No Gaspee bones emerge from the silt

Posted 8/24/22

Keith Strickland of Conimicut may have hit what remains of the HMS Gaspee just offshore from his home on Royal Avenue.

That’s highly unlikely, seeing that colonists burned the British ship …

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No Gaspee bones emerge from the silt


Keith Strickland of Conimicut may have hit what remains of the HMS Gaspee just offshore from his home on Royal Avenue.

That’s highly unlikely, seeing that colonists burned the British ship to the waterline 250 years ago. But that popped into Strickland’s mind as he maneuvered his power boat to his dock last week. The moment he heard the clunk and felt the boat shutter, he knew what he had struck. He first came across an obstruction some years earlier and knew where it was.

Access to the dock is difficult, if not impossible, two hours either side of low tide. But low tide also provided an opportunity for Strickland to explore what was 18 inches to two feet below the surface. Making an exploration all the more feasible, friends and relatives of his wife, Lori, were visiting. He had manpower.

Strickland rallied the gang and walked into the murky waters of low tide. The bottom is a mix of sand and silt, perfect habitat for quahogs and other aquatic life. He didn’t have trouble finding the offending obstacle that appeared to be the end of a timber eaten away by worms. It was black.

Strickland’s recruits went to work to pull the obstacle free from the approach to the dock. As they tugged, the sunken plank worked free of its submarine grave and the crew was capable to pull it in the shallows – even lifting it slightly for photos.

The Stricklands, who moved to Conimicut eight years ago from Barrington, knew of the Gaspee affair. Their living window looks out on Namquid Point – now named Gaspee Point. Keith knew the basic story, but it wasn’t until this year and the 250th anniversary of the burning that he started boning up on his history. His research took him to articles about research being done on the remains of two ships, one on Greene Island and the other off the southwestern tip of Gaspee. Dubbed “not the Gaspee” project, examination of the wrecks was done by a group of volunteers under the direction of Dr. Kathy Abbass, chief investigator of the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project. Last year a side scan off Gaspee Point identified two targets that Abbass deemed worthy of investigation. Word of the “targets” caused a stir among archeologists and community members. Together they approached individuals, corporations, organizations and foundations to raise more than $50,000 to conduct a search over two weeks this July. Abbass has yet to submit her final report to the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission, but nothing conclusive as coming from the Gaspee was found.

Strickland picked up snippets of coverage relating to the search and perhaps for that reason the Gaspee came to mind. As he jokingly told his wife, Lori Christensen, one morning while looking out on the water, “I can see the Gaspee burning.”

Indeed, from the location of  their home today, the Stricklands would have had a view of the Gaspee chasing the packet Hannah up the bay as the shallower draft boat lured the pursuing larger British boat over the shoals and hard aground on an ebbing tide. The Hannah sailed on to Providence where the word was quickly spread that the Gaspee and its despised captain Lt. William Dudingston were stuck until the tide could lift them free. That night longboats with as many as 60 men rowed to the Gaspee and after disembarking the crew and Dudingston, who was shot but not fatally, set the boat afire.

Strickland didn’t restrict his search to the plank. From the waters off the end of his dock he pulled a hunk of wood with holes rounded with rust and the remnants of spikes. He also recovered a chunk of what could be a giant deck cleat. Strickland poked through the find Sunday, uncertain with what to do with it.

On Wednesday Dr. Abbass and her team visited Strickland.

She said the timber was from a wooden vessel, “but not from the 18th Century.”

As for the hunk of metal and other metal parts, she said they were from “an internal combustion engine.”

“It can’t be the Gaspee,” she said.

Gaspee, Gaspee search


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