By JOHN HOWELL
Turn the clock back 250 years and the locals, if they dared risk being accused of the deed, would know exactly where the HMS Gaspee ran aground off Namquid Point. They could point …
By JOHN HOWELL
Turn the clock back 250 years and the locals, if they dared risk being accused of the deed, would know exactly where the HMS Gaspee ran aground off Namquid Point. They could point to the charred timbers of the ship set ablaze on June 9, 1772.
Everything is different now and there’s nothing let of the Gaspee. Or is there? Might there be the remnants of a timber or an artifact left behind from those who scoured the burned hull?
This Friday, the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) will commence a 15-day search for the Gaspee. It’s not the first hunt for the schooner whose captain Lt. William Dudingston provoked contempt for stopping local shipping absconding with goods under the King’s name. Two other expeditions were conducted, but little is known of what they consisted of or if anything was found.
What marine archaeologist Dr. Kathy Abbass of RIMAP has planned is surely the extensive search done for signs of the vessel. More than $50,000 in corporate, foundation and individual donations will finance the search using trained volunteers and some of the latest technology to conduct side and sub surface scans.
The first place RIMAP will investigate are two “targets” identified last year by side scans. Those targets fired the imaginations of locals who realize the significance of the Gaspee Affair and looked to coordinate a search with the 250th anniversary.
Abbass, who trained those interested in marine archaeology on the remains of hulls on Greene Island and in the shallows of Occupasstuxet Cove, makes no promises of finding anything Gaspee. What she has vowed is that by August she will have ruled out the possibility of finding something from the ship; that there is something worthy of further exploration or best yet found something Gaspee.
As the Gaspee was aground and in the shallows when eight long boats and an estimated 60 men rowed under the cover of darkness to confront Dudingston, what remains of her is probably close to shore even today. Abbass said teams of professional and avocational archaeologists and marine engineers will conduct surveys of the waters around Gaspee Point and investigate the near shore and the area behind the dune for isolated finds.
Ironically, since it is easier to conduct searches in shallow waters, Abbass said this time of the month is considered ideal because of moon high tides enabling the vessel used for sub surface scanning to get close to shore. Abbass realizes the importance of community support and interest in the search. She expects visitors to view the work from the RIMAP research station at Gaspee Point and is preparing for them.
RIMAP volunteers will be at the station from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily to distribute educational handouts and to explain what is happening in the study. Limited parking will be available at the end of Lane 6, off Namquid Drive in the Gaspee Point Section of Warwick. A RIMAP volunteer will be at the nearby gate to give directions of how to access the point (a walk of about 1/3 mile). “The visiting public is welcome but access is through private property. Boaters should respect that there must be no interference with the work in progress and should stay away from all work to avoid skewing the remote sensing data or putting divers in danger,” she advised in a release.
She listed the following general schedule of research tasks:
The Royal Navy's revenue schooner Gaspee had a reputation for interfering in local trade, and as she chased the local vessel Hannah up the Providence River on June 9, 1772, she ran aground on Namquid Point (now Gaspee Point) on an ebbing tide. That night and into the early hours of June 10, Rhode Island patriots, led by John Brown of Providence, rowed out to the Gaspee. They shot her commander, Lt. Dudingston (who survived), captured the crew, and burned the vessel to the waterline. The burning and the inquiries following the incident – no one was convicted – are considered to be a prelude to the American Revolution.
How much might have been left of the vessel after she was burned has always been a mystery. RIMAP's 2022 Phase I archaeological expedition is designed to conduct as thorough a search as possible using modern technology to determine the presence or absence of what might remain of the vessel. Results will be announced when all data are analyzed, Abbass said.
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