of these colonies, in their present glorious struggle to transmit inviolate to posterity those sacred rights they have received from their ancestors," and expressly forbade the Deputy Governor and Assistants or any of them to administer the oath of office to Joseph Wanton unless in open and free Assembly and "with the consent of such Assembly," and declared that until Joseph Wanton took the oath "as aforesaid, it shall not be lawful for him to, act as Governor of this colony in any case, whatsoever; and that every act done by him in the pretended capacity as Governor shall be null and void." The Governor-elect was thus suspended from office during the pleasure of the General Assembly.
The suspension was confirmed at each of the two sessions of June, and the session of August; at the October session the office of Governor was declared vacant, because "Joseph Wanton, by the whole course of his behavior hath continued to demonstrate that he is inimical to the rights and liberties of America and is thereby rendered totally unfit to sustain said office." The correspondence passing between Joseph Wanton and colonial officers was friendly in tone. His late colleagues recalled his vigorous defence of the Charter and of colonial liberties throughout his years of service as Governor; he differed with them only in his unwillingness to risk by an appeal to arms the association with England. There was no rancor in his letters; nor was there any disposition in the General Assembly to treat Joseph Wanton otherwise than in a spirit of kindness, although the leaders recognized that he could not, consistently with his views, join them heartily in the program of resistance by force of arms.
The Secretary of the colony had removed his records and office from Newport to Providence before the opening of the May session, 1775. The General Assembly ordered the General Treasurer, "with the colony's treasure," to remove to Providence. The Assembly proceeded with legislation for the thorough organization of the "army of observation." Soldiers were enlisted "in his majesty's service, and in the pay of the colony of Rhode Island, for the preservation of the liberties of America." The army was organized as a brigade of three regiments, with Nathanael Greene in command as Brigadier General, and Thomas Church, Daniel Hitchcock, and James M. Varnum, respectively, as Colonels. Each regiment consisted of eight companies, and there was besides a train of light artillery. Arms and ammunition equipment, tents and provisions were purchased for the complete equipment of the brigade. An issue of £20,000, lawful. money bills, was authorized as a means whereby to finance extraordinary war expenditures. An embargo on shipments of food out of the colony was ordered, to assure abundant supplies for the soldiers. Within a month Brigadier General Nathanael Greene and his three regiments Rhode Island soldiers, a train of light artillery and a siege battery of heavier guns, had joined the American army encamped on the heights about Boston, in which a British army lay besieged.
FIRST NAVAL ENGAGEMENT--H.M.S."Rose," Captain James Wallace, stationed at Newport in 1775, interfered so vexatiously with Rhode Island shipping that the General Assembly, in June, directed the Deputy Governor to write to Wallace and "demand of him the reason of his conduct toward the inhabitants of this colony in stopping and detaining their vessels; and also demand of him the packets which he detains." Governor Cooke wrote, as directed, assuring Wallace, in the concluding paragraph of the letter: "So long as you remain in the colony, and demean yourself as becomes your office, you may depend upon the protection of the laws, and every assistance for promoting the public service in my power. And you may also be assured that the whole power of the colony will be exerted to secure the persons and properties of the inhabitants against every lawless invader." Wallace replied: "Although I am unacquainted with you or what station you act in, suppose you write on behalf of some body of people; therefore, previous to my giving an answer, I must desire to know whether or not you, or the people on whose behalf you write, are not in open rebellion to your lawful sovereign and the acts of the British legislature!"
One of the packets had been converted into a tender for the "Rose" and armed. The colony had already chartered and armed two vessels, the "Washington," carrying eighty men, ten four-pound guns and fourteen swivel guns; the "Katie," carrying thirty men. Abraham Whipple commanded the larger vessel and the fleet as Commodore. On June 15, the day on which Wallace answered Governor Cooke's letter, Commodore Whipple engaged the armed packet, and in a short but decisive battle captured her off the shore of Conanicut. This was the first naval engagement in the Revolution, fought by a vessel commissioned as a unit in the navy of Rhode Island against an armed vessel in the service of the British King. This first of naval battles between the ships of America and England resulted in a glorious victory for the navy of America.
THE DRIFT TOWARD WAR--England discontinued the American post office service that had been developed with Benjamin Franklin as Postmaster General. This action was partly a gesture of displeasure with Franklin, who while in England had presented the cause of the colonists, and partly a measure intended to interrupt the communication between colonies that was so indispensable for maintaining unity. Indeed, the post office had been an agency of inestimable value in furthering the work of the colonial committees of correspondence in their work, first, of producing that unanimity of opinion and agreement on measures that was essential for the success of the American movement so long as it continued to be merely resistant, and, secondly, in preparing for the active Revolution in its positive stages. William Goddard, who had been the first editor and publisher of the "Providence Gazette," but was at the time in Baltimore and Philadelphia, undertook to reestablish the post office as an American system exclusively. This was at first an intercolonial enterprise; in June, 1775, the Rhode Island General Assembly voted to "join with the other colonies in establishing post offices and post riders, in order to preserve an intercourse between the 'different colonies, which will prove so beneficial to the public as well as to individuals." Post offices were established at Providence, Warren, Bristol, Newport, Tower Hill (South Kingstown) and Westerly. -The offices indicated the line of communication; later, when the British vessels at Newport displayed an inclination to interrupt the postal service and actually seized the mail on one occasion, the route was reorganized. with Providence as an exchange station. The Newport post rider carried mail for westward points to Providence on his way to Cambridge, and on, the return trip from Cambridge-received at Providence mail from the west for Warren, Bristol and Newport. From Providence, westward mail was sent and received over the post road to New London. This Rhode Island postal service antedated the system of post offices, established by Congress, of which it became a part by incorporation.
