Allow me to retell one of my favorite stories from Washington’s General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution by Terry Golway. I don’t tell it as well as the author, but it should give you and idea of why I really enjoyed reading it.
Rhode Island wasn’t complying with the Sugar Act, which was another one of those great taxes the British invented that only applied to non-British goods. It would have hurt trade, so the governor simply chose not to enforce it. This went on for several years, until the British got tired of the insolence. They sent a ship, the Gaspee, commanded by Lt. William Dudingston. Rather than waiting for colonial merchant ships to land at port, unload, and then nail them for not paying taxes, he seemingly randomly declared merdchant ships to be smugglers, boarded, search, and seized them.
One of the ships he seized belonged to Nathanael Green’s company. Green’s response was to sue. He didn’t sue the British government, he didn’t sue the Royal Navy, he sued Dudingston personally. The law at the time wasn’t to simply serve a person papers ordering them to appear in court; they were arrested and brought in so the issue could be resolved. Dudingston became a fugitive from the 18th century equivalent of bounty hunters and process servers, while carrying out what amounted to legal piracy.
Eventually he was outmaneuvered, and one evening in February of 1772 the Gaspee ran around while in pursuit of yet another merchant ship. This news reached Providence and 64 men, including sheriff Abraham Whipple, piled into longboats and rowed out to the ship. Whipple demanded that Dudingston surrender himself; Dudingston refused. A single shot rang out, and Dudingston was shot in the groin. The men then set the Gaspee on fire, and took the injured man to the hospital. As soon as he was well enough to move, they put him in jail.
In the case of Greene v. Dudingston, the the British officer was ordered to pay the Rhode Islander 300 pounds sterling.
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