Funds raised for Gaspee search

Posted 3/30/22

There have been other searches for the Gaspee. One was conducted in the 1950s, a second, according to newspaper accounts in 1989 and a third in 2002. But there is no record of whether anything was …

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Funds raised for Gaspee search


There have been other searches for the Gaspee. One was conducted in the 1950s, a second, according to newspaper accounts in 1989 and a third in 2002. But there is no record of whether anything was found.

Now on the eve of the 250th anniversary of the burning of the British ship, deemed the first blow for freedom on June 9, 1772, another search will be conducted. But as Dr. Kathy Abbass, director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, described Thursday, this hunt won’t be like those preceding it. For starters, the latest technology will be used and the search initially planned for ten days could be extended thanks to support for the project. Abbass will head a team of volunteers who she has trained over the past five years as well as marine archeologists she has worked with.

Abbass outlined the plan before a group of about 40 people at the Aspray Boathouse in Pawtuxet Village that included members of the Gaspee Days Committee, the Freemasons, the Pawtuxet Rangers, the Pawtuxet Village Association, elected officials and the corporate community.

“We want to make sure to tell the story (of the Gaspee) in a way that resonates and we’re proud of,” Governor Dan McKee said. McKee said the incident was “the beginning of that effort for our independence” adding that the exploration has the potential of broadcasting the story.

“We want to make sure the country knows what happened here,” he said.

The governor attended the event at the invitation of Rep. Joseph McNamara who served as master of ceremonies and introduced Abbass. He told of how the effort to find the Gaspee and his association with the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project germinated in 2014. Eight years ago, constituents called him that the Gaspee was emerging from the sand on Greene Island. McNamara was intrigued. Could this be the Gaspee and if not the Gaspee what might it be?

He connected with RIMAP and Abbass.

She quickly ruled out the Gaspee. The hull emerging from the sand and a second wreck off Gaspee Point that is clearly visible at low tide are more than 100 feet long whereas the Gaspee was 60 feet. But the two wrecks offered an ideal classroom for those interested in marine archaeology. McNamara become one of her students and one of her greatest supporters as he and others – many residents of Gaspee Point – undertook the Not the Gaspee Project.

Last year Abbass and the team extended their search to The Gaspee Project taking measurements at the point and researching how the point has shifted over decades of storms. A sonar survey of the point taken last August revealed two potential underwater “targets” worthy of additional examination. Abbass said one could be the remains of vessel that sank in the 1960s and the second an area of disturbance where possibly earlier searches had been conducted.

Abbass was asked what it would take financially to further survey and explore the sites. She returned with a two-part plan. The first would be to conduct additional remote sensing surveys of the point using the next generation equipment and a magnetometry survey of the waters surrounding the Gaspee Point spilt. She budgeted the first phase at $32,000. The second phase would include excavation and use of a GPS standard grid pattern to investigate targets. Surveys would also be conducted in the shallows as well as on the beach for, as Abbass explained, the point is constantly shifting and material, perhaps no more than a remnant of a fastener could be found. 

During one of surveys taken of the wreck on Greene Island, Abbass found a rounded piece of wood that she identified as coming from an 18th Century cask and older than either of the two wrecks they were documenting.

She puts the cost of the second phase of the Gaspee hunt at $50,000.

Abbass made no promises of finding the Gaspee.  She called “a negative result a positive contribution to science.” More likely, cultural materials will be found and then the question becomes, “have we found the Gaspee and can we prove it?”

As of Friday, corporate and private commitments to the project will finance the first phase of the project and then some.  The goal is to fund both phases.  

After learning Thursday there is sufficient funding for the first phase, Abbass said she expected the project could start in July. She said she doesn’t want the Gaspee Project to overshadow the Gaspee Days celebrations. Furthermore, she said, many of the volunteers who are trained in conducting the survey would not be available until July.


Gaspee, fundraiser