GaspeeVirtual Archives
The Members of the Commission of Inquiry into the Gaspee Affair

The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots in 1772 as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on those associated with the the Gaspee Affair. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to

Robert Auchmuty, Jr. (  - 1788), Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court established at Boston, with jurisdiction in all cases arising within the limits of the Colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Connecticut.  His father, Robert Auchmuty, Sr. had emigrated from Scotland and himself became an eminent lawyer in Boston, Mass.  The loyalist Robert Auchmuty, Jr. was born in Boston, and was appointed Vice Admiralty Judge in 1767. He is most famous for being one of the defense attorneys during the Boston Massacre trial.  He agreed to serve as attorney for Preston on the condition that John Adams be co-counsel. He was appointed to the commission investigating the burning of the Gaspee in 1772. 

Robert Auchmuty first married Deborah Cradock, Oct. 26, 1751 at King's Chappel in Boston.  While serving on the Gaspee Commission in Newport he probably stayed at house of his cousin, Henry Overing, in nearby Portsmouth.  After his first wife died, Auchmuty ended up later marrying Overing's daughter, Henrietta, whose portrait was painted by Gilbert Suart. After hostilities erupted, Auchmuty was bannished from Massachusetts and died in exile in Marylebone (near London), England, in December 1788.
Daniel Horsmanden (c1691-1778) was born in Gouldhurst (Kent) England in 1691 and emigrated to New York, where in 1733 he was appointed to the City Council and subsequently served as Recorder and President of the City Council. A series of New York City fires in 1741 led British colonial authorities to suspect an elaborate conspiracy led by slaves and poor whites who intended to burn the city and hand it over to Britain's Catholic foes.  Daniel Horsmanden was one of the justices during the trials of accused conspirators, which most closely resembled a witch-hunt.  The New York Conspiracy was an eventful moment in history, and led Horsmanden to publish The New York Conspiracy, or the History of the Negro Plot (1742). "His record of the testimony of slaves and working-class whites provides extraordinary clues to the nature of race, class, and gender relationships in colonial New York City and raises questions about the nature and extent of the alleged conspiracy."

In March, 1763 he became Chief Justice of the Colony of New York.  He was already of an advanced age of 81 when he travelled to Rhode Island in the winter of 1772-1773 to serve on the commission investingating the burning of the Gaspee.  His 1773 letters (also Staples, p125) reporting the progress of this commission to the Earl Of Dartmouth appears elsewhere at, wherein he insultingly calls the Government of Rhode Island "a downright domocracy."  He also wrote a letter of complaint about not being paid for his service as late as 1777 (Staples p126).  He died in Flatbush, NY in 1778 and is buried in Trinity Churchyard in NY City. For a relatively complete bio on Daniel Horsmanden, see:  Early Encounters in North America which is presented in camofluaged form at the end of this page only so that our search engine can capture the information.
Peter OliverPeter Oliver, was characterized by contemporaries as a "Loyalist by birth, education and instinct, a man of courage, firmness, learning and character."  He was the brother of Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver, and was related by marriage to the Tory Governor Thomas Hutchinson; all three were considered hopeless and despicable Loyalists by the patriots.  He and his family were also considered bitter business and politcal rivals of James Otis and Samuel Adams.

Left: Chief Justice Peter Oliver,  painting by John Singleton Copley

He graduated from Harvard University and in 1747 was appointed to the Inferior Court of Common Pleas of Plymouth County.  The Plymouth County Court House of 1749 is said to have been designed by him. .He rose to the Superior Court in 1756, and served as Chief Justice of the Colony of Massachusetts from 1772 until deposed by Revolutionists in 1775.

Originally from Boston, Oliver bought most of the land around the Muttock neighborhood of Middleborough, MA including dam and the water privileges, and created an entire self-contained iron mill complex.  His estate, Oliver Hall, was one of the finest country residences outside Boston. The style was of "an old English mansion with steep roof and deep jutting eaves, with walls of white plaster and portico oak."

