Burn it Down! Gaspee Days celebrates a bit of RI history

burning-bannerDo you love Rhode Island history and enjoy being around people who are enthusiastic about it? Then the annual Gaspee Days string of events is for you!

Gaspee Days is an annual series of events in Warwick celebrating RI heritage and history. The Gaspee Days celebration has been taking place for more than 50 years to commemorate the burning of the HMS Gaspee in 1772 in Newport. The goal of the event is to educate people about this monumental day while creating an entertaining and fun environment for people of all ages.

Depending on whom you ask, the burning of the Gaspee may be an obscure footnote lost to history (especially if you’re not from RI — you may not realize we shook the world back in 1772). Or it may have been the actual start of the Revolutionary War. The story is rife with a comedy of human errors, but the final upshot is that, upset about excessive taxes, RIers came to the aid of a rum smuggler whose cargo was confiscated by the British. The Brits ran into a sandbar, likely having sampled too much of the rum, and the Rhode Islanders — er, patriots — who arrived to liberate the alcohol set the British vessel, the Gaspee, afire. Again, a fair amount of alcohol consumption was likely involved in this decision-making. Nevertheless, it set a precedent Bostonians would later follow in regard to tea, a far less exciting beverage.

But underlying all those shenanigans was the core concept that would rally the colonies in the next few years — unbridled resentment over taxation — which prompted rum smuggling, as there was no prohibition against alcohol — without representation. Basically, RI lashed out first on this sore point.

For other ways into the tale of the Gaspee, check out the comic series culminating in this issue, by Tim Lemire, at motifri.com/drawntogaspee. Or, for younger readers, consider the tale (or tail) as told from the perspective of a cute little puppy in one of local author Lauren Kelley’s Tuggie the Patriot Pup series of historical fiction (Think Johnny Tremain, but with pups.)

The kick off each year is the parade. Saturday, June 8 this year, it features period costumes, fife and drum corps and groups like the Shriners in a massive show of community and historical spirit.

Leading up to the June 8 parade, there are tons of other fun opportunities to partake in. A 5k run, walk or whatever you are feeling up to that takes place on Parkway, the famed red, white and blue striped street immediately before the parade. There’s a period-themed encampment with food and craft vendors and musical performances that lead up to the hottest event of the entire Gaspee Days festivities: setting a decoy HMS Gaspee ship aflame on June 9! If that doesn’t make you hot with excitement, I don’t know what will. 

A ship burns down, and we make a day celebrating it! There’s no denying the RI spirit, and this special occasion perfectly encapsulates what Rhody pride means.

For more information on Gaspee Days and a schedule of events, to gaspee.com 

Photo from Gaspee Days Committee.

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