It seems that the HMS Gaspee incident is little noted or known outside of Rhode Island, so students are less likely to bring pre-conceived ideas into the lesson. You have free rein to talk about the role of government and how people in power use that power. Sure, you’ll be going into the required Navigation Act and Sugar Act and all that they represent, but this occurs early enough in the timeline that open warfare hasn’t broken out yet – students get to talk about what is or isn’t effective protest and how one responds to the actions of others.
Students could easily draw parallels with modern ideas of the role of federal authority versus states’, and they can even carry the learning here forward into how the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were shaped. Keep an eye on how the students do or don’t retain their viewpoints as you progress to the issues of the rights of citizens and the needs of state and national governments in the 19th century. Later, in the 20th century you can revisit violent and non-violent protest against a government and its policies and actions.
This DBQ supports the NCSS National Curriculum Standards: 2) Time, Continuity and Change ; 6) Power, Authority, and Governance; 10) Civic Ideals and Practices
How to Implement this DBQ
Each student will need pages 2-11. You will want to keep handy the grading guidelines on page 12. I take two days for this lesson – it feeds into questions of governing authority that will be repeated in the American Revolution and the Civil War! The first day in class we cover everything up to and including Ephraim Bowen’s account. There will be a lot of background, and probably questions about reading his account. Then let them try Lt. Dudingston’s account on their own for homework. It may be hard reading, so let them mark up the document with their questions and highlight important passages. The next day, in class, begin with their findings. They can finish up the rest either in class, or, more likely, do a rough draft of their answers in class and then write their final copy for homework.
For very accelerated students, consider letting them use the raw, original works found at the Gaspee Virtual Archives: http://www.gaspee.org/index.htm#Testimony
Challenged students may better profit from some of the fine products created by the Gaspee Virtual Archives at the “Teachers Room” found at the above link.