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Who was the "Joseph Bucklin"
 who fired the Gaspee shot?

By Leonard H. Bucklin

George III Reward for Arrest of Joseph BucklinWho was  the person who fired the shot that wounded the Gaspee ship captain? The English put a price on his head but never learned his name.

From Ephraim Bowen's account after the Revolutionary War, we know the man  who shot and wounded Lt. Dudingston was named  "Joseph Bucklin". We want more than a name.  But within 30 miles of the Gaspee attack there there several men named "Joseph Bucklin."

From 1643 "Joseph Bucklin" had been a name found in the respected Bucklin family lines in the Providence area.  Until the Revolutionary War at least ten Bucklin males were named Joseph, and most were well known. Several of the lines that started from the Joseph Bucklin born in 1633 included sons named "Joseph." Joseph Bucklin 1st was  the son of the William Bucklin who came to New England in 1630.  William was the largest landowner in the (Providence /  Pawtucket / Rehoboth / Attleboro) area when Rehoboth was settled, so it became natural that the Bucklins were known in the area. When William died,  his son Joseph continued the Bucklin landholdings and public involvement of his father. By the time of the Gaspee attack Bucklins owned not only land, but also mills and ships, e.g., Joseph Bucklin 3rd,  who lived most of his life in Rehoboth, and died there in 1776, had a mill and machine shops in Coventry that were exceedingly profitable. The achievements of several "Josephs" in the family originating with William Bucklin,  created a natural pride and desire of Bucklins to continue naming males "Joseph Bucklin"

There are two males named "Joseph Bucklin" that are prime suspects for any investigation of which "Joseph Bucklin" was the one in the 1772 Gaspee raiding party.  They were the 4th and the 5th Joseph Bucklins in an unbroken line of namesake Joseph Bucklins starting with Joseph Bucklin 1st (1633 - 1718). We eliminate other Joseph Bucklins on the basis of age (e.g., Joseph Bucklin 3rd,  born 1694, although living in 1772, is unlikely to have been involved in such physical activity) or on the basis of geography (e.g., Joseph Bucklin of Cheshire, MA, the son of Darius Bucklin, is unlikely to be in Providence at the time.)

Bucklin the 4th and Joseph Bucklin the 5th were both residents of Providence in 1772, when the shot was fired.  Based only on name and residency, either of them are candidates for being the "Joseph Bucklin" that fired the shot that wounded Lt. Dudingston. Which "Joseph Bucklin" was the one that fired the shot? Let us assemble the known facts, to aid in the identification.

From 1772 until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1782, no one publicly identified the raiders.  Certainly neither father or son Joseph Bucklin would have publicly identified  either as the one of them had shot Dudingston (and risk an informer deciding to collect the 1000 English pound reward for the arrest of the shooter).  During the Revolutionary War, even John Brown  frequently slept away from his home for fear that he might be arrested by a nighttime raid of the English  military as a participant in the Gaspee affair. [Guild].  So there was no contemporary written identification of which "Joseph Bucklin" shot Dudingston.

Joseph Bucklin the 4th was 52 years old in 1772. He was a man of public stature associated with John Brown in various activities, which suggests participation with Brown.  Moreover, as a merchant and as a former master and owner of the brigantine Providence he had a special reason for participating in a posse to prevent what Rhode Islanders considered unconstitutional use of force by the English. In 1767 his ship the Providence was seized for smuggling. (After he gave testimony of a highly unlikely reason for his ship having goods which were not declared at customs, the Rhode Island local court acquitted him of smuggling.)  

Shortly before the June, 1772, attack on the Gaspee,  the brigantine Providence again was seized by the English ship Beaver, commanded by Capt. Linzee.   Again the charge was evasion of import duties.  The record shows the owner as Benjamin Cushing, but it is possible, even perhaps probable, that the same combination of  Cooke, Cushing and Bucklin was still the owners of the ship.  If so, Joseph Bucklin 4th would have had just as much an interest in attacking the Gaspee as did the Greenes.  Both the Beaver and the Gaspee were making the same sort of inroads on the shipping business of Providence merchants, although the commander of the Gaspee was much more aggressive and impolitic.  (The English Navy's plan and  hope of effectively patrolling the three entrances from the sea into Narragansett Bay was to have both the Beaver and Gaspee working together.)

