GaspeeVirtual Archives
Nathan Salisbury (1751-1817)

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 to Indict Nathan Salisbury:

While in the process of doing a deep Internet search on the term "Gaspee" in late 2000, it was discovered that:
In Section 7 of the Homer, NY cemetery is one Nathan Salisbury, b. 1 Dec 1751, d. 4 May 1817. Gravestone reads: Lt. of company which captured and burned the British schooner "Gaspee" in 1772. His wife is shown as Abigail Stone, b. 16 Oct 1753, d. 15, Dec 1836.

Salisbury family gravestone marker in Homer, NY

We found a references to five Nathan Salsiburys that appear in the 1790 RI census lists <>, but they give no detailed information.

A subsequent e-mail to the Homer, NY Chamber of Commerce put us in contact with the Cortland County (in Upstate, NY) historian, who responded::

"There is a reference in the 1885 Smith's History of Cortland County which does state that Nathan Salisbury lived in R.I. until 1803. (original spelling and grammar):
Nathan Salisbury, sen., was Lieutenant under Capt. Burgess of the company which, from Warwick Neck, fired into, captured, and burned the British schooner, Gaspe in 1772.  He resided in Cranston until 1795, when he moved to Providence, R.I.  In March, 1803, he moved his family to Hartford, Washington county, New York, where he purchased a farm and remained until 1806, when he again moved his family to Cazenovia, Madison county, New York.  At this place he only remained through the winter, and in March, 1807, came with his family to Homer, then in Onondaga county (450).
Hope this helps!
--Cathy A. Barber, Cortland County Historian
We do have significant problems with Smith's account that Nathan Salisbury was a "Lieutenant under Capt. Burgess of the company which, from Warwick Neck, fired into, captured, and burned the British schooner, Gaspe in 1772."  This doesn't add up as factual for several reasons.  The biographical sketch was written by the Cortland County historian in 1885 and it is doubtful he had access to other sources.  He was probably quoting Nate Salisbury's grandchildren and the family history was .... shall we say .... embellished a bit.  No other reliable first person account of the Gaspee incident (and there are many, both British and American) tell of any artillery firings.  His claim to have been part of a 'Burgess's Company' that from Warwick Neck fired onto the Gaspee is also totally unknown in published references, although a British map of the Revolutionary period does depict an artillery battery at that location (see map [1.5 Mb]).  Additionally, Warwick Neck is about 5 miles South of Gaspee (Namquid) Point where the ship was aground; a distance much too far for the cannons of 1772 vintage.  That all being said, in 2005, Nathan Salisbury's descendant, and fellow Gaspee researcher, Earl Salisbury, discovered a letter written to his relative who happened to be with the American Antiquarian Society, relating in detail the attack on the Gaspee, and which includes a section on artillery firing on the Gaspee as she lay aground.

First of all, let us say that the Gaspee Days Committee is indebted to Earl Salisbury for his popularizing to the greater Indianaplois area the story behind the Burning of the Gaspee  His wit and storytelling are truly remarkable gifts. Earl used diligent scholarly research to investigate further his oft-told family story about Nathan Salisbury and his role in the Revolution, and in any participation in the attack on the Gaspee.

From Earl Salisbury's home page at came the following discourse in 2009:

Setting the Record Straight About Nathan Salisbury

After going thru some of my files I've determined that this will be my best way to correct a major historical error.

The letter that James Henry wrote to Stephen contains the problem.

James and his brother Charles were pre-teens when they would listen to Grandma Abigail tell them the story of their Grandfather Nathan (he died before they were born) and they were both very excited about his cannon attack on a frigate run-aground in Warwick neck. This became the game that the boys would play, building forts and using sticks and boards in mock battles. When James became a young man he searched volumes of books looking for "the rest of the story" I think James Fennimore Cooper's book influenced his thinking. The only ship run-a-ground in Cooper's book is the schooner Gaspé, and it is at Namquid Point, not Warwick Neck. The attack at Warwick Neck is not included in his publication.

James Henry Salisbury decided that some perceived errors in the history of the Gaspee needed to be corrected and he started a campaign to include the cannon attack and the "Frigate Gaspee". This resulted in several major and minor publication inclusions and even a new tombstone for Nathan that includes the firing of a cannon on the Gaspee. Other inclusions are in family history books.

At the time I read the information on Nathan (my 4 great Grand Father) I had never heard of the Gaspee but decided to read everything on the subject I could and eventually started to do a first person character at historical societies and schools. My program did not include the cannon attack. That was over ten years ago so I have done a bunch of programs.

Recently while doing some additional research I discovered that Nathan was not at the attack on the Gaspee in 1772 at Namquit Point but the attack on the Frigate Diamond in 1777. What's five years and five miles among friends? I've also determined that the Capt Burgess that James Henry mentions is Capt. Cary Briggs (so much for cursive notes).

We'll add in as references to the above discussion:
Field, Edward. Esek Hopkins, Commander and Chief of The Continental Navy...  Providence:  The Preston & Rounds Co. 1898. Page 172 (on-line in Google Books) .

Cooper, James Fenimore. History of the Navy of the United States of America. New York: Stringer & Townsend, 1856. Page 32. (on-line in Google Books).

