While it’s always a happening spot, Pawtuxet Village blasts to full volume during Gaspee Days, a month-long celebration of the burning of the HSM Gaspee; an aggressive act by the colonists. The Gaspee Committee, the group of volunteers that work year-round to organize Gaspee Days, has 13 events planned from Proclamation Day, which kicked things off on May 20, to the reenactment of the Burning of the Gaspee on June 11.
“It’s a tradition,” says recording secretary Erin Flynn of what started as a neighborhood event back in 1965. The community quickly caught on, and the rest of the state and beyond soon took notice. The entire event brings thousands of visitors to the close-knit village that sits on the Cranston/Warwick line.
There are 13 events throughout the festival, including: an Arts & Crafts festival with over 100 fine artisans, community groups and nonprofits, music, and food; a 21+ outdoor block party at Pawtuxet Park; Symphony in the Park, which serves as a melodious lead-in to the Fireworks Extravaganza.
June 10 is the most popular day, which begins with an Ecumenical Service, followed by a 5k footrace and the Gaspee Days Parade. The festivities conclude on June 11 with the Blessing of the Fleet, a relaxing Sunday in the Park with live music and activities for kids, and the closing ceremony, the Burning of the Gaspee.
“The parade is my favorite event,” says Gaspee Days president Steve Miller. “I grew up on the parade route. I remember being 6 years old and selling lemonade. The parade is always like Christmas for me.”
The Gaspee Committee is 100% volunteer-run. Everyone plays an important part in pulling off all of the scheduled activities. The committee is always looking for new volunteers to give what they can. Miller reported that he began as a volunteer helping to move boxes before eventually being asked to be treasurer.
“If volunteers don’t show up, this doesn’t happen,” Miller says of the importance of volunteers and appreciation.
When it comes to the start of the American Revolution, the burning of the Gaspee may be a footnote in comparison to the Boston Tea Party, but, Gaspee Days aim to teach the rich history that started just a few hundred feet from this months’ worth of activities.
“How many times do you walk through history?” Flynn asks. “RI is proud of our role in history. It’s messy, ugly, and not perfect, but we have a role in it.”
“I didn’t think of the history part when I was a kid,” Miller stated during our conversation at Aspray Boat House. “The hope is to educate and make people aware that this was the first aggressive act of the colonists. We want them to learn something new about our state and the early colonials. It all started right there.” Miller says, pointing towards Gaspee Point.
The festivities also include an essay contest for 8th-grade students. The top three winners will be invited to participate in the parade and be awarded cash prizes.
The committee has started a campaign for Gaspee Days license plates, which would feature local artist Karl Doerflinger’s “The Burning of the Gaspee” painting as the backdrop. Judy Hoffman, chairperson for the license plate effort, was happy to announce that orders have come in from all over the state and they have officially hit the 300 pre-orders that they will submit to RIDMV for production after the events conclude in June.
“Anyone who was holding off to see if the license plates would happen may place an order, because they are definitely happening!” Hoffman boasted with a smile. “We are hopeful the license plate increases interest in the Gaspee Affair story itself and in the Gaspee Days events.”
Miller is glad to see so many people come together to celebrate, especially after COVID. He is especially thrilled to see the community and volunteers work so well together during Gaspee Days. A lot of work and planning goes into such a large-scale event and Miller is amazed at the camaraderie and support everyone shows each other. He urges people to volunteer at their own pace and join their family.
“Don’t be afraid to volunteer,” Flynn adds. “Give what you can. Meet your neighbors and get involved in the community.”
For information about Gaspee Days, including volunteer opportunities, visit gaspee.com, call 401-781-1772, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.