Abraham Whipple

**The following article was originally published in the June 1959 edition of The Hinterlander, bulletin of the Western Rhode Island Civic Historical Society, Mr. Mathias P Harpin, Editor. The HMS Gaspee grounded in Warwick, RI on June 9, 1772.

 

Last week in a Marietta, OH cemetery, the Marine Corps Reserves of that state and West Virginia, assembled in a ceremony to pay tribute to a Rhode Island man. It was the 140th anniversary of his death. That man was Commodore Abraham Whipple, the Kent County Sheriff of whom it is claimed that he set off the American Revolution. He died May 29, 1819.

Commodore Whipple, a descendant of John Whipple, one of the original proprietors of Providence with Roger Williams, was born in Providence and went to sea as a boy, winding up a master mariner in the employ of the Browns of Providence in the West India trade. When Rhode Island felt threatened by the British troops at Boston, Whipple was engaged to find powder and ammunition to sustain the colony in case of attack. He took Bermuda and brought back the necessary supplies.

However, the high point of his career was the burning of the Gaspee, the British patrol boat which operated in Narragansett Bay enforcing acts of navigation. Then Whipple was sheriff of Kent County. Armed with a warrant for the arrest of the British captain, Whipple led a party of masked men out of Providence who descended upon the Gaspee while she was aground, attacked the vessel, captured it, served the warrant on the captain and retreated while their torches turned the vessel into flame. In the course of the attack, shots were fired; the captain wounded. It was claimed that this was the first blood spilled in the war for independence.

In 1777 he was recommended to serve as captain of the new frigate then being built at Providence for the new American navy. She was the Providence. Her guns came from Hope Furnace in Scituate. However, the big problem was to get the Providence out to sea, break through the British blockade of Narragansett Bay. This he accomplished, showing that he was an intrepid seaman. Later he was named to carry secret messages to France, messages which brought France to our side thus making it possible for us to win the war.

Whipple finally was taken prisoner in the South. For nearly two years he wasted away in a prison camp. Penniless, he returned home to his Cranston farm. Finally he mortgaged his farm. When the mortgage was foreclosed, he turned his eyes westward. The Ohio country was opening up. In a covered wagon with his wife, Sarah, the daughter of former Governor Stephen Hopkins, his son John and his daughter Catherine, he crossed the Alleghenies and wound up on a 12-acre farm in Ohio.

He found little riches here. Finally he took a small ship down the Ohio into the Mississippi to New Orleans. It was the first ship built in the West, a herald of the vast commerce which reached out for far flung markets out of the heart of America. A pension finally was granted to him by the government to carry him through old age and to the grave.