Gaspee Virtual Archives
Who Wrote the Gaspee Song?

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'®.  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 the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to

SongRight: A photograph of the printed poem on the burning of the Gaspee is presented on page 53 of Florence Parker Simister's The Fire's Center, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era 1763-1790. RI Bicentennial Foundation, 1979.
Click image to enlarge.

An Analysis of the Handwriting on the Published Poem
Of interest, the name of Theodore Fo(s)ter's is scripted at the top of this poem, and its presence leads to some mystery.  It could be simply a handwritten name of someone who purchased the published poem, but logic would state that one does not usually place an apostrophe s when marking one's possessions.   The top script is perfectly parallel to the accompanying typeset, and and attempt has been made to center it on the page by extending the signature line after the apostrophe s.  It appears to be as dark and as unfaded as the typeset, indicating that the publisher of the poem may have included the author's name in script at the top.

Note also that the ink is darker, of different handwriting, and the script size much larger than the handwritten note at the bottom. The note at the bottom is not completely decipherable, even with digital magnification.  To the best of my ability it appears to state:
"If I remember"! (unintelligible capitalized name, possibly Quin) . was the (author)/(brother) of the above one of the sixty-four?  Presented to RI Hist. Society by (unintelligible, possibly J____ Hereshoff).

According to the invaluable RI Historical Cemeteries Project at there are no Quins or Quinns buried in Rhode Island that were alive during the burning of the Gaspee, most having come over from Ireland in the late nineteenth century.  Of course that doesn't entirely preclude that there may have been Quins living in Rhode Island at the time. The first letter could be a Q but might be a D. If you stretch your imagination, it could be Dunn, and a Dunn was a known participant in the attack, having been named by both Ephraim Bowen and John Mawney.

Note that the RI Historical Society was not incorporated until 1822. Again, looking through the RI Historical Cemeteries Project at we find that there are at least two possibilities on the donor, John Brown Hereshoff (1805-1861) and Julia Anne Hereshoff (1811-1901) who were both living during the earliest years of the RI Historical Society, and would've been able to make the donation of this copy of the Gaspee poem. The donor may not have been the same person to write down the name of who actually gave the poem, and this writing appears to be smaller and lighter than the writing before it.

Who was Theodore Foster?
See his bio at: TheodoreFoster.htm

Who was the brother of Theodore Foster?
It is doubtful that the name referred to in the handwriting on the poem, although possibly beginning with a D can be construed to be Dwight.  I have not yet researched whether Theodore had any other brothers that could be implicated.

Who was Samuel Dunn?
See:  SamuelDunn.htm

Ah, yes, but there have been other claims as to authorship of the Gaspee Song
Yes, indeed. It has long been a tradition (apparently from several sources) that the author of the Gaspee "Song" was one of the Gaspee raiders. This tradition may have started with this handwritten note at the bottom of the poem as presented above. Wilfred Munro in his Tales of an Old Sea Port makes the claim that the "lyric to commemorate the affair came from the pen of Captain Thomas Swan of Bristol, (see  ThomasSwan.htm )one of those who took part in it."  He goes on to present the Gaspee "Song" that is presented above in The History of Bristol, R.I.- The Story of Mount Hope Lands. He also claims that the Gaspee "Song" was discovered attached to the back of a family portrait of Thomas Swan. At the present time Captain Swan has been the person most credited with writing this poem.....but did he? Note that there is no publication date on the printed poem, and the publisher probably wouldn't have dared to print it until at least after the 1776 Declaration of Independence.  It is quite possible that Swan handwrote his copy of the poem because no printed copies were available. It could just as easily be surmised that Swan read or heard the poem, wrote it down in his own handwriting, and enjoyed reciting it at family gatherings.  Over the generations, the Swan family from Bristol undoubtedly came to believe that Captain Thomas Swan wrote the poem himself. This claim was probably passed onto Munro when he did his historical research some 88 years after the burning of the Gaspee. And note that Munro, writing in his 1860 The History of Bristol, R.I.- The Story of Mount Hope Lands, attributes Swan as the author; this is not quite as strong a connotation as saying Swan was the author. This discussion is not meant to to imply in any way that Captain Swan did not participate in the attack on the Gaspee, but only to raise the question of whether he was the actual author of the Gaspee "Song".

So who actually wrote the Gaspee "Song" and, by tradition therefore, is also implicated as one of the Gaspee Raiders?
Weighing all the evidence, it appears most likely that this was US Senator Theodore Foster. But while he may have written the poem, it is very doubtful that he was part of the raid.

Click here to read the Gaspee "Song"

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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 6/2002 as TheodoreFoster.html    Last Revised 6/2004    WhoWroteTheGaspeeSong.htm