He was one of the justices serving at the famous trial of those accused in the Boston Massacre.  He was appointed to the King's comnmission to investigate the burning of the Gaspee in 1772.  Later in 1772, when the British proposed to take over the Colony's responsibility of payment of the justices, all members of the court except Oliver declined. The hostility against his loyalist stance was inflamed, and his home in Middleborough was burned to the ground by Sons of Liberty. The Massachusetts legislature impeached him, prompting grand jurors at more than two courts to refuse to take their oaths. After physical threats, he took to hiring an armed guard for his protection when serving on the bench.  When the British forces evacuated Boston in March of 1776, Oliver joined them and left for Nova ScotiaNot finding Nova Scotia to his liking, Oliver and his family moved to England.   "Thanks be to heaven," he wrote, "I am now in a Place where I can be protected from the Harpy Claws of that Rebellion which is now tearing out its own Bowels in America."  While in exile, he is known for his bitter writings against the Revolutionary thought  (See Adair, Douglass and John A. Schutz, editors. Peter Oliver's Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion: A Tory View. San Marino, Cal.: Huntington Library, 1961, and from which we extract the following quote found on Page 98):

The Lues Infernalis [Plague of Hell-ed] which spread through great Part of the Massachusetts had overspread the Town of Boston was of the confluent Sort. It was so contagious, that the infection was caught by the neighboring Colonies. Rhode Island, some years before, in a most riotous Manner had rifled the Houses & hunted after the Lives of several Gentlemen, who were obnoxious by their Attachment to Government. In this Year, the Mob burnt his Majestv's Schooner Gaspee, on the Narraganset Shore, about 20 Miles from Newport. This made some Noise in England from a Misrepresentation of Facts, a Commission was sent over, impowering the Govr. of Rhode Island, the Chief Justices of Massachusetts, New York & New Jersies & the Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court of Massachusetts, to inquire into the Facts. The People of that Colony were so closely connected; & so disaffected, from the Nature of their Government, to British Legislation, that it was perfectly futile to make an lnquiry; & the Matter ended, without any other Effect from the Commission, than an Encouragement to those Colonists to play the same Game again upon the first Opportunity.

 The Olivers never returned to America.  After the Revolution, Peter Oliver in 1790 presented his grandaughter, wife of the famous Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, a grandfather clock that is still the subject of ceremonial winding at Harvard Medical School.

Frederick Smythe (c1732- ) was a native of England, and an attorney in London "of no particular stature".  Emigrating to America, he served on the Council (Assembly) of New Jersey while concurrently serving as Chief Justice of the Colony of New Jersey between July, 1764 and 1776.  He was appointed to the committee investigating the burning of the Gaspee in 1772.  According to Larry R. Gerlach in "Charles Dudley and the Customs Quandry of Pre-Revolutionary Rhode Island", Rhode Island History, Spring 1971, pp52-59, Smythe attempted to widen the scope of the Gaspee Commission to include the shelling of the Customs sloop St. John in Newport in 1764. In 1774 he attempted and failed to indict a group of patriots from Greenwich, NJ that had destroyed a cargo of tea belonging to the British East India Trading Company.  After the outbreak of the Revolution, Smythe moved to New York City in 1776, where in 1778 he served on a unsuccessful peace commission led by Frederick Howard.   He remained in British-occupied New York throughout the years of the Revolution, then moved to the Philadelphia area.  After the war, he served as a business agent for several British trading firms, and married a Margaret Oswald in 1784.
Joseph Wanton, the Governor of Rhode IslandSee separate biography.
Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 11/2004    Last Revised 12/2009    Commissioners.html

Daniel Horsmanden, chief justice of colonial New York, was born to Reverend Daniel Horsmanden and Susanna Boyer in Purleigh, Essex, England, June 4, 1694. In his early twenties, Daniel Horsmanden moved to London, where he studied law. In 1721, he was admitted to the Middle Temple, and in 1724 he was admitted to the Inner Temple. He practiced law in London and engaged unsuccessfully in some high-stakes business dealings, acquiring substantial debt by 1729. That year Horsmanden moved to Virginia, likely to escape creditors, staying first in Williamsburg with his cousin, William Byrd of Westover, who had lived much of his youth in the Horsmanden household.