Joseph Bucklin 4th knew both the John Hopkins that was one of the longboat captains that night and also John Brown.  (Indeed Joseph's brigantine Providence later was purchased by John Brown.)  It is plausible that Joseph Bucklin 4th was one of the longboat captains whose "five others" names are unknown by Bowen when he gave his famous written report of the incident.  Or Joseph 4th could have participated --- even if not in charge of one of the longboats --- as an experienced sea captain/merchant  to examine the papers of Dudingston.  Dudingston estimated there were a dozen persons in his cabin looking at his papers, and he reported all (not some) of them as appearing by their dress to be merchants or sea captains.

Nonetheless, in my judgment, it is not likely that a distinguished merchant and sea captain, age 52,  prominent in civil affairs of Providence (the civil attibutes of Captain Joseph Bucklin 4th) would have been the Joseph Bucklin who fired the shot, because:

  • In accordance with social custom of the time, Bowen consistently referred to all persons with "Captain" titles as "Captain ....".  Captain Joseph Bucklin would ordinarily have been referred to by Bowen as "Captain Bucklin"  not as "Joseph Bucklin".  Indeed with two Joseph Bucklins in town, the ordinary way a resident like Bowen would refer to the father and son would be to refer to the elder as "Capt. Bucklin" and the younger as "Joseph Bucklin, Junior" or as plain "Jospeh Bucklin".
  • It is unlikely that Bowen would have referred to a man age 52 as the "my youthful companion", which is how Bowen referred to the Joseph Bucklin who fired the shot.

  • Bowen's description of the firing of the shot, was that:

    the Joseph Bucklin who shot was not acting as a boat captain at the time,

    Bowen and Joseph Bucklin were in the boat commanded by John Hopkins as the boat captain, and  

    the act ascribed by Bower to the shooter Bucklin seems more a spur of the moment decision of a youth than the act of a 52  year old sea captain who certainly would have brought along his own firearm if it was intended to use pistols and muskets in the attack.  

Joseph Bucklin the 5th, age 19,  was of an age more suited for the use of the physical force that Joseph Brown wanted to assemble.   We do know that he was in the attacking party, from the following.

From John Mawney' statement of 1826, we can deduce that the Joseph Bucklin that Mawney identified was about 19 years old.  We start with Mawney's account that Joseph Bucklin was in the cabin in which Lt. Dudingston was laying, and that Joseph Bucklin assisted Mawney in dressing the wound's of Dudingston. 

John Brown seemed to be conscious of keeping control of who was in the cabin. Mawney relates that during his attendance of the wounds of Dudingston, the cabin door was closed and that only certain persons were allowed in the cabin. And Lt. Dudingston was of the impression that the two persons giving him medical care were both "ordered down from the deck to dress me". All the persons who left written descriptions of the medical care of Dudingston in the cabin (Lt. Dudingston, Midshipman Dickinson, Bowen, and Dr. Mawney): all speak of only two persons being involved with the dressing of the wounds of Dudingston. 

Mawney's written 1826 statement was a deliberate attempt to accurately describe the events. Mawney named "Joseph Bucklin, Jnr" as the second person involved with the dressing of the wounds of Dudingston.  (Note: researcher John Concannon has looked at the original draft that John Mawney made of his statement of the Gaspee Incident before it was published ca. 1826 and tells us " In this statement, John Mawney refers to the assistant that help him treat Lt. Dudingston's wounds as "Jos. Bucklin Jnr." The " Jnr " bit was not published by the American and Gazette in 1826, but it is quite distinctly there in his handwritten notes, and I had this confirmed by the manuscript archivist from the RIHS".)

Mawney could not have mistaken Ephraim Bowen as being "Joseph Bucklin Jnr.".  (I mention this impossibility of mistake because some researchers might see that Ephraim Bowen in his statement of 1839 identities himself, Ephraim, as being an assistant of Mawney. Perhaps Bowen assisted Mawney with the transportation of the wounded English captain to the shore.)  There is no doubt that Mawney knew Bowen when Mawney wrote his 1826 account. By the time of Mawney's 1826 statement, Bristol, Rhode Island, had had many 4th of July parades, and Bowen and Mawney appeared in the parades together. In short, Mawney could not have mistaken Bucklin and Bowen. 

Further,  the description of Midshipman Dickinson of the height of the second person does not match with either Bowen or Joseph Bucklin 4th.  Dickinson describes the  height of Mawney's assistant as "about five feet, five or six inches high".  Dickinson's  estimate of height is probably accurate.  The ceiling of the captain's cabin was probably only about six feet above the floor, and this limited head clearance made height estimates easy.  Dickinson's  description of height seems to rule out Bowen.  It was said by a contemporary of Bowen that Bowen " was about five feet-nine", which would have him clearing the ceiling by only a couple of inches.  See, Nelson Slocum description of Bowen at http://gaspee.org/Slocum.html   Therefore, even though Ephraim Bowen in his statement of 1839 identities himself, Ephraim, as being the assistant of Mawney, this matter of height adds another reason why we believe that Dr. Mawney's identification of this assistant as being Joseph Bucklin Jnr as being much more probable than Bowen's self identification.

