A Revolutionary June

2 – Qaurtering Act of 1774 – intolerable act

8 – patriots fail to take 3 Rivers, Quebec (76)

9 – The Gaspee Affair (1772)

One of the most colorful incidents in the history of Rhode Island was the Gaspee affair. With all the boldness that distinguished the Boston Tea Party, a group of indignant and courageous citizens took matters into their own hands and deliberately ended a scourge that had long been the source of great irritation. In the year 1772 the English government decided to enforce the revenue laws that heretofore had not been backed up with force. For years vessels had been stationed In Newport harbor for the purpose of enforcing the existing revenue laws, but it remained for the Gaspee to stir up the bitter hatred of the colonists

The Gaspee was an armed schooner commanded by Lieutenant Dudingston, an insolent, overbearing individual. His great delight in life was to make existence miserable for Rhode Island craft, large and small. Up and down the bay he sailed, hailing boats and terrorizing their occupants. If vessels that were hailed did not stop immediately, a shot was fired across their bows as a warning of what might be expected if they did not wait to be searched. The Gaspee became such a terror that small boats hesitated to attempt the passage from one town to another. After making a hurried search of the vessels boarded, Dudingston would usually find some discrepancy in the payment of proper duties to the government, whereupon he would bring charges against the ship owners.

It was only a short time after the offensive operations of the Gaspee had begun that letters of protest were sent to her commander by the Governor of Rhode Island. Insolent answers by Dudingston only served to increase the smoldering fires of public indignation. Finally, Admiral Montagu, the Commander of the British fleet, wrote to the Governor, ordering him not to interfere with the operations of the Gaspee in any way. The Admiral’s letter was even more insolent in tone than Lieutenant Dudingston’s had been. During the course of this correspondence between the Governor and the British commanders, the Rhode Island people longed to serve the Gaspee in the same way that the citizens of Newport had treated a disagreeable guest in its waters.

On June 9th, 1772, Capt. Thomas Lindsay set out from the harbor of Newport intending to come up Providence. He expected that the Gaspee would catch sight of him and that he would very probably be stopped and his cargo searched, but he made up his mind not to allow this if he could help it. With all his sails spread he headed out of the harbor and started on his way. Just as he expected, he had not gone far before the Gaspee appeared in pursuit. The customary shot was fired across his bow, as a warning for him to stop, but without paying any attention to this the gallant Captain kept on his way. For several miles there was a hot pursuit, but it was a long chase and the packet was hard to overtake.

About seven miles below Providence the shore runs out in a long spit of land called Namquid Point (now known as Gaspee Point). The little packet sailed round this point leaning far over in the brisk wind. In the hopes of overtaking her the Gaspee tried a short cut across the shallow place, but the water was even shallower than her Commander had thought, and to the rage of the Commander and Crew, she went aground. There was considerable running and shouting on board of her; orders were given and followed out in haste, but they were of no use. The Gaspee lay there in the hot summer sunlight, leaning over more and more as the hours passed by and the tide ebbed. It was soon quite evident that her chance to catch the packet was gone and that she would have to stay where she was until high tide, and that would not be until 3 o’clock next morning.

Captain Lindsay sailed leisurely on to Providence, arriving about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and went straight to the home of Mr. John Brown, who was a close friend of his. He related his experiences of the day and described the helpless plight of the English schooner. The news spread fast and it did not take the citizens of Providence long to decide that now was the chance to rid themselves of their hated tormentor. About two hours after sunset that same evening, the roll of a drum sounded In the streets and the voice of a man was heard calling out in a loud tone, “The Gaspee is run aground off Namquid Point and cannot float before 3:00 o’clock tomorrow morning. Those people who feel disposed to go and destroy that troublesome vessel are invited to repair to Mr. James Sabin’s house this evening.” There was plenty of enthusiasm over the suggestion and before 9:00 o’clock that evening a large company of men had gathered in a room of Mr. Sabin’s house. This house was an Inn that stood at the corner of what is now South Main and Planet Streets, just opposite Fenner’s Wharf.

