Cast of Characters
Here are some of the key players in the Gaspee affair. They range from high-ranking British officials to young, indentured servants. We will probably never know the names of all of the attackers.
Aaron Briggs – Aaron Briggs (sometimes called Aaron Biggs) was about 16 years old when the Gaspee attack took place. He had been indentured as a servant to Samuel Tompkins of Prudence Island since the age of five. Aaron is described as a “negro” and a “mulatto” so he was either of African or African and Indigenous ancestry. Aaron’s account of the Gaspee attack is the most complete in the official record, however it was discredited by several other men who claimed he was lying. Researchers have tried to find out what happened to Aaron after he ran away from Samuel Tompkins, but the records are unclear.
George Brown – George Brown was an attorney and owned a large farm in South Kingstown.
William Dudingston – Captain of the HMS Gaspee, Lieutenant William Dudingston was responsible for stopping smugglers in Narragansett Bay and was known for his aggressive pursuit of ships and cargo. He was born in Scotland and returned there after his service in the colonies.
Lord Hillsborough – Wills Hill, known as Lord Hillsborough, was the 1st Marquess of Downshire and was the Earl of Hillsborough from 1751 to 1789. He was Secretary of State for the colonies but was based in England, so most of the Gaspee news took at least five weeks to get to him. His letters back to the colonies would have taken even longer – more like seven weeks.
Jack and Somerset – Jack and Somerset were indentured servants in Samuel Tompkins’ household on Prudence Island. In their testimonies, they claim that Aaron was with them the night of the attack on the Gaspee. Little else is known about them.
Benjamin Lindsey – Lindsey was captain of a small packet boat called the Hannah which belonged to John Brown. He is credited with luring Gaspee over the sandbar where she got stuck, permitting the attackers to come back hours later.
John Montagu – First Lord of the Admiralty during the Gaspee affair, Montagu was the British government's senior adviser on all naval affairs. He was in Boston when the Gaspee attack took place, but traveled to Rhode Island briefly during the investigation. Montagu was also the 4th Earl of Sandwich; his requests for simple, portable meals that could be eaten anywhere gave birth to the modern-day sandwich.
James Sabin – James Sabin owned a public house, or tavern, in Providence, near the busy wharfs of the Providence River. Many of the men asked to testify in the Gaspee investigation said they were at his tavern the night of the attack. Sabin’s house and tavern no longer exist, but there is a marker on South Main Street indicating where they once stood.
Darius Sessions – Darius Sessions served as Deputy Governor from 1769 to 1775. He was based in Providence and took an active role in the early days of the Gaspee investigation.
Samuel Tompkins – A farmer on Prudence Island, Samuel Tompkins had at least three indentured servants of African and Indigenous ancestry working for him, Aaron, Somerset, and Jack. When asked about Aaron’s whereabouts on the night of the Gaspee attack, Tompkins claimed that Aaron had remained on Prudence Island the entire night.
Joseph Wanton – A successful merchant from Newport, Joseph Wanton served as governor of Rhode Island from 1769 to 1775. He was one of the five members of the Gaspee Commission.
Beaver – HMS (His Majesty’s Ship) Beaver was a British naval vessel stationed in Narragansett Bay. This is the ship that Aaron escaped to when he ran away from Samuel Tompkins.
Gaspee – HMS (His Majesty’s Ship) Gaspee was a Royal Navy schooner that was attacked and burned by a group of Rhode Islanders in June 1772. Her captain was Lieutenant William Dudingston.
Hannah – Hannah is the packet boat that Gaspee chased up Narragansett Bay. Her captain was Benjamin Lindsey.