Rear-Admiral William Duddingston

Rear Admiral | Number 23

William Duddingston (1740-1817) joined the Royal Navy around 1759 and took his first command the Gaspee schooner on 13 Sept 1768.  Duddingston and his fellow officers had strict instructions and generous financial incentives to intercept illegal smuggling along the American coast.  British legislation authorised these officers to act as customs officials and they were awarded a share of the value of any illicit cargo they seized.

HMS Gaspee was sent by King George III to Rhode Island waters in March 1772 to enforce the maritime trade laws and prevent smuggling. They harrassed shipping and delayed even ships that had properly passed customs inspection in Newport.

On 9th June 1772 the packet sloop Hannah left Newport for Providence. When the Gaspee gave chase, Hannah's Captain Lindsey deliberately lured her across the shallows and left the British ship aground on a sandbar, unable to move until the flood tide of the following day.

On arrival in Providence, Captian Lindsey reported the event to John Brown, one of the most prominent merchants in Rhode Island. He sent out a town crier inviting all interested parties to meet at Sabin's Tavern to plan the Gaspee's destruction.  Under the leadership of Abraham Whipple, the small band of patriots rowed eight longboats with muffled oars to the stranded ship. Lieutenant Duddingston and his crew were taken prisoner and removed to Pawtuxet Village.

Near daylight on 10 June, the Rhode Islanders set fire to the Gaspee, burning her to the waterline at which point her powder magazine exploded.  Efforts of the Crown to learn the names of the culprits were unsuccessful, although a sizeable reward had been offered. Public resistance soon spread to the other colonies with the formation of the Committees of Correspondence to prevent further threats.  It was a short step from here to the First Continental Congress and eventually the Declaration of Independence.

Duddingston was released and given a series of new commands, finally in 1777 as captain of HMS Boston.  He received a yearly pension of £91 for wounds incurred in the Gaspee incident. On his retirement around 1805 he acquired two fine houses.The first was Earlsferry House in Fife, the second Number 23 Heriot Row.

As Commander of HMS Gaspee his actions played a part in the build up to the American War of Independence.