The men who gathered for this venture came armed with guns, pistols, swords and clubs. Those who owned no arms themselves borrowed from their neighbors. Bullets were scarce, so a fire was lighted in the great fireplace and lead was hurriedly melted and poured into bullet molds. By 10:00 o’clock everything was ready. The men filled eight large longboats that had been moored at Fenner’s Wharf. The oar locks and oars were carefully muffled and the expedition set out. Captain Whipple was put in command.

Down they went through the darkness past Fox Point, around Field’s Point and so on toward where the Gaspee lay. They approached very close to the schooner before the watch on deck discovered their presence. Then his cry rang out and brought the Commander and his sleepy crew to the deck. After a brief exchange of demands and oaths the men in the boats began the attack. A few shots were fired injuring one or two of the Gaspee crew, and in a few minutes a vicious hand-to-hand fight was under way. The attackers soon got the upper hand, made prisoners of the Commander and crew, and quickly transported them over to the Warwick shore, where they were put into the hands of willing assistants.

After this was done the boats returned to where the Gaspee lay and she was set on fire. Silently the Providence men rested on their oars and watched the flames as they leaped from one end of the deck to the other and up through the sails and rigging. Suddenly their boats were shaken by the dull roar of an explosion. A mass of burning wood and rigging was shot high above the schooner and fell back into the water with a great splash. Bits of burning wood were thrown through the air, even as far as where the longboats lay.

The powder in the Gaspee had exploded, blowing her to bits. Nothing was now left but the floating wreckage and a part of the hull. The night’s work was finished and the Gaspee was destroyed. Very quietly the longboats were rowed to town. The men who were in them separated and returned, each to his own home.

The strange thing is that the authorities who wished to punish these men for burning the schooner never were able to find out who they were. Almost everyone in town must have known, but no one would tell.

Governor Wanton offered a reward of $500 for any information as to who they were. The King of England offered $5,000 reward for the leader of the expedition and .$2,500 for the arrest of any of the men who had been with him, but no one could be bribed or frightened Into betraying the patriots who had delivered their Colony from the hated Gaspee.

From: The Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island; Vol. Ill; by John Williams Haley; Published by the Providence Institution for Savings, 1939. Distributed by Rhode Island Development Council

12 – the Virginia Declaration of Rights (76)

15 – George Washington named commander in chief of army (1775)

16 & 17- Battle of Bunker Hill (1775)

June 17, 1775. Charlestown Neck, outside Boston. The night before had been spent in building up fortifications on Breed’s Hill, adjacent to Bunker Hill. The colonists had built walls of 6 feet with a wooden platform inside where the soldiers could stand and shoot. They had heard that the British were coming to take Bunker Hill. Colonel Prescott sent his 1,200 men to the hills but there was  confusion about which hill to fortify. They were lacking in ammunition and most of their old fashioned muskets were brought by the soldiers from home. Advancing on them were thousands of British soldiers, marching three deep, shoulder to shoulder. They were dressed in their regalia with new guns and plenty of ammunition. As they came closer, one American officer tried to steady his men, knowing that they didn’t have any ammunition to waste. “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”  Finally, at a 150 feet, the colonists let fly a barrage of bullets that took down almost 500 redcoats. A second time the British advanced and again they were pushed back. One such American was Doctor Joseph Warren. He volunteered himself to fight after seeing the British retreat at Lexington and Concord. There he had been struck by a bullet that went through his wig. Now he stood facing a sea of red. He yelled out, “These fellows say we won’t fight! By heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood.” The British charged for a third and final time. Because they were out of ammunition, many of the colonists began to flee. A few stayed, including Dr. Warren, to continue shooting and allow time for a retreat. A British officer recognized Dr. Warren and shot him straight through the head. He died instantly.  The British stripped his clothing and bayonetted him until his mangled body was unrecognizable. Then they kicked him into a ditch.

