Walking in the steps of history

Posted 7/20/22

I'’ve walked the Gaspee Point beach on many occasions, on blustery winter days when the footprints of others, if indeed anyone else ventured out there, were washed away and on summer days to …

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Walking in the steps of history


I'’ve walked the Gaspee Point beach on many occasions, on blustery winter days when the footprints of others, if indeed anyone else ventured out there, were washed away and on summer days to breathe in the cool air carried by a southerly beneath a brilliantly blue sky. Even on those perfect days, few visit this beach. You might find someone throwing a stick for their dog; a couple with their child who pulled their kayak up on the dry sand and those who love the walk or simply sit on a towel to take in the scene. It’s different from Conimicut, Oakland Beach and City Park where you can drive to within feet of the beach. That convenience seems to promote family outings. It’s a short walk to carry the cooler, a beach umbrella or even a tent. It’s easy.

While there is public access to Gaspee Point, it’s not easy to find and, when you get there, you won’t expect it takes you to a beach.  You don’t see the beach, or for that matter the bay. From a gate, which is usually locked, a road showing its age banks down a hill to a field. From there, a short path leading through low shrubs and beach grass opens on the beach. 

It sounds exclusive, but it’s not and it was anything than off the beaten path last Friday. 

The gate was open and a dozen, if not more cars, were parked in the field. This was the wave of volunteers who had come to assist with the hunt for whatever remains of the Gaspee burned by colonists 250 years ago. 

They were excited to start a project that was suggested and dismissed as being fool hearty for years. What could possibly remain of a vessel burned to the waterline, then scavenged for anything of value – the Brits made certain to recover the vessel’s canons soon after the incident – and the locals reported made off with any planks considered of use? Then consider all the nor’easters and hurricanes over the past two centuries and a half. They surely reconfigured the point. How do we know that today’s point is anywhere near where it was in 1772? What’s more, those storms are likely to have strewn debris across the bottom if not washed away what was left of the Gaspee.

But there could be something left. We love playing the odds and there’s little better than win when the venture is deemed absurd, ridiculous and out of the question. There was a twinkle of hope and there still is. Dr. Kathy Abbass, principal investor for the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, who rallied all these volunteers and had them conduct research on two known wrecks also off Gaspee over the past four years had a side scan of the point done last summer. The scan identified two possible targets.

There is something down there and that alone was reason enough to dig deeper.

We’ve written about how the hunt for the Gaspee is being financed by individual, corporate and foundation donations. And if you have been following the stories, you know how it has even caught the interest of people here and across “the pond” in Great Britain. The search has served to elevate interest and awareness of the Gaspee affair and its place in events leading up to the American Revolution.

Kathy’s devotees, many who live in Gaspee, unloaded their cars of coolers, collapsible tables, tents, chairs, tarps and lots of bottle water to establish a command post and information station at the point.  A Porta-John was already positioned in the field used for parking. Pegee Malcom, chair of the Warwick Historical Cemeteries Commission and a RIMAP volunteer had arranged for that. After all the planning, things were coming together.

On Sunday I returned. The command post was in operation, or more properly defined, ready for visitors. About 20 people stopped in to pick up information about the search on Saturday. Traffic was slower on Sunday. Dr. Abbass was aboard the research vessel offshore as drivers staked out the first of the two target areas to be explored.

This was far removed from the scenes in documentaries of searches for buried treasure and fossils. It was a day at the beach. The crew sitting in plastic chairs in the shade of the tent  looked out as a kite surfer zipped back and forth and people walked the beach. I joined them.

Joe Duquette, who had beached his boat in the cove behind the point, joined us. He volunteered to make a run to the research vessel for those interested. I signed up.

“Let’s go,” he said. I handed my cell phone and wallet over to those around the table. There were comments that I’d be buying dinner for everyone and lots of kidding. It was fun.

Joe whisked me out to the vessel, offering a towel to shield my camera from the spray flying from the choppy waves.

Might June 9, 1772, been a day like this, with a strong sea breeze and waves built by the tide? There’s no turning back the clock but with a walk on Gaspee Point beach and the salt spray, the events of that day become vividly imaginable. Try it.

This Side Up, editorial