GaspeeVirtual Archives
Joseph Johnson  (He is NOT considered one who helped attack the Gaspee)

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 1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots 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 one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating Joseph Johnson:  

The evidence against Joseph Johnson participating in the attack on the HMS Gaspee is sketchy at best. He is not found on lists of known attackers made by any primary sources.

In State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century, A History, edited by Edward Field, Boston, Mason Publishing Co., 1902 Vol. I, p468, the editor comments on the sources of his list of known perpetrators:

The name of Justin Jacobs appears in John Howland's account in Stone's life of Howland, while the names of Captain Shepard, Captain Harris and Joseph Johnson appear in a list found in the preface to Catherine William's life of Barton and Olney; where she obtained them is, of course, impossible now to determine, but she lived and wrote during the life-time of many of the men who were engaged in the war for Independence.

But when we look at William's work that Field cites, Joseph Johnson's name is nowhere to be found.  From: Williams, Catherine, Biography of Revolutionary Heroes: Containing the Life of Brigadier Gen. William Barton and also of Captain Stephen Olney. Providence, Published by the author, 1839, p21.
The names of those brave and resolute citizens, as far as they have come to our knowledge, are as follows:
Captain Benjamin Dunn,     John Brown,
Captain Benjamin Page,      Com. Abraham Whipple,
Captain Turpin Smith,         Colonel Ephraim Bowen,
Captain John B. Hopkins,   Dr. John Mawney,
Joseph Bucklin,                    Captain Harris,
Captain Shepard,                 Joseph Jenckes,
Edward Field was the preeminent Rhode Island historian of his day, and he possessed a particular focus on the history surrounding the Gaspee Affair as evidenced by his public talks on the subject. It is interesting that he does not give a reference to his inclusion of the name of Joseph Jenckes in his list of perpetrators, yet that name is included in Williams' list.  It is quite possible that a typo occurred here, and that the name of Joseph Jenckes was misread by Field's publisher as Joseph Johnson.  This would be a tragic mistake, since we know the names of too few of the Gaspee raiders already.  We'd cut Ed Field the benefit of the doubt and include Joseph Johnson in our list of known participants, but historical integrity prevents us from doing so. A search for  Joseph Johnson is otherwise negative in files
Biographical Information:

RI Historical Cemeteries Database search shows only 5 possibilities, and only one with complete dates:

JOHNSON        JOSEPH                            1734c -  9 SEP 1808    CY071 (Coventry)
JOHNSON        JOSEPH                                  - 17 AUG         PW006  (Pawtucket)
JOHNSON        JOSEPH C                                -                CR002  (Cranston)
JOHNSON        JOSEPH H                                -                NK026 (North Kingstown)
JOHNSON        JOSEPH S                                -                PV005 (Providence)
The 1770 List of Providence Taxpayers does not give the name of any Johnson holding property at that time.

LDS and search shows these possibilities:

  • Joseph JOHNSON born  17Apr1740 in Westerly (adjoining  Charlestown), Rhode Island

  • Parents: Joseph (1708) and Mary LANPHEAR (1718) m 1739.
    Spouse: Judith BURDICK (1740).
       Joseph Johnson b: 19 MAR 1763 in Charlestown, Washington Co., RI
       Benjamin Johnson b: 12 OCT 1764 in Charlestown, Washington Co., RI
       Eliphalet H. Johnson , Deacon b: 10 SEP 1766 in Charlestown, Washington Co., RI
A search of gives us:
      Joseph Johnson, son of Joseph, married Mary Lamphere in Westerly, RI on
          June 18, 1739.  Mary is the daughter of Theodosius, granddaughter of George.
          Their children were born in Charlesotwn, RI and Coventry.   (October 19, 1904, Item 514.  Parish Register of Canterbury, Eng.)
Other Joseph Johnsons we have identified include:
  • Joseph JOHNSON born about 1734 in Charlestown, RI,

  • Parents: John JOHNSON, Jr and Elizabeth
  • Joseph JOHNSON born Abt 1735 in Coventry, RI.

  • Parents: John JOHNSON (1699) and Sarah PHILLIPS (1702),
    Spouse: Annah BAILEY m1760 in Coventry. RI
    This is probably the guy buried in Coventry with the dates of 1734-1808
  • This latter Sarah PHILLIPS of 1702 b in Warwick, RI of John Phillips of 1676 does not appear to be related to a Sarah Phillips of 1717 from Newport who was the mother of another Gaspee raider suspect, John Kilton
There was a Joseph Johnson from Rhode Island who was granted a pension for Revolutionary War service.  There may be a Joseph Johnson buried in grave containing Revolutionary soldiers in upstate NY <>

USGenWeb search show that:
There was one, possibly two Joseph Johnsons, as well as about 10 or 12 other Johnson families in the 1800 Kent County census files, which would include Coventry. RI., and 3 or 4 Johnson families in the 1800 Washington County census that would include Charlestown and Westerly, RI.
The 1790 Census of Coventry shows:

Johnson, Joseph as  3-2 -2-*-*
that is 3 males over 16, 2 males under 16, and 2 females, no other freepersons, and no slaves. This same census for Providence shows 6 Johnson households, but none named Joseph.  There were 6 Johnson households in Charlestown in 1790, of which 2 were Indian (there still exists a Narragansett Indian Tribal reservation there, and, yes, they're still trying to get a gambling casino there as well).  No Joseph Johnson, though. search is not helpful and a Gendex search turns up nothing to pique our interest.

There's no good evidence to select one Joseph Johnson over another to be our Gaspee Raider, and more likely than not, our suspect would be from Providence, of which only one of these Joseph Johnsons is; but he's buried without dates.

The Gaspee Days Committee, regretfully,  has come to the conclusion that Joseph Johnson did not participate in the attack on the Gaspee.  His inclusion in other lists of perpetrators is probably owing to a typographical error by the publisher of Edward Field in 1902. We also cannot identify a Joseph Johnson of the time that would likely have been in Providence on the night of the attack.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 8/2002    Last Revised 07/2009    JosephJohnson.htm