Though the British were undoubtably the victors in this battle, they were shocked by the amount of casualties they incurred, particularly officers.  Two hundred twenty-six British lay dead, and over eight hundred more wounded. More than twice the casualties of the colonists. General Clinton remarked in his diary, “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”

It was brave men like Joseph Warren that believed so strongly in freedom, they were willing to give their lives. Before this battle, Joseph’s mother pleaded with her son not to fight. In tears she stood before him waiting for his reply. “Where danger is, dear mother, there must your son be. Now is no time for any of American’s children to shrink from any hazard. I will set her free or die.” And that’s exactly what he did.

19 – The Albany Congress (1754) through July 11

22 – Quebec Act – intolerable act (74)

28 – Illuminate our Understanding

In June of 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had been sitting together in the hot State House in Pennsylvania for over a month. Tempers were at near breaking point. When they first arrived, most had expected to change some of the Articles of Confederation, but not to create a whole new Constitution. And then the question of the Bill of Rights had to be answered before signatures were made. Everyone began to despair of ever finishing their task and creating a new government. Sides were taken, the stuffy room was insufferable, and the men began to forget their duty and yearned to go home. During the convention, Benjamin Franklin, now 81 and rather sick, watched the proceedings with growing worry. He usually took the time to write out statements he wanted read aloud, because he was too weak to stand and say them himself. But on June 28th, he stood and asked for permission to speak. Here are some of his words:

“…In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth…how has it happened that we have not hitherto once thought of  humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers were heard, Sir, and were graciously answered. Have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?

I have lived, Sir,  a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, in the Sacred Writings that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it (Psalm 127:1).’ I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.

I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning….”

Mr. Sherman seconded the motion and all agreed that prayers were needed. They took a three day recess and began their “building” again, starting first with prayer led by a volunteer clergyman.  This speech was the turning point in the convention, and began a time of progress which continued until September when the Constitution was complete. Thus was established the first Christian founded republic on the earth.

28 – Sullivan’s Island, SC failed British naval attack (76)

28 – patriots decisively defeat British navy at fort moultrie, SC (76)

In June 1776, another decisive battle occurred in the Charleston Harbor. General Charles Lee had been assigned to go down to Sullivan’s Island and take charge of the six thousands patriot volunteers signing up in the South. His job was to make the fort secure so that British ships couldn’t pass into Charleston. He assigned a man named Willam Moultrie to build the defensive structure. Moultrie (whom the fort was named after) built an impressive sandwich shaped fortress with logs holding up a dirt wall of 16 feet. Lee then put 450 men to guard the fortress with 30 cannon.  Just as the Americans were finishing their fort, nine British ships, under the direction of Henry Clinton, appeared on the horizon. They couldn’t, however, find a place they could land, so they turned their 260 guns toward Fort Moultrie. With so many cannon, the British were confidant they would hold the fort within hours, and the bombardment began. The British also had what they called their secret weapon, Thunder, which was a bomb launcher that sent explosives farther than regular cannon. They aimed it toward the inside of the fort, and the rest of their cannon toward the walls. Unfortunately, they still weren’t close enough. Clinton felt he couldn’t move forward for risk of being hit by the incoming shrapnel. He chose instead to increase the powder charge in his guns. As the first few cannons were lit, the excess powder caused an explosion in the cement that secured the cannon, rendering them useless.  The Americans seemed to be having more success. They had hit two of the boats so that they were now dangerously low in the water. Three others had run aground on their own mistakes. A sixth boat exploded into fire as the missiles continued to charge. Around midnight, accepting their defeat, the remainder of the British ships slunk out of the harbor, utterly demolished despite their higher ratio of both men and cannon. Once again, size and strength does not equal victory.

