PROVIDENCE, RI – This month, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea will highlight the burning of the HMS Gaspee with the Treasures from the Archives exhibition series. Documents related to events before and after a group of Rhode Island colonists burned the British Schooner will be on view in the State House Library.
"The Burning of the Gaspee holds a significant place not only in Rhode Island's history, but our nation as a whole. It marks the moment when colonists expressed that they had enough of the unfair and excessive enforcement from British customs officers on Rhode Island merchant ships," Secretary Gorbea said.
His Majesty's Ship Gaspee was sent to patrol Narragansett Bay in 1772, and as noted in a letter from Governor Wanton and the ship's captain Lieutenant Dudingston, colonists quickly grew frustrated with the Gaspee's heavy hand. "A number of the inhabitants in this Colony have complained to me of your having, in a most illegal and unwarrantable manner, interrupted their trade, by searching and detaining every little packet boat plying between the several towns."
On June 9, 1772, the packet sloop Hannah ran the Gaspee aground in the shallow waters of Namquid Point. That night, in what would become a significant precursor to the American Revolution, angry colonists carried out a plan to burn and destroy the Gaspee. Despite British attempts to investigate and arrest the perpetrators after the burning, not one member of the rebellious group was detained. Rhode Islanders commemorate this historic act of civil defiance each year with a series of community events called the Gaspee Days.
"The June Treasures exhibition of the Gaspee Commission Papers is a perfect example of how our State Archives serves as our very own time capsule that we can open at any time to see how the actions by concerned citizenry have shaped our history," Gorbea said. "It also provides an additional element of historical context to one of Rhode Island's longstanding community traditions."
Treasures from the Archives is a "pop up" exhibition series at the State House Library that highlights the exceptional holdings of the Rhode Island State Archives. Exhibitions of original archival items will be on view for approximately four weeks at a time. These will include historic photographs, documents, and artifacts that chart Rhode Island's rich and diverse history.
This month's exhibition will be on display through the month of June.