Today, the Rhode Island Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the letter from Captain Wallace on December 12, 1774 describing the taking of the king’s cannons by the people of Newport.
Excerpts from The Birth of the Republic compiled by Daniel Reaves Goodloe, published in 1889 describe the beliefs and events in Rhode Island:
In January, 1773, Governor Wanton exhibited to the court his instructions to arrest the parties engaged in the destruction of the Gaspee, and send them to England for trial.
The people of Rhode Island determined to resist its enforcement.
Chief Justice Hopkins consulted the Assembly as to the course he should pursue, and was advised to use his own discretion when the case arose. “‘Then, for the purpose of transportation for trial, I will neither apprehend any person by my own order nor suffer any executive officers in the Colony to do it,’ was the prompt reply,” says Arnold, “of this fearless champion and earliest advocate of Colonial freedom.”
The failure to identify any of the parties engaged in the destruction of the Gaspee fortunately prevented a collision between the Colonial and British authorities at this time.
In May, the Assembly unanimously adopted the plan of Virginia for forming Committees of Correspondence, which were “to obtain the most early and authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British Parliament, and measures of the Ministry, as may relate to or affect the British Colonies in America; and to maintain a correspondence and communication with the other Colonies respecting these important considerations.”
Warlike precautions were also taken at this time. The platforms for the battery at Fort George were repaired, and new carriages were made for the guns formerly used on the Colony war sloop.
In January, 1774, the people of Newport and the other towns in Rhode Island, following the example of Philadelphia, “Resolved, That we will have nothing to do with the East India Company’s irksome tea, nor any other subject to the like duty,” and, further, that they would stand with the other Colonies in vindicating the rights of America against the power of taxation claimed by Great Britain.
May 17, 1774, “The people of Providence, assembled in town meeting, formally proposed the last remaining act necessary to a union of the Colonies— the Continental Congress. The idea had become familiar to the popular mind; it had been proposed in the addresses of public speakers and suggested by Committees of Correspondence; but the formal proposition had never yet been made by any responsible and authorized body. The movement had not received the sanction of any legally constituted authority until made at this meeting of the freemen of Providence.”
The author further says that “Rhode Island, as she had been the first, through the means of town meetings, to propose a Continental Congress, was also the earliest to appoint delegates to attend it. It is significant of the unanimity of the people on this matter, that the two delegates selected, were the ex-Governors whose rival parties had for so many years divided the Councils of the Colony.”
“At a town meeting held at Providence, Rhode Island, on the 17th day of May, a.d. 1774, called by warrant,
“Resolved, That this town will heartily join with the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, and the other Colonies, in such measures as shall be generally agreed on by the Colonies for the protecting and securing their invaluable, natural rights and privileges, and transmitting the same to the latest posterity.
“That the deputies of this town be requested to use their influence at the approaching session of the General Assembly of this Colony for promoting a Congress as soon as may be, of the representatives of the General Assemblies of the several Colonies and Provinces of North America, for establishing the firmest union, and adopting such measures as to them shall appear the most effectual to answer that import ant purpose, and to agree upon proper methods for executing the same.
“That the Committee of Correspondence of this town be desired to assure the town of Boston that we do consider ourselves greatly interested in the present alarming conduct of the British Parliament towards them, and view the whole English-American Colonies equally concerned in the event; and that we will, with the utmost firmness, act accordingly whenever any plan shall be agreed on. In the meantime we are of opinion that an universal stoppage of all trade with Great Britain, Ireland, Africa, and the West Indies, until such time as the port of Boston shall be reinstated in its former privileges, etc., will be the best expedient in the case; and that a proper time should be generally agreed on for the same universally to take place.
Rhode Island Resolutions.
“At the General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, in America, begun and holden by adjournment, at Newport, within and for the said Colony, on the second Monday in June, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-four, and in the fourteenth year of the reign of his most sacred Majesty King George the Third, by the grace of God, King of Great Britain, and so forth.
