When the British HMS Gaspee entered Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, the stage was set for an act of defiance by American colonists against Great Britain. Gaspee’s orders were to enforce British maritime trade regulations that residents avoided by smuggling goods.
Frustrated residents responded to British enforcement by luring the Gaspee aground and proceeded to capture the crew and burn the schooner. King George III and Parliament were furious at this attack on their colonial powers. Great Britain established a Commission of Inquiry and offered a reward for information on attackers.
The government gave the commission authority to send suspects directly to England for trial. Colonists thought this action violated the American court system and threatened colonial rights as Englishmen established by Anglo-Saxon law and the Magna Carta. The colonies reacted by creating the Committees of Correspondence and began planning the First Continental Congress.
The Gaspee Incident planted the seed of independence in the colonies. Newspaper accounts of the Gaspee and the Commission of Inquiry appeared in the colonies and Great Britain. A popular pamphlet, The Essential Rights of the Americans written by Rev. John Allen highlighted the Gaspee incident and protested British tyranny. Often quoted by John Adams and James Otis the pamphlet warned the injustices may cause armed rebellion.