As Leonard Bucklin, a noted trial lawyer, relates:

I really think what we have is why lawyers do not rely on hearsay.  I suspect he was in a battery of artillery and that he was in the boatload of persons that may have rowed over ..... and were at the attack on the Gaspee. Persons hearing him talk could have heard him say, on separate occassions:
    1.  I was in an artillery battery
    2.  Some of us fired the Gaspee, and we sunk her
and duly recorded him as being in an artillery group that fired upon the Gaspee
We can only surmise that perhaps Nathan Salisbury served with Capt. Burgess' Company, at some time during the pre-Revolutionary or Revolutionary times.  Click here to Visit the Controversies of the Cannon caused by Salisbury descendants

Unfortunately, as of now, Nathan Salisbury's claim to have been part of the group that burned the Gaspee in 1772 is unsubstantiated by any other source than his own epitaph.  Given the unlikelihood of unearthing further sources on the matter we must consider his participation in the attack on the Gaspee as possible.  As Bucklin states:

Before the American Revolution, the identity of the persons involved was kept secret. But after the Revolution, persons involved in the Gaspee Affair were celebrated. It is my feeling that is was unlikely that someone would lie to make a claim that he was a militia officer and that he was in the boats that did the attacking. The population of the Providence area was small enough that a lie of this nature would likely be exposed.
On the other hand, the epitath on Nathan Salisbury's grave marker was not autobiographical; it was writen by his descendants with good intentions, we surmise.

It is also of interest that we find in the annals of the Gaspee Affair, the mention of Nathan Salisbury's eldest brother, Peleg Salisbury, who was empanelled on the jury which found William Dudingston, Captain of the Gaspee, culpable for the damages coming forth from his seizure of a cargo of rum taken from the Greene family in February of 1772 (see Bryant, SW, Rhode Island Justice-1772 Vintage, Rhode Island History, July 1967 26:3, p66.)  Descendant Earl Salisbury informs us that Peleg was later a judge in Warwick.

It is a testimony to the integrity of Earl Salisbury that he has rescinded his family's long established story of Nathan Salisbury's role in attacking the Gaspee.  The story is, after all, written in stone on Nathan's grave marker.
Biographical Notes:

Nathan Salisbury served as a private in Capt. Peter Burlingame's Co., Colonel John Matthewson's Reg. R.I. Miltia. NSDAR 136111, Mrs. Roberta Horn Little. Later served as Corp. in Capt. Benjamin West's Co. Colonel John Lanham's Reg. NSDAR 17823, Mrs Avoma Olive Sawm Dow,  Unfortunately, Nathan Salisbury did not live long enough to have applied for a pension based on his Revolutionary War service.  He died in 1817, and the earliest non-disability pension application we have found was filed in 1818.  Therefore, this can be used to infer that he had not been disabled due to any war related service.

No record of a Salisbury is found in the 1770 List of  Providence Taxpayers.  Nathan Salisbury removed from Warwick to Cranston, RI and resided there until 1795 when he removed to Providence. Leonard Bucklin of the Bucklin Society claims he was actually from Bristol at the time of the attack on the Gaspee. Per the Providence Phoenix;  22 June1802;  At a town meeting of Providence, Nathan Salisbury along with 9 others were appointed Field Drivers. A field driver was the person responsible for gathering up unattended and wandering livestock from the town common or other premises. In Mar 1803 he removed to Harford, Cortland County, NY where he remained until 1806. He then went to Cazenovia, Madison, NY. In Mar 1807 he went to Homer, Onondaga County, NY and located at Cold Brook.

Genealogical Notes:

Nathan Salisbury b 1 DEC 1751 in Charlestown, MA or Warwick, RI d: 4 MAY 1817 in Scott, Cortland, NY
Father: Martin P. Salisbury b: 4 JUL 1708 in Milton, Norfolk County, MA or Rehoboth, MA
Mother: Mary Pierce b: 18 OCT 1718 in Charlestown, Suffolk County, MA or Rehoboth, MA
Marriage 1 Abigail Stone b: 19 OCT 1753 in Cranston, RI on 16 May 1771
Children (all born in Cranston, RI)

 Waite Salisbury b: 19 DEC 1771 m Samuel BUDLONG, Jr.  1791
 Sally Salisbury b: 18 FEB 1776 m William RHODES in 1792, died in Richmond, VT 1861
 John Salisbury b: 30 MAR 1778 d. 3 JAN 1865 in LaPorte Co, IN.  m Sabrina Jones b: 14 JUN 1781
 Joseph Martin Salisbury b: 24 JUN 1780 died at sea enroute from China
 Anne (Nancy) Salisbury b: 1 APR 1782-d 1853  married George Eddy b: Cir 1769-1770
 Mary Lucinda Salisbury b: 28 MAR 1785 m Benjamin Congdon
 Ambrose Salisbury b: 5 JUN 1789 m Selvina MORGAN b: Abt. 1807 in Cranston, RI
 Cynthia Salisbury b: 13 AUG 1791 m Medad Morgan
 Nathan Salisbury b: 10 OCT 1793 m Lucretia Babcock
 Phebe Salisbury b: 28 FEB 1796
Further genealogical information can be obtained by contacting descendant Earl Salisbury
The Gaspee Days Committee gladly recognizes Nathan Salisbury as a true American patriot for his role in the American Revolution, and confer on him the status as a possible 'Gaspee Raider' based solely on his grave marker inscription..
Left:  Earl Salisbury receives official recognition by proxy for his ancestor Nathan Salisbury from Rhode Island Rep. Joseph McNamara, RI Secretary of State Ed Salisbury Inman, and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian at ceremonies at the Warwick Public Library, May 11, 2001.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 4/2001    Last Revised 11/2010    Salisbury.htm