On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island kick started the revolution when it became the first colony to officially announce its independence from King George III. It was a long time coming for the small and struggling colony.
When the British crown began placing taxes on the colonists for commodities such as molasses and sugar, Rhode Islanders began trading with other countries to avoid the burdening taxes.
For a colony such as Rhode Island, where trade was the center of the economy, these taxes put far too much strain on the settlement. With so much at stake, Rhode Islanders started to revolt against the King for his unfair taxes. Instead of dealing with the British taxes, they secretly traded with Dutch and French traders instead. This system was the only way to keep the island’s economy above water, and it was working until the British got wind of it.
To counter the smuggling colonists, the British sent over several ships to enforce the taxes and arrest any of the offenders. One particular ship, a sloop names the HMS Gaspee, was commanded by a rather notorious Lt. Dodingston who would bully the vessels on the waterways and seize ships of prominent Rhode Island families.
In 1772, one year before the Boston Tea Party, the colonists of Rhode Island decided to take a stand against the British boat. During one of Dodingston’s chases, the ship was beached and became stuck in the shallow shores of Rhode Island. Upon learning of the chase, colonists gathered together, painted their faces black, and dressed as Native Americans and prepared for a fiery confrontation. They took their rowboats out to face the sloop, exchanged a few words with the crew, and began firing away at the sailors. Eventually, the ship caught aflame and the lieutenant sustained injuries from a gunshot.
Rhode Island’s size and lack of resources did not diminish its residents’ hunger for liberty. Their courageous efforts prove Mark Twain’s famous words, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”