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Joseph Bucklin IV and Joseph Bucklin V

Joseph Bucklin IV and Joseph Bucklin V were both deeply involved in revolutionary era activity, including the 1772 burning of the Gaspee.

Joseph Bucklin IV was born February 20, 1719 or 1720, in Coventry, Rhode Island. He was a successful merchant and owned several properties in Providence, including houses, wharfs, barns, and shops. He sometimes owned and sometimes sailed his own ships, which explains his pre-revolutionary title captain (which he discarded in favor of the less haughty “merchant” after the revolution). He was trading before 1760, when he rented a sloop from Esek Hopkins. He repaired Hopkins’ ship Providence a few years later, and became co-owner of the Providence, along with Nicholas Cooke and Benjamin Cushing, by 1768. Bucklin captained the ship when it was confiscated that year for being involved in smuggling. He successfully sued to recover both the ship and the rum that had been seized as contraband.

Bucklin served with John Brown as a director of the Providence Street Paving Lottery in the early 1760s and during the Revolutionary War assisted with the fortification of Fort Independence, guarding the city’s port. He also was a member of the Rhode Island's legislature’s "Committee of Correspondence" that was organized to coordinate the resistance of the colonies to England.

Bucklin’s son, Joseph Bucklin V, was born March 2, 1754. Despite some historical accounts that credit his father with the crime, it seems clear that it was the eighteen year old Joseph who shot Lieutenant William Dudingston on the deck of the Gaspee. One of the Gaspee’s midshipmen testified that the man who shot the captain “appeared to be about eighteen years of age, very much marked with the small pox, light brown hair tied behind, about five feet, five or six inches high”—a description that matches the younger Bucklin but not his father.

HMS Gaspee was seized and burned by a motley crew of Rhode Islanders who had set forth from James Sabin’s Tavern on Providence’s South Water Street, organized by John Brown and led by Abraham Whipple. The Gaspee’s mission in Narragansett Bay was to enforce existing maritime laws and prevent smuggling. Lieutenant Dudingston earned the scorn of Rhode Islanders who resented the harassment and delays, sometimes unjustified, that stricter enforcement brought about. When Dudingston pursued the packet sloop Hannah, her captain, Lindsey, lured the Gaspee into the shallows off Namquid Point (now Gaspee Point), where she ran aground on a sandbar. Upon his arrival in Providence, Captain Lindsey informed John Brown of the situation, and Brown quickly brought a large group together at Sabin’s Tavern to plan a raid.

After the removal of the wounded Dudingston and his crew to Pawtuxet Village, the raiders set fire to the Gaspee just before dawn on July 10th. As the ship burned down to the water line, the powder room exploded, destroying all that remained. King George III was informed by his Attorney General that the raid should be considered as treason and as an act of war. The monarch responded by offering £1000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the man who shot Dudingston. Not only did no one come forward to name Bucklin, but no one in Rhode Island ever offered evidence against any of the raiders. Stephen Hopkins was then Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court and essentially refused to cooperate with the British inquiry, which was ultimately unable to proceed without any cooperation from Rhode Islanders. Refusing to indict anyone for the raid, Hopkins even went so far as to issue a warrant for Dudingston’s arrest in 1773. The attack and its aftermath were thus the most blatant challenge to British rule to date.

Joseph Bucklin IV died in 1790 and was interred at the North Burial Ground. His son Joseph V was lost at sea in 1781.

Erik Christiansen, PhD, Rhode Island College