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The First Shot in the American Revolution!

Joseph Bucklin fired a musket and hit a British Navy captain, in the first intentional attack on the English military forces. The captain thought he was going to die, and surrendered his ship and crew. After the English surrendered, Joseph gave medical aid to save the Englishman's life.

Joseph fired the first and key shot in the capture and burning of the English Royal Navy ship "Gaspee".   Rhode Island celebrates the Gaspee capture as "America's First Blow for Freedom".  "America's First Blow for Freedom" is a registered trademark of the Gaspee Days Committee of Rhode Island. 

[From the account written by Epraim Bowen.]
. . . .In about a minute Dudingston mounted the starboard gunwale in his shirt and hailed, "Who comes there?"  No answer. He hailed again, when Capt. Whipple answered as follows: "I  am the sheriff of the county of Kent, G... d ..n you. I have got a warrant to apprehend you, G.. d..n you; so surrender, G.. d..n you."

I took my seat on the main thwart, near the larboard row-lock, with my gun by my right side, facing forwards. As soon as Dudingston began to hail, Joseph Bucklin, who was standing on the main thwart by my right side, said to me, "Ephe, reach me your gun and I can kill that fellow."

I reached it to him accordingly, when, during Capt. Whipple’s replying, Bucklin fired and Dudingston fell, and Bucklin exclaimed, "I have killed the rascal."

[From the account written by Dr. John Mawney.]
. . . .I then directed [Joseph Bucklin] him to place his hands as I had mine, which was, the ball of my left hand on the orifice of the wound, and giving him the word to slip his hand under mine and to press hard to prevent the effusion of blood; which being done, I ....[prepared a bandage compress]....  All being prepared, I told Bucklin to raise his hands, when I instantly placed the compresses on the orifice, and placing the bandage round the thigh over the wound and crossing it above, drew tight, so that the effusion of blood was stopped. 

Although the Gaspee Affair is accorded various degrees of importance in the events that gave rise to the American Revolution, there is general agreement among historians that the shot fired by Joseph was the first time an American deliberately shot an English military man in a deliberate attack on the English military.  The English Attorney General and the Solicitor General declared it the first act of treason and an act of war by the Americans.

Biographical Facts About "Joseph Bucklin"

Go to Joseph Bucklin 4th Biography for biography of one of the two candidates for being the celebrated Joseph.

Go to Joseph Bucklin 5th Biography for biography of the one that probably was the celebrated Joseph,.

Check our theory of who was the "Joseph Bucklin" who did the shooting on that eventful night of June 10th, 1772.

Summary of the Gaspee Affair

The Gaspee was an English revenue cutter, preventing smuggling and collecting taxes.  When the "Gaspee" went aground, a number of men of the Providence area rowed out, wounded the captain, took the rest of the crew off the ship, and burned the ship. An act of Parliament was passed that provided that the burning of an English revenue ship was treason, and the men involved in the capture of the Gaspee were to be brought back and tried in England. The colonists insisted that this violated the rights of Englishmen to be tried by a jury of their own vicarage.  The Gaspee Affair was prominent in the series of events that ended in the Lexington battle.


The general outline of what happened begins at about noon on a June day in 1772, when Captain Benjamin Lindsey sailed his sloop out of the harbor at Newport, Rhode Island.  The Gaspee (sent by the English Navy to Narragansett Bay that spring to cut down on smuggling) gave chase.  From the time the Gaspee arrived  had been antagonizing  Newport's captains and crews. The local merchants complained that its captain, Lieutenant William Dudingston, was stopping every kind of vessel, even small boats heading to market. Whenever Dudingston was challenged, he refused to show his authorization papers, and when he uncovered smuggled goods he ordered them shipped to Boston for court proceeding there,  even though the law required that the ship confiscation be tried in the colony where the goods were confiscated.

The Rhode Island's Governor Wanton sent his sheriff to summon Dudingston so that he could to see Dudingston's authorization. Dudingston and his commander, Rear Admiral Montagu, took the legal position that Dudingston's orders were directly traced from the king and did not need to be shown to the civil authorities. From Boston, Montagu wrote to the governor, calling Wanton's challenge to Dudingston insolent and warning Wanton never to send his sheriff on board a king's ship asking for the authority under which English ships' captains were acting. Admiral Montagu added that he had heard rumors that the people of Newport were talking about fitting out an armed vessel and using it to rescue any ship the Gaspee detained. Montagu warned that any attempt to interfere with the Gaspee would result in the persons involved being hanged as pirates.

This was the background to the day in June when Lieutenant Dudingston was trying to maneuver the Gaspee so that he could board Captain Lindsey's sloop. Some seven miles below Providence, Lindsey hove about at the end of Namquit Point.  The Point had a particularly deceiving appearance for those not familiar with the local waters  Lindsey's maneuver to lure the Gaspee aground did in fact result in  Dudingston running the Gaspee aground.  Lindsey continued up the river, arriving about sunset at Providence, where he spread the happy news of the Gaspee's distress.