I therefore take it as a fact that a "Joseph Bucklin Jnr" was one of those only two persons directly involved with the treating of the wounds of Dudingston.   Joseph 5th 's involvement is logical, since he probably had a serious interest in the condition of the British navy officer he had shot.  There is a physical description of those two persons giving medical aid to Dudingston.

Dudingston asked for Dickinson to be brought to the cabin.  Dickinson was the only other officer aboard, and Dudingston wanted someone who could  pay special attention to the attackers and give a physical description of them. (The cabin was lighted, but the ship otherwise was dark.) Dickinson gave to the investigating commission ,a physical description of the two persons giving aid to Dudingston, saying: 

  • one person "appeared to be about twenty-two years of age" 
  • and the other "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".  

Mawney was between 21 and 22  years old at the time of the Gaspee attack. This would mean the other person described by Dickinson would have been the person who Mawney said was Joseph Bucklin.  Joseph Bucklin 5th was 19 years old at the time of the Gaspee attack.

A further clue -- about the age of the shooter "Joseph Bucklin"  Bowen refers to as the shooter --- and therefore as to which Joseph Bucklin was involved (4th or 5th) --- comes from Ephraim Bowen's account.  Bowen gives the name of the leader ("John Brown"), then gives the names of the eight boat captains ("Captains Abraham Whipple, John B. Hopkins, Benjamin Dunn, and five others, whose names I have forgotten"), and then goes on to name:

"and John Mawney, Benjamin Page, Joseph Bucklin, and Turpin Smith, my youthful companions"

Why did Bowen refer to these persons as "my youthful companions"? We can reason that Bowen refers to these people as "my youthful companions", not because they were companions to a youthful Bowen, but rather  because all the four persons he named were about his age. Bowen was 19 years old at the time of the Gaspee attack. Page was 19 years old. Mawney was 21 years old. Smith was about 22 years old. This means that of the four "companions" identified by Bowen ( himself 19 years old) as "my youthful companions", we know that three of the four were in the age range of 18 to 22.  This leads to the conclusion that "Bucklin" was in the age range of 18 to 22 and thus included in "my youthful companions.".

Captain Joseph Bucklin 4th (born 20 Feb 1719/1720) was 52 years old at the time of the Gaspee attack, and hardly would be described by Bowen as one of his "youthful companions"  We rule him out as the shooter.  On the other hand, Joseph Bucklin 5th ( born 02 Mar 1754) would have been 19 years old at the time of the Gaspee attack. Thus Joseph 5th fits with the description of three persons: Bowen ("my youthful companion");  Dickinson ("about eighteen years of age"): and of Mawney ("Joseph Bucklin Jnr ").

When Bristol, RI, started having 4th of July parades immediately after the Revolutionary War, the parade included persons who had participated in the Gaspee attack. Bowen, Mawney, Page, Smith appeared in the parades, but not a "Joseph Bucklin." Joseph Bucklin 4th was a well known merchant of Providence.  He was active in Revolutionary War activities in Providence, and did not die until December 27, 1790.  He would have been available for the early parades in which members of the attacking Gaspee raiders were honored, but was not so honored.  On the other hand Joseph 5th (the "Joseph Bucklin, Junior, of Providence)  was lost at sea at age 27 in 1781before the Revolutionary War was ended. The death of Joseph 5th explains the absence of "the" Joseph Bucklin from the Gaspee group that appeared in the 4th of July parades after the end of the Revolutionary War.  The Revolutionary War death of a sailor, whose existence was deliberately part of a conspiracy of silence during the war, followed by the 1790 death of a well known merchant named Joseph Bucklin explains why in the centuries that followed  persons were not generally aware that there were two Joseph Bucklins living in Providence in 1772.


Joseph Bucklin 5th was Bowen's "youthful companion" that fired the fateful shot in the 1772 attack on the English navy armed schooner Gaspee.

Appended note

See the end of the separate page about Joseph the 4th, where: from the available evidence, we come to the conclusion that Bartlett  was wrong in his statements identifying the occupation of  the Joseph Bucklin that was Bowen's youthful companion on the raid."