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Gaspee Raiders
for biographical information on the Americans in the boats attacking the Royal Navy ship Gaspee.

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Comment on Dudingston's first report of the Gaspee Attack

Dudingston had not fought to his own death, and he had surrendered his ship. In making his initial report to his superior, Admiral Montague,  Dudingston may well have had in mind the Royal Navy Regulations under which he would be tried at court martial.  It was a matter of Royal Navy procedure that every (no exceptions) captain who lost a ship, either by surrender or because of enemy action) would be tried in a court martial,  to determine if there should be punishment for improper command. The 10th section of the Regulations specified:

Every flag officer, captain and commander in the fleet, who, upon signal or order of fight, or sight of any ship or ships which it may be his duty to engage, or who, upon likelihood of engagement, shall not make the necessary preparations for fight, and shall not in his own person, and according to his place, encourage the inferior officers and men to fight courageously, shall suffer death, or such other punishment, as from the nature and degree of the offence a court martial shall deem him to deserve; and if any person in the fleet shall treacherously or cowardly yield or cry for quarter, every person so offending, and being convicted thereof by the sentence of a court martial, shall suffer death.

Likewise, an English ship captain was subject to court martial (with a death penalty possible) under the English Navy Articles for negligently allowing his ship to be damaged because the ship was accidentally grounded.

Because the legal background may have influenced Dudingston's description of what occurred, (e.g., he omits his sailing the ship so as to cause it to ground), we repeat his report here below, but inject our own commentary about his report to his commander about what occurred and why the ship was surrendered.



SIR: On Wednesday morning about one o'clock, as His Majesty's schooner was lying upon a spite of land called Nancutt, the sentinels discovered a number of boats coming down the river toward us. As soon as I was acquainted with it, I came upon deck and hailed the boats, forbidding them to come near the schooner, or I should order them to be fired upon. 

Note.  Dudingston does not say that his boat was accidentally grounded. If we assume that Captain Lindsay was correct in reporting that Dudingston had accidentally grounded the Gaspee in the chase of the Hanna, then Dudingston is putting the best possible face on the matter, by ignoring how his ship came to be "lying upon a spite of land".  Later, in his court martial, Dudingston's crew testified that they were scraping the ship of barnacles, which implied a deliberate grounding of the ship, in lieu of a dry dock, for the purpose of good maintenance of the ship.
Later, this point would be important to the English legal authorities. There was a recently enacted statute of Parliament  that made it a treasonable offense, punishable by death, to injure an English ship in dry-dock  No such penalty existed for injuring an English ship that was floating in the water or aground for anything other than dry-dock repair. If the ship was grounded for dry-dock repair, and the ship was deliberately injured while it was in dry-dock, the offender could be executed.
 As the Gaspee matter progressed, the English navy kept more and more emphasizing the idea of the Gaspee being grounded for scrapping of the ship bottom, and there was absolutely no mention by  the English navy officials, or crews, of an accidental grounding during the chase of the Hannah.  There was no doubt Admiral Montague wanted the colonists responsible hung,  and he certainly would not suggest to the officials back in London that there was an accidental grounding, which would relieve the Gaspee attackers from the death penalty for injuring "a ship in dry-dock".

They made answer, they had the sheriff with them and must come on board. I told them the sheriff could not be admitted on board at that time of night, on which they set up a halloo and rowed as fast as they could towards the vessel's bows. I was then using every means in my power to get the guns to bear upon them, which I could not effect as they came right ahead of the vessel, she being aground.

I then ordered the men to come forward with their small arms and prevent them from boarding. As I was standing myself to oppose them, and making a stroke with my sword, at the man who was attempting to come up, at that instant I found myself disabled in my left arm and shot through the groin.

I then stepped from the gunwale with an intention to order them to retire to close quarters, but soon saw that most of them were knocked down and myself twice, after telling them I was mortally wounded. They damned me and said I was not wounded; if I was my own people had done it. As loss of blood made me drop upon deck, they ordered me to beg my life and commanded the people to surrender. As I saw there was no possibility of defending the vessel against such numbers, who were in every respect armed and commanded with regularity, by one who personated the sheriff, I thought it best for the People's preservation to propose to them that I would order them to surrender if they assured me they should not be hurt, which they did, I then called out which was immediately echoed by the people around me, that I had given them orders to surrender. 

They hurried all the people below and ordered them up one by one and tied their hands behind their backs, then ordered them into different boats.

I then begged they would either dispatch me or suffer my wounds to be dressed. Upon that they allowed my servant to be unbound, to get me things for dressing and carried me below. But what was my surprise when I came down in the cabin, two surgeons were ordered down from the deck, to dress me, who were furnished with drops and began to scrape lint for that purpose. 

During this time I had the opportunity of observing the persons of about a dozen who were in the cabin. They appeared to me to be merchants and masters of vessels, who were at my bureau reading and examining my papers.

Note: There would be three distinguishing features which Dudingston could have used to come to the conclusion that they were "merchants and masters of vessels".  One would be the manner of dress, which would be better than the common man.  Second would be how they acted.  Third, would be what they said.  These last two reasons for the persons being "merchants and masters of vessels" would be the logical reasoning of Dudingston from a number of persons making some organized and quick "reading and examining" of Dudingston's papers.  It is this immediate and quick "reading and examining" which starts a reasonable theory that the Americans were expecting to find something -- or not find something -- in the papers.  They wanted to make the examination of papers before they decided what final action to take on the Gaspee that night.

They promised to let me have the schooner's books and my clothes; instead of which, as they were handing me up to go on the boat, they threw them overboard, or into some of the boats.

John Brown later said that saw to it that everything was destroyed, so that there would be no evidence of who had been involved, by some person taking an item back as a "souvenier".  It was the men in the cabin who were in charge of the events, and so Dudingston would have seen them going to the rail and throwing things "down" (into the water we assume, whereas Dudingston would assume they were being thrown into boats below his view) to prevent any "souvenier" leaving the ship.

I was soon afterwards thrust into a boat, almost naked. During the time they were rowing me on shore, I had the opportunity of observing the boat, which appeared to me to be a very large longboat. I saw by the man who steered her a cutlass lying by him, and directing the men to have their arms ready. As soon as they put off the sheriff gave them orders to land me on some neck and the boat to come off immediately and told me if I did not consent to pay the value of the rum I must not expect to have anything saved. I made answer whatever reparation law would give I was ready and willing; as to my things they might do with them as they pleased. They were accordingly going to land me on this neck, which I told them they had better throw me overboard.

One man, who had a little more humanity than any of the rest said they had better land me on the point of Pawtuxet. As I was unable to stand they unbound five of the men and gave them a blanket to carry me up. 

When I was half way on shore I heard some of the schooner's guns go off and heard the people say she was on fire. I had not been carried far when the people exclaimed, I was on an island, and they saw no house on which they laid me down and went in quest of one. Soon after they came to acquaint me they saw one, which I was carried to, a man was immediately dispatched to Providence for a surgeon. 

A little after the people joined me with a midshipman; all of whom I could persuade I sent on board His Majesty's sloop BEAVER. 

The schooner is utterly destroyed and everything appertaining to her, me and the schooner's company. If I live I am not without hope of being able to convict some of principal people that were with them. The pain, with the loss of blood rendered me incapable of informing you before of the particulars. There are none of the people anyways wounded, but bruised with handspikes.

I am Sir,

Your most Humble Servant,
W. Dudingston.

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