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Gaspee HistoryPage Up


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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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Mr. Daniel Branch was appointed the Town Cryer of Providence in 1772 and 1773. (See Providence Gazette, 6June1772; see also, 12June1773.) Branch would thus have been the person who the morning after the Gaspee attack would have had the official duty and obligation to publicly cry the news of the attack (if so requested by a government official) and also publicly cry the reward put forth by the Rhode Island government for information leading to the arrest of the Gaspee raiders.  Branch's cry of the news probably was done from a script written by one of the Gaspee conspirators.

Some persons might mistakenly confuse Branch's next day cry of the news with the previous nights drumming which called the men of Providence to gather for the raid.  That is wrong.

First, the cry to assemble to hear news and the announcement of assembly to arms differed. A Town Crier's method of commanding attention was ringing his official bell. (The bell of successive Criers was the same bell, passed on to the next appointed Crier) Bell, not anything else. Not a bugle. Not a drum. Bell=Town Crier.

The method of telling the men over age 16 (considered the town militia) to assemble to arms for training or for "real" military duty was beating of a drum. "A drum", not any special drum, simply any drum quickly available for an emergency. Drum, not anything else. Not a bugle. Not the church bells. Drum=Militia Assembly.

Note: beating the drum by someone calling up people for military duty on the night of the raid would be something inconsistent with "mere boys at play". The obvious reason for Sabin and the lawyers in his inn saying they thought it was just some boys having fun was that they had to say that, to be consistent with their story they ignored the drum playing in good faith and were ignorant good citizens that night.

Second, the next day's cry of the news of the attack was required public news, officially done. Before about 1799 little was written, and few know how to read) Criers were civic necessities in a well-run town or county; an official Crier was needed to tell everyone the rules they were to follow or the news they needed to know if government and communal live were to be well run. That Crier was given a "script" of what to say, which was the reason a Town Crier had to be able to read.

A Town Crier was an official position of some importance.  (Notice that the appointment was to "Mr." Daniel Branch.  "Mister" was a title in those days, as was "Gentleman" or "Squire" et cetera.)

The Town Crier had other things he was appointed to accomplish. For example, because he cried the banns of intention of marriage, and news of the marriage, the appointing government official often empowered the Town Crier to marry people (the New England Puritans were insistent that civil marriages were God-ordained, and marriages by clergy were theologically unsound).

The Town Crier, being appointed by the civil authority, was considered a true, trusted Royalist, and so was often given an additional job of upholding the law by serving warrants, arresting persons seen by him to be violating laws (and including authorizing him to raise the "hue and cry", which required bystanders to join him in enforcing the law).

Think of the town crier as a public official that also could be hired by private persons to publish anything they wanted. To prevent the Town Crier deciding he did not want to work on some days, or for some persons, it generally was understood that the Town Crier had a duty to cry news for which he was reasonably paid or was ordered by the civil authority to publish. Think of the Town Crier as an appointed public newscaster, who was paid to do the job, and could take on side jobs with anyone who wanted him to "cry" the event (e.g., an obituary and how much we all loved him, or house raising tomorrow at Tom Jones place, with beer for all volunteers at the end of the day.)

As is the case throughout history, news might not always be welcomed, and some people would prefer news about them not be known, or some persons might not want the Town Crier to arrest their son.  Think of the Town Crier in England in 1635, who had to announce a 12 fold increase in the King's taxes. Not a popular job. Or the Town Crier might have to take into custody the most popular man in town and deliver him to be hanged by the local evil lord. Again, not a popular job.

After a few assaults on Town Criers, King William's appointed King's Court, in the king's name decided it would be a treasonable offence to assault or interfere with a Town Crier in the execution of his duty. (That law became written law after the Civil War of England and remained in effect until the 20th century, when government realized that radio and newspapers made the Town Crier's job less than needed by government to inform the public of war and taxes, births and court judgments.)

A Town Crier was protected from assault while shouting the news, because he was considered an officer of the law, by a law which made it treason to assault him on duty. Like a military officer doing his duty, a member of the public could not shoot him, but like a military officer, the King or local authorities who appointed the Crier could punish the Town Crier for violation of duty, even shooting him for treason.  In short, there no protection for a Town Crier against criminal or civil charges that he violated the law.  He was only protected against assault while doing his duty. As to civil charges of slander, he had a protection somewhat like modern newspapers, that it, he was protected if he cried a piece of news in good faith, but not if he knowingly cried a false item.

The history of the job of Town Crier goes back to 1066, after the conquest of England by William the Conqueror.  After the successful battle that assured his military supremacy, William did something that was unknown before then, to wit: William appointed heralds to go throughout England and proclaim that their new king was William, and the new lord of the area would be someone appointed by King William.  This was not mere vanity; it was a way of quelling brewing insurrection by persons who may have thought in those days before newspapers and television, that the former king was still in charge and successfully fighting the Norman invaders.

William was an organizer, and the nobles he appointed were chosen in part for the purpose of organizing the new kingdom of William. compared to the Angles and the Saxons. As towns were recognized by the local lords or the King, and granted charters, a new level of governmental organization became implemented, with new laws and requirements by new lords, and with surveyors (inspectors) of ale, leather, bread, et cetera. Criers were appointed by any civil authorities, often the Mayor or the local lord, or maybe even the county sheriff, to keep the citizens informed of matters of national and local importance - such as new taxes, new rules on bread weights, royal soldiers in town and in whose houses they would be staying, executions, whippings and the reasons thereof, and new rules by the new local lord or new town council, [e.g." that mangy cattle shall not run on the common" (that is, don't pasture your diseased cow along with other people's cattle on the common grazing land)].