Caleb Gardner

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Caleb Gardner (1739 – 24 December 1806) was a sea-captain, born in Newport, Rhode Island. Living near the harbor and owning a boat, he was in boyhood familiar with the waters and islands of Narragansett Bay, and as a young man became a sea-captain, sailing his own ship to China, to the East Indies, and made other long voyages.


Before the beginning of the Revolution he had retired from the sea and engaged in mercantile pursuits in his native town. The war found him a strong Whig. He raised a company, was assigned with it to Colonel William Richmond's Regiment, of which he soon became major, and was later a member of the council of war and of the Rhode Island state government.

He was residing in Newport in 1778, when the French squadron under Count d'Estaing was blockaded there by the greatly superior British fleet under Admiral Howe. A sudden and dense fog prevented an immediate attack by the English; but they occupied both entrances to the harbor, and waited for daylight. Captain Gardner had noted from his housetop, through a spy-glass, the disposition of the hostile fleets, and, as soon as it was dark, rowed himself to the ship of the French admiral, offered to pilot him to a safe position, and with his own hand steered the admiral's ship through a channel which he had known from boyhood, the other vessels, with all lights extinguished, following singly in his wake. Having piloted the French beyond the enemy and to clear water, he returned to the island, reached his own house before daylight, and was among the groups along the water-front who marveled, when the fog lifted, at the disappearance of the French fleet.

Count d'Estaing's report of the affair to Louis XVI was confidential, since its disclosure would have exposed his guide to the dangerous displeasure of the English government, and of the Tory element in Rhode Island, but the king, through his ambassador in the United States, the Chevalier de la Luzerne, sent to the amateur pilot a sum of money, with which the latter bought an estate near Newport, and built upon it a house, known later as "Bateman's."

Throughout the war Captain Gardner was a trusted adviser of the French officers in Rhode Island, and of General George Washington, who was his friend and correspondent. After peace was declared he was made French consul at Newport, where he resided until his death, being president of a bank, warden of Trinity Church, and head of the volunteer fire department of the town.


Gardner died in Newport on 24 December 1806.