Licensed to commemorate a historic burning

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The Gaspee Days Committee will soon sell license plates commemorating the burning of the Gaspee after Governor Gina Raimondo signed the Gaspee Days License Bill into effect on Monday.

Warwick historian and member emeritus of the committee Henry Brown said, “I don’t want much, all I want is number one.”

The plates are still in the early process of production, according to Gaspee Days spokeswoman Erin Flynn, as they’ll still need to finalize design plans.  Mayor Scott Avedisian said that 900 people need pre-order the plates for them to be produced, which will be done in conjunction with the Department of Motor Vehicles and at no cost to the committee, Flynn said.

The reason for the governor signing the bill into effect and a number of politicians being on hand at Aspray Boathouse for the ceremony, including chief proponents of the bill State Representative Joe McNamara and Senator Erin Lynch Prata, as well as Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, is two-fold.

One, the income from the sale of the license plates will be used to help fund the Gaspee events and committee, which Mayor Avedisian said receive “very little” state or city money to operate.  Having been a former president of the committee, he said that they have around a $100,000 annual budget that needs to be raised by members of Gaspee and by the community, which “gets more and more difficult each year.”  And not one person on the committee is paid, he said.

Events that need to be funded by the committee each year includes the Gaspee Days Parade, which Raimondo said she remembered going to as a kid and now rides in every year as Governor. 

“I’m signing this bill to keep Gaspee alive, it’s amazing, it’s a Rhode Island tradition,” she told members of the Gaspee committee.  “Hopefully, it’ll get a few dollars into the account to allow you to sell license plates.”

The other reason for the strong support of the bill by politicians and community members in the Pawtuxet/Gaspee area is the historical value that the commemorative plates will have.

“These plates will educate the people of the state of Rhode Island and our nation [when people with license plates drive out of state] to the importance of the Gaspee Day affair, the first action taken in the American Revolution,” Representative McNamara said.  “We’re working to reclaim our place in the history books…this plate will help us bring that story and that message to the people of Rhode Island and to people out of state that come up and ask ‘what’s with that burning ship?”

Mayor Fung added that the plates will be important to “preserve our legacies for years to come” and to “further our communities with so many others that are not familiar with our legacy, part, and role in the formation of our country.”

The plate, in its current prototype, shows the infamous burning of the Gaspee on the waters of Narragansett Bay with a fiery sunset in the background.  The design still needs to be nailed down in the coming months, said Flynn, but the goal is to finalize the plates and promote sign-ups for the necessary 900 during the Arts & Crafts Festival in Gaspee on next year’s Memorial Day weekend. Flynn said the cost of the plate has not been determined but if it is like the Rocky Point Foundation plate, it would be about $40 with $20 going to the DMV.

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