This weekend marks the 47th annual Gaspee Days celebration in Pawtuxet Village and organizers of the three-day event, which includes a parade, fireworks, road race, and much, much more, are ready.
"It's such a tradition in Rhode Island," said Erin Flynn, a member of the Gaspee Days Committee. "People are getting excited. It's a family tradition that goes on every year, people come home to see their friends and family — and that's just a cool byproduct of of planning a parade."
Gaspee Days is a celebration about the spark that ignited the American Revolution and the firecely independent spirit that defines the American psyche.
The H.M.S. Gaspee was a British ship used as part of Britain's crusade to tax the colonies and intercept the smuggling trade that was flourishing in Narragansett Bay and other inlets and waterways. Its commander, Lt. William Dudingston, was an elitist and arrogant Navy officer who garnered little mercy when he was shot in the groin by a group of angry colonists who ambushed the ship after it was stranded on a sandbar in pursuit of the Hannah, a colonial boat en route to Providence that had no intention of stopping for British tyrants.
The ship was set on fire and its powder kegs exploded. The event did much to tip the colonies into war with Britain and is increasingly being recognized as a pivotal moment in the American Revolution.
This year's parade will be led by someone special. The Grand Marshall will be Milton Wrath, a member of the Gaspee Days Committee for 39 years.
"I love the parade," he said.
In fact, he loves it so much his license plate reads "Gaspee."
Wrath and Gaspee Days have become synonymous. He's marched in dozens of Gaspee Days parades, served as Parade Chair eight times, several times as president of the Gaspee Days Committee, several times as the spouse of the president of the Gaspee Days Committee, sometimes as a Pawtuxet Ranger and 16 times as the carrier of the Rhode Island Mace.
Also special this year will be the presence of members of the at the front of the parade.
The Mace is made of historic fragments of wood and even contains wood from the Gaspee itself. The eagle on the top of the mace was carried through the Civil War on on top of a Union flag battle staff.
And sparks will fly in Providence this year. For the first time, WaterFire will take part in this year's Gaspee Days celebration. They're calling it "The Gaspee Project," and visitors will get a chance to hear the story of the burning of the HMS Gaspee and relive the experience through art, music, tours, other events and of course, fires blazing in the Providence River.
This year also marks the first time Gaspee Days is being celebrated on the Internet, specifically on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Consider that throughout the night on Friday, the historic events on June 9, 1772 will be represented by tweets from fourteen characters who were involved in the Gaspee Affair. The tweets will be based on the actual historical record. To follow the action, look for tweets with the hashtag #WFGaspee on Twitter.
And the Gaspee Days Committee itself has embraced Twitter and Facebook to promote the weekend's events as well as to drum up excitement among visitors and attendees. Daily trivia questions about the historic raid on the British revenue schooner and the people involved in the revolutionary act have kept their Facebook page buzzing in the weeks leading up to the festivities.
"We've been able to reach a lot of people," Flynn said.
In fact, the strategy has helped rope in new members.
"I think that we've recognized that we have to get younger members joining the committee," Flynn said. "It's really helped us get younger members on the committee."
Newness aside, Gaspee Days is all about tradition and you can come to Pawtuxet Village and everything you'd expect to see will be there: rich colonial history, fireworks, music, food, dancing, vendors and more.
"There are some things that just don't change," Flynn said.
Here's a breakdown of the weekend's events:
Friday, June 8
Encampment: Tonight marks the start of the Colonial Encampment. It offers visitors a chance to experience colonial life as dozens of militia camp out for the weekend, dressed for the part. It's as if an authentic revolutionary force was staking it out right in the heart of Pawtuxet Village. The encampment lasts all weekend.
Fireworks: Head to Salters Grove Park off Narragansett Parkway for fireworks at dusk. Courtesy of the city of Warwick's Department of Tourism, Culture and Development, the show symbolizes the explosions on the Gaspee in 1772 when its powder magazine blew up in the famous fire.
Saturday, June 9
Ecumenical: Head to Trinity Episcopal Church, 139 Ocean Avenue, for a non-denominational service with music performed by the West Bay Chorus. It has been called "an outstanding tribute to the faith of America."
Road Race: At 9:45 a.m., the Allan and Edna Brown 5K Gaspee Days Road Race kicks off. It's s popular and widely-participated race through the area along Broad Street in Cranston to Narragansett Parkway in Warwick and rerun. For details, click here.
Parade: At 10 a.m., the much-anticipated Gaspee Days Parade begins. The parade features Colonial fife and drum corps, Civil War era units, modern drum and bugle corps, community groups and much more. The Mummers are the grand finale.
The Gaspee Project at WaterFire
For the first time, Gaspee Days is being celebrated as part of Providence's WaterFire event. There will be events starting at 5:30 p.m. through midnight all along the WaterFire route. At 5:30 and 7 p.m., check out presentations of "Revolutionary Fire" at the Old State House, 150 Benefit St. There will be a walking tour leaving the John Brown House at 52 Power Street at 5:30 p.m., led by the Providence Historical Society. Cost is $10. From 5 to 10 p.m., there will be tours of Gov. Stephen Hopkins House at 15 Hopkins St., Providence. And at 10 p.m., there will be a longbow row reenactment at the Crawford Street Bridge near Hemenway's, with music by the Pawtuxet Rangers Fife & Drum Corps.
Sunday, June 10
Sunday in the Park: Enjoy food, music, dancing and family activities in Pawtuxet Park off Narragansett Parkway. Music will be performed by Shady Grove from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Picnics are welcome. Bring your own food or eat from a vendor. Raffle: The raffle that will run the entire weekend is drawn on Sunday in the park.
Children's Encampment: at 2:30 p.m., children are led through the Colonial Encampment for staged tour. Colonial attire is encouraged. Get a look at colonial life, cooking, and what people did for entertainment during the era. Pirates and Royal Navy crews will also be on hand.
Fashion Show: At 3 p.m., Pawtuxet Park becomes to site of a colonial fashion show. Watch military maneuvers between "those pesky Redcoats and the Patriots" after the fashion show which features Revolutionary War era uniforms.
Burning of the Gaspee: At 4 p.m., the symbolic end of Gaspee Days festivities occurs with the burning of the Gaspee, the ship that sparked the American Revolution.
For a history of the Gaspee Affair, check out Dan Neal's piece here.
From the south: From Interstate 95 northbound, take exit 14 (Route 37, Warwick) to Post Road (Route 1A) North. Follow the road about 3 miles to Pawtuxet Village.
From the north: From Interstate 95 southbound, take Exit 16 (Route 12) to Park Avenue. Follow 1.2 miles straight through to Broad Street and turn right towards Pawtuxet Village.
From the west: From Interstate 295 take Route 37 East (Warwick) to Route 1A. Follow Post Road until reaching Pawtuxet Village.
For maps of all Gaspee Days events including directions, click here.
More information is available at the Gaspee Days Committee website.
Parking is available in Warwick at the Pilgrim Senior Center, Pilgrim High School and Wyman Elementary School.
In Cranston, free parking is available at the .