“This Assembly, taking into their most serious consideration several acts of the British Parliament for levying taxes upon his Majesty’s subjects in America without their consent; and particularly an act lately passed for the blocking up the port of Boston, which act, even upon the supposition that the people of Boston had justly deserved punishment, is scarcely to be paralleled in history for the severity of the vengeance executed upon them; and also considering to what a deplorable state this and all the other Colonies are reduced when, by an act of Parliament, in which the subjects of America have not a single voice, and without being heard, they may be divested of property and deprived of liberty;— do, upon mature deliberation,
“Resolve, 1st, That it is the opinion of this Assembly that a firm and inviolable union of all the Colonies in counsels and measures is absolutely necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and that for that purpose a convention of representatives from all the Colonies ought to be holden in some suitable place as soon as may be, in order to consult upon proper measures to obtain a repeal of the said acts, and to establish the rights and liberties of the Colony upon a just and solid foundation.
Providence (Rhode Island) Town Meeting.
“At a town meeting held at Providence, Rhode Island, convened by warrant on the 12th day of August, 1774,
“Instructions to the deputies of this town in General Assembly:
“Gentlemen: The suffering and distresses of the people of the town of Boston, occasioned by a relentless execution of that cruel edict for blocking up the port, awakens our attention and excites our compassion. Their cause is our cause; and unless aid and succor be afforded them, they may be discouraged into a hurtful submission, and Ministerial vengeance may next be directed against this Colony, and in the end alight upon all. You are therefore requested to use your endeavors, at the next session of the General Assembly, to procure a grant, to be made from this Colony, of such sum of money as they may think fit towards relieving and mitigating the difficulties and distresses which that town must experience from the operation of that most unrighteous inhibition, the hostile manner of carrying the same into force, and a general arrest of their liberties.
“Permit us to observe that in doing this it will be evidenced that as a community we would do unto others as we would that they should do unto us in a like circumstance; and that it will be a greater testimony of unanimity in the general concernments of America in this day of struggle and danger, than private contributions, and far more equal.”
“At a town meeting held at Providence, Rhode Island, on the 21st day of November, 1774, A. M., called by warrant to order a town tax, etc.,
“Voted, That the Committee of Correspondence for this town be hereby empowered to receive of the town treasury the sum of one hundred and twenty five pounds lawful money, and to transmit the same to the committee in the town of Boston for receiving donations for the distressed in habitants of the town of Boston and Charlestown; and the treasurer is hereby ordered to pay said sum out of the first money he shall receive of the tax now ordered.”
Extract from a letter of Captain Wallace to Vice-admiral Graves, dated on board his Majesty’s ship Rose, at Newport, Rhode Island, 12th of December, 1774:
“Yesterday I arrived in this port with his Majesty’s ship under my command, from New London, on a cruise of which I had the honor to acquaint you the 8th instant. Since my absence from this place, I find the inhabitants (they say here of Providence) have seized upon the King’s cannon that was upon Fort Island, consisting of six 24-pounders, eighteen 18- pounders, fourteen 6-pounders, and six 4-pounders (the latter they say formerly belonged to a Province sloop they had here), and conveyed them to Providence.
“A procedure so extraordinary caused me to wait upon the Governor, to inquire of him, for your information, why such a step had been taken. He very frankly told me they had done it to prevent their falling into the hands of the King, or any of his servants, and that they meant to make use of them to defend themselves against any power that shall offer to molest them. I then mentioned if, in the course of carrying on the King’s service here, I should ask assistance, whether I might expect any from him or any others in the government. He answered, as to himself, he had no power, and, in respect to any other part of the government, I should meet with nothing but opposition and difficulty. So much from Governor Wanton. Then I endeavored to get the best information of what they were at from other quarters, and enclosed I send it to you; among some of their votes you will find they intend to procure powder and ball and military stores of all kinds wherever they can get them.”
Extract of a letter to a gentleman in New York, dated Newport, R. I., December 14, 1774:
“The people here have, I think, openly declared themselves against government, and in such manner as surely must be pronounced rebellion. Is it possible that a people without arms, ammunition, money, or navy should dare brave a nation dreaded and respected by all the powers on earth? What black ingratitude to the parent-state who has nourished, protected, and supported them in their infancy! What can these things indicate but a civil war? Horrid reflection! and such as freezes the blood of every human heart.
“There has been a most extraordinary movement here a few days ago. The public authority of the Colony have dismantled the King’s fort and moved all the cannon and stores to Providence, in order, as it is said, to assist the Bostonians against the King’s troops.
“Underneath is a list of the cannon:
“Six 24-pounders, eighteen 18-pounders given by the late King to the fort; fourteen 6-pounders, six 4-pounders belonging to the Colony. God send us better times!
The Rhode Island Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with a diagram of a cannon, circa early 1700s.