28 – Battle of Monmouth (1778)

Washington had a divided council of war. Some wanted to attack the British  at Monmouth immediately, while others, like Lee were fearful to do anything. Since Lee wouldn’t do the job, Washington assigned Lafayette to lead 5,000 soldiers to attack. Lee couldn’t stand to be overshadowed by Lafayette; he followed him and took over his command.  On June 27, 1778 Lee was camped six miles away from the British led by Clinton. The redcoats arose early and began their march out of Monmouth. Lee and his troops followed. When they arrived in Monmouth, they were surprised by 2,000 soldiers Clinton had left behind. Lee ordered the attack, but the Americans went in with no plan and soon got muddled and nervous. Lee then ordered a retreat almost as quickly as the battle had begun. Washington, who had been three miles further behind Lee, had now reached the vicinity. When he heard the shots fired and the yelling of men, he was encouraged and thought Lee had done as he said he would do. He left his men with Nathanielle Greene and rode ahead to see how Lee got on, only to find a full retreat in progress. Washington demanded to know what was happening. Lee gave his excuses to which Washington replied, “…you ought not to have undertaken it unless you intended to go through with it!” He rode forward and commanded Lee’s troops to stop running away. He was hastily reorganizing them when a messenger came with the news that Clinton’s army had turned back and were almost upon them. Lafayette explains how Washington reformed the lines amidst such chaos. “His graceful bearing on horseback, his calm and dignified deportment, which still retained some trace of displeasure, …were all calculated to excite the highest degree of enthusiasm. I thought then as now that I had never beheld so superb a man.” That superb man held his men while the British charged and were repulsed. Cannon fire was shot throughout the day, back and forth in the rhythm of war. Six times the British charged forward and were stopped. Over a hundred men on both sides dropped to the ground, dead from exhaustion. Washington called his men to press forward with bayonet. The British fled in fear. Though Washington tried to follow, the darkness of the night overtook him and they stopped their pursuit. Such was their exhaustion that they heard nothing in the night as Clinton took his men and retreated for good. They awoke to a victory that had only killed several hundred of their own men and more than 1200 of their enemy.

28 – Molly Pitcher           

The name Molly Pitcher has represented the many brave women who accompanied their men to the battlefields, and served the troops in cooking, washing, and sewing. They also carried water to the soldiers on the field, which gave them the title “pitcher”.  One woman in particular, actually named Mary Hays, had followed her husband John to the battle at Monmouth. It was one of the longest battles on the hottest day of the year. Mary carried water to the suffering men, pouring cool water down their throats and heads. Many called out to her. She saw her husband fall from the heat. She gave him a drink and tied a wet rag around his head, then moved him beneath the shade of a close tree. She then took over her husband’s place, helping load and fire the cannon. One witness later wrote, “While in the action of reaching a cartridge, and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could step, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing an damage than carring away the lower part of her petticoat.” When others began to run away, Mary Hays stayed firm by her canon until General Washington could stop the retreat.

29 – the Townsend Revenue Act (1767)

29 – the First Virginia Constitution (76)

any date – Sabotage

In early Summer of 1777, Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne pushed his British troops south after retaking Fort Ticonderoga. They were determined to reach Albany, New York, where he would join his own 8,000 men to Howe’s 15,000.  He chose to go overland and not by water, as he feared an American naval attack. His fears were unwarranted. The Americans’ “navy” wasn’t just laughable, it was non existent. But Burgoyne chose the almost impassable land route to Fort Edward, where he hoped to easily conquer the Americans stationed there.  General Schuyler, a wily American officer, had some ideas of his own. He sent men to cut down as many trees as possible to further the struggle of the British. The rebels then dug numerous ditches to slow down their enemies. They destroyed every bridge so that Gentleman Johnny had to replace forty of them to cross the deep ravines in his path.  Schuyler didn’t stop there. Knowing the British would only have minimal supplies, he encouraged local patriots to burn their unharvested grain and drive their cattle away from the vicinity. The British didn’t even have the option of plundering when their own food supplies ran out. The sabotage was successful. It took Burgoyne twenty days to travel only twenty-three miles.  When he finally arrived at Fort Edward, the Americans had slipped away, alluding the British once again.

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