Some time after 1730, Daniel Horsmanden moved to New York. Through Byrd, He received introductions extending to Thomas Pelham Holles, Lord Newcastle; Newcastle recommended Horsmanden to William Cosby, the newly appointed Governor of New York. Admitted to the Bar in 1732, Horsmanden took a seat in the New York city council the following year.

Emerging during a period of factious strife in New York politics, Horsmanden traveled between leading parties, allying eventually with William Cosby's ruling party. For his services on the committee charged with identifying seditious statements in John Peter Zenger's New York Weekly Journal, Cosby granted the struggling Horsmanden a license to purchase a substantial estate near Albany. From Cosby's successor, William Clarke, he received appointment as judge in the Vice Admiralty Court of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; by 1737, he achieved the rank of the third judge in New York's Supreme Court of the Judiciary.

While rising through the ranks of the judiciary, Daniel Horsmanden maintained his post on the city council, as well. Serving as legal counsel and as city recorder, he initiated investigation into a series of robberies and fires in the winter of 1741, promoting the theory that the fires stemmed from a plot raze the city of New York. Horsmanden accepted the suspect accusations made by sixteen year-old Mary Burton, an indentured servant promised her freedom and starting cash for unveiling the plot. He prosecuted the cases as they spiraled from an innkeeper and the slaves to whom he illegally sold liquor, to free blacks, to Catholic radicals. He sentenced four white men and seventeen slaves to hangings; thirteen other slaves were burned at the stake. Hundreds of accusations, which were provided in lieu of facing execution, stirred the city in to a frenzied state, and Horsmanden rose in social and political prominence for his handling of this so-called "Negro Plot." Defending his actions he published in 1744 A Journal of the Proceedings in The Detection of the Conspiracy formed by Some White People, in Conjunction with Negro and other Slaves, for burning the city of New-York in America, and Murdering the Inhabitants. When George Clinton ascended to the gubernatorial seat, Daniel Horsmanden again allied himself with whomever he saw as the colony's most powerful of politicians: his fellow supreme court justice, James De Lancey. As De Lancey and Clinton reached political loggerheads, Horsmanden became the focus of Clinton's ire. The governor removed Horsmanden from his post on the Supreme Court and from his role as city recorder; however, Horsmanden retained his seat on the city council. Shortly before leaving office in 1753, George Clinton returned Horsmanden to the Supreme Court. He remained there until his death, serving as justice until James De Lancey's demise in 1760, and as chief justice thence forward. Remaining a malleable politician throughout his career, the judge shifted his allegiance to William Livingston's party in the mid-fifties. In 1755 he received appointment to the governor's council under Thomas Hardy.

As a jurist in the pre-Revolutionary decades, Daniel Horsmanden struggled to maintain a fine line between his duties to the Crown and his place in colonial New York. During the Stamp Act Crisis, he kept the courts closed; however, called on to investigate the 1772 sinking of the revenue schooner Gaspee off the coast of Rhode Island, Horsmanden suggested combining Rhode Island and Connecticut under one Royal government. His final term as justice came in 1775, after which Royal courts in New York closed.

In 1748, Daniel Horsmanden married Mary Reade Vesey, the widow of the rector of New York's Trinity Church. The couple had no children together. Mary Horsmanden died in 1760, and in 1764 the seventy year-old Horsmanden married Ann Jevon of New York. She, too, predeceased him, dying in 1777.
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Daniel Horsmanden died at his Flatbush, New York home, September 23, 1778. Dying without issue, he stipulated in his will that much of his estate be sold and the proceeds donated to St. Paul's Chapel, King's College and Trinity Church, where his body was laid to rest.

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