Following the battle of Bunker Hill, the General Assembly was called together in special session at Providence on June 28. Reinforcements, consisting of six companies of sixty men each, two companies to be added to each of the regiments, were ordered enlisted, armed, equipped and sent forward to join the Rhode Island army of observation encamped near Boston. The army, by vote of the General Assembly, was placed under the command and direction of the Commander-in-Chief of the combined American army. One-fourth of the militia was ordered enlisted as "minute men," to meet and drill one-half day each fortnight, and to March for the defence of the colony "when and as often as they shall be called upon by the colonel of the regiment to which they respectively belong." Every man in the colony able to bear arms was ordered to "equip himself completely with arms and ammunition." An inventory of powder, arms and ammunition was ordered; and committees were directed to collect all the "saltpetre and brimstone" in the colony and forward it to the Provincial Congress at New York. Signal beacons were established, at Tower Hill in South Kingstown, and on Prospect Hill (Terrace) in Providence. A fire on the latter shown as a test, was seen at New London, sixty miles southwest, and at Cambridge, fifty miles northeast. The guns remaining at Fort George were removed to Newport for the immediate defence of the town. Thus was Rhode Island prepared for defence, while watchers stationed on Tower Hill scanned the ocean for sight of a hostile squadron of ships.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE--The statute permitting and regulating appeals from Rhode Island courts to his majesty was repealed in 1775. There remained only one more tie to be dissolved to complete the separation of Rhode Island from the mother country. That was the personal, individual allegiance of the freemen-citizens to his majesty. In 1756 the General Assembly, in the stress of the French and Indian War, and as a war measure to subdue murmuring opposition to the colony's vigorous war policy, had passed "An act for the more effectually securing to his majesty the allegiance of his subjects in this his colony and dominion of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." Under the provisions of this act any inhabitant, suspected of disaffection or disloyalty, might be called before a colonial court or officer and required to subscribe to a test oath of allegiance. The measure had not been popular, and its provisions had been enforced only in aggravating instances in Rhode Island. On May 4, 1776, the Rhode Island General Assembly repealed the statute of 1756, thus discharging the inhabitants of the colony from allegiance to the King. The name of the King was ordered stricken from all commissions, writs, civil processes and civil proceedings, and in place thereof inserted as a substitution "The Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence, Plantations." Thus the Rhode Island Assembly anticipated by two months the Declaration of Independence by Congress, by enacting its own Declaration of Independence on May 4, 1776. The Rhode Island Declaration of Independence, in its original writing, has been identified as the work of Jonathan Arnold. The text follows:
And be it further enacted by this General Assembly, and by the authority thereof, it is enacted, that in all commissions for offices, Civil and Military, and in all writs and processes in law, whether original, judicial or executory, civil or criminal, whereon the name and authority of the said King is made use of, the same shall be omitted, and in the room thereof, the name and authority of the Governor and Company of this Colony shall be substituted in the following words to wit:270
PROVIDED, nevertheless, that nothing in this act contained shall render void or vitiate any commission, writ, process or instrument heretofore made or executed, on account of the name and, authority of the said King being therein inserted.
May 4 (1776), Rhode Island formally declared her independence of Great Britain, by a solemn act, abjuring her allegiance to the British Crown...... It constitutes Rhode Island as the oldest independent state in America.--E. Benjamin Andrews.
Thus the first colony to declare her absolute independence of the crown, was Rhode Island.--Bryant and Gay.
The despondency and hesitation of the assembly of Pennsylvania was in marked contrast with the fortitude of Rhode Island, whose general assembly, on the fourth day of May (1776), passed an act, discharging the inhabitants of that colony from allegiance to the king of Great Britain..... The overturn was complete; the act was at once a declaration of independence, and an organization of a self-constituted republic.--Bancroft.
The last colonial assembly of Rhode Island met on the first day of May (1776). On the fourth, two months before the Congressional declaration of independence, it solemnly renounced its allegiance to the British crown, no longer closing its session with "God Save the King!" but taking in its stead, as expressive of their new relation, "God Save the United Colonies!"--Green.
The first state actually to declare herself independent of Great Britain was Rhode Island. This act was passed May 4, 1776.--Mowry.
In this wise, in May, 1776, the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, before any other colony declared their absolute independence of the British crown.--Smith.
Rhode Island, from that moment, became, and is at this day, the oldest sovereign and independent state in the western world.--Durfee.
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF MAY 4, 1776.
END of Chapter XI: "The Impending Revolution" excerpted from Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, by Charles Carroll.