Keyhole to History: June 9, 1772. That’s when one of the first overt acts of American defiance occurred at Gaspee Point, about seven miles below Providence, Rhode Island, in Narragansett Bay. The Gaspee Affair, as it has become known, was caused by an overzealous and hated British lieutenant named Dudingston, who was commander of the armed revenue schooner named the Gaspee. On June 9, while in hot pursuit of a Captain Lindsay, Dudingston decided to cut across the shallows to overtake him, but he ran aground. When Lindsay reached Providence, he told friends the Gaspee would be stuck until high tide. Angry residents gladly volunteered to destroy her. They rode out in longboats, boarded her, took the crew prisoner, and then set her afire.
Keyhole to History: June 17, 1772. At that time, privateering, which allowed private vessels to capture English trading ships, was very profitable for crew members. This caused a severe drain on qualified seamen to man the ships of the Continental Navy. This issue was of great concern to the patriot cause, as attested to in this letter from William Whipple of New Hampshire to a fellow member of the Continental Congress. In it, he states, “Some of the towns have been obliged to give four hundred dollars bounty to each sailor who serves three or four months at Rhode Island, exclusive of what is allowed by the state. This is wholly owing to privateering; farmers cannot hire a laborer for less than three or four dollars a day and this naturally raises the price of provisions.
Today’s Keyhole to History June 22, 1772 the historic ruling in the Somerset v. Stewart case is delivered. After traveling from Virginia to England, the enslaved man James Somerset successfully sued for his freedom under British law. Within weeks, American newspapers reported the case which abolitionists celebrated while some slaveholders questioned the authority of the King’s judge to make such a ruling. Discussion of the case was broad, but the outcome of the ruling was limited to a narrow legal finding that freed James Somerset, not all enslaved people in Britain. The Somerset Case was one milestone on the road to abolition. The ruling sent shockwaves throughout the British Empire and pushed the issue of slavery to the forefront of political discussion leading to the American Revolution.
Today’s Keyhole to History Nov. 2, 1772 Samuel Adams holds the first meeting for the Boston Committee of Correspondence. The Boston Committee made up of 21 men was created in response to a new ruling stating that Massachusetts judges and governor would be paid by the British Crown, not the colonial legislature making judges responsible to the Crown. Adams’ wrote the committee was to “Prepare a statement of the rights of the colonists, and of this province in particular…Prepare a declaration of the infringement of those rights; and Prepare a letter to be sent to all towns of this province and to the world, giving the sense of this town.” The committee inspired the formation of almost 80 like committees throughout Massachusetts.

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