John Brown, a Providence merchant, decided that this was the town's chance to be rid of Dudingston's harassment. Brown's shipmasters collected  eight of the largest long boats in the harbor, each with at least five sets of oars.   In the evening, as the shops were closing, a man marched down the main street of Providence, beating a drum. He directed anyone who wanted to help destroy the troublesome ship to the SabinTavern,  near Fenner's Wharf. Ephraim Bowen, nineteen years old, heard the call. and went.  At ten pm the group boarded the longboats. Each boat had a sea captain to guide it.

The Americans rowed the boats into a line and moved toward the Gaspee. They got within sixty yards of their target before a sentinel called, "Who goes there?" They gave no answer. The sentinel alerted the sleeping crew. 

Lieutenant Dudingston mounted the starboard gunwale and called, "Who comes there?"  The second time, Captain Abraham Whipple shouted back, "I am the sheriff of the county of Kent, God Damn you! I have got a warrant to apprehend you, God damn you! So, surrender, God damn you!

The English crew could not bring the guns of the ship to bear on the approaching longboats, because of the angle at which the American captains were bringing the boats to the ship. The English captain ordered his small arms locker opened and the crew armed. At this point in time, the English crew started firing muskets at the boats, which were closing to board the ship. At this point, Lieutenant Dudingston was on the gunwale of the Gaspee, with his sword ready to repel the boarding.  Indeed Dudingston claimed that his sword strokes were repelling the first boarder. 

Joseph Bucklin was in the boat with Ephraim Bowen, and Joseph said, "Eph, reach me your gun and I can kill that fellow." Bowen handed him the gun. Joseph Bucklin fired at Lieutenant Dudingston and exclaimed, "I have killed the rascal!"

In fact, Dudingston was only wounded, but he thought fatally.  He fell back on the ship deck, telling the crew he was "done for". The boats drew alongside and over 60, we think over 90, Americans came aboard the Gaspee.  The Gaspee had only 19 crew members. With their  commander wounded (apparently fatally),  and with such superior numbers coming aboard, the English Navy crew surrendered.

Leader John Brown sought out a  young medical doctor in the raiding party, John Mawney. . Brown told him not to mention any names but to go immediately into the cabin, that there was a man bleeding to death inside.

Mawney entered the cabin. Mawney saw that a musket ball had ripped open the lieutenant's groin, five inches below his navel, and thought that the femoral artery had been hit. While Joseph Bucklin held his hand over the wound to stop the blood, Mawney tore linen into compresses, and slapped the compresses into the gaping wound, wrapped another strip firmly around Dudingston's thigh and pulled it tight. Then others in the boarding party carried Lieutenant Dudingston out of the cabin to one of the longboats.

The rebel leaders took the Gaspee's crew, put them into the boats and set out for shore. One of the raiding boats stayed behind to set the Gaspee on fire. From a distance, the Rhode Islanders watched it burn down to the water line. Dudingston was put ashore.  Ephraim Bowen's account places the landing at "the old still-house wharf, at Pawtuxet". 

Almost everyone understood that since a king's officer had been badly wounded and a king's ship destroyed, secrecy was essential. The Americans were successful in concealing from the English authorities who were involved, in spite of the numbers and prominence of the men involved.

Rhode Island's deputy governor, Darius Sessions, called on Lieutenant Dudingston that same day to make amends on behalf of the colony. He offered anything--money, surgeons, transport to another place. The lieutenant asked that his men be collected and sent to Newport or Boston. But he refused to tell Sessions what had happened. Dudingston had let his ship be taken away from him: if he lived he faced a court-martial to determine what he had done to suffer the loss of a king's ship; and if he died, Dudingston wanted the night's humiliation to die with him.

When Thomas Hutchinson heard about the burning of the Gaspee, he said that if so flagrant an insult to England was ignored, all friends of the English government would despair.  He said that executing a few the raiders would be the only effective way to prevent further attacks.

The alarm quickly reached London. The English Attorney General called the Gaspee capture five times as serious as the Stamp Act protests.  Hillsborough ordered Admiral Montagu to go to Rhode Island and arrest the persons involved. 

Parliament quickly passed an act specifically providing that the burning of the Gaspee was treason, and the men involved were to be brought back and tried in England. A reward of 1000 pounds - plus full pardon - was provided for anyone giving information leading to the arrest of the person who shot the English ship captain.

(The Bucklins obviously had reasons for hoping that the American Revolution did not end in failure with the instigators of the Revolution being hanged as traitors.)

The Rhode Island patriots sought the expert counsel of Samuel Adams. A group of men, including the deputy governor, wrote to ask him what to do next. Adams agreed with Thomas Hutchinson that the Gaspee's burning should open eyes to the seriousness of the growing rebellion. But Adams wrote that it was the American colonists, not the British, who had been "too long dozing upon the brink of ruin." Adams took the position that the Gaspee affair should unite the colonists against the English government.   In a second letter,  Adams wrote to Darius Sessions : "I have long feared this unhappy contest between Great Britain and America would end in rivers of blood. Should that be the case, America, I think, may wash her hands in innocence."