By Bill Stewart
People around here learned of the Revolutionary War early in their school life, like The Battle of Concord, The Battle of Bunker Hill, Paul Revere’s Ride and many other stories of the American Revolution, but they rarely learned of other important battles waged outside of Massachusetts. This week I want to introduce the Green Mountain Boys and the Rhode Island Affair, which you probably never heard of.
The Green Mountain Boys were a group of patriots from what is now Vermont, but at the time was disputed between New Hampshire and New York. Ethan Allen and members of his extended family formed the group to not only oppose the British, but also the states of New Hampshire and New York, which both claimed the territory. The Green Mountain Boys formed a militia in 1770, and later in 1777 as the Vermont Republic. The Vermont area was known as the New Hampshire Grants – approved by the British Royal Governor.
Serving in the Revolutionary War, Allen and his compatriots captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain on May 10, 1775. They invaded Canada in 1775 and in that same year petitioned the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to establish a Continental ranger regiment from the New Hampshire Grants, which the Congress was happy to do. The group disbanded in 1776, and Vermont gained independence as the Vermont Republic. In 1791 the U.S. Congress admitted Vermont as the 14th state. During their warfare time, the Green Mountain Boys fought in the battles of Hubbardton and Bennington. Allen was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel in the Northern Army of New York. The Green Mountain Boys were mustered for the War of 1812, the Civil War and the Spanish American War and, after serving in World War I, became the Vermont National Guard.
The second revolutionary group was from Rhode Island. The British customs service was heavily resisted by the people of the Thirteen Colonies in the Eighteenth Century. Britain was in the “Seven Years War” and unable to use adequate forces in the colonies. We call it the “French and Indian Wars” back in America. To offset the resistance, the British Admiralty purchased six Marblehead sloops and schooners and gave them French names based in Canada. The St. John, St. Lawrence, Chaleur, Hope, Magdalen and Gaspee were built in Marblehead and used to protect the commercial shipping. The idea was to raise military and naval defensive positions along the coast. The Royal Navy officers’ jobs became enforcing customs law in the colonies. As the colonists became more aggressive, they attacked the HMS St. John in 1764 in Narragansett Bay. They later burned the HMS Liberty in 1768 on Goat Island in Newport harbor.
British officials wanted to increase their control over trade in the colonies, both legitimate and smuggling, so as to increase British revenue. The colonists protested the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts and other injustices forced by the British. These acts were to prohibit the colonists from continuing their rum manufacturing and maritime efforts.
The Gaspee was a British customs schooner that enforced the Navigation Acts around Newport, Rhode Island. On June 9, 1772, the Gaspee ran aground in shallow water while chasing the packet ship Hannah in Warwick, Rhode Island. A group of patriots, including Abraham Whipple and John Brown, attacked, boarded and burned the Gaspee. The Gaspee was burned to the waterline.
As the British became anguished over all attempts of the colonists against shipping, they determined to rev up the battle. The Dockyard Act was passed to demand that anyone suspected of burning a British ship would be sent to England for trial. The Gaspee raiders were charged with treason and were tried before the Royal Commission of Inquiry, which was to determine which colonists had sufficient evidence against them. The commission could not find sufficient evidence to charge the colonists and found their inability to process the case.
The Rev. John Allen preached a sermon at Second Baptist Church in Boston, using the Gaspee Affair to warn listeners about greedy monarchs, corrupt judges and conspiracies in the London government. The sermon was printed seven different times in four colonial cities and became one of the most popular pamphlets in colonial America. The pamphlet – followed by editorials in local newspapers – changed the colonial Whigs from a lull of inactivity in 1772, leading up to the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
Now you have a picture about other groups, not just Massachusetts which you studied, but colonists who strove to push the British from our shores.
(Editor’s Note: Bill Stewart, who is better known to Saugus Advocate readers as “The Old Sachem,” writes a weekly column about sports – and sometimes he opines on current or historical events or famous people.)