Gardner was brought into the colonies as a slave at the age of fourteen where he was sold to Caleb Gardner, a young merchant in Newport, Rhode Island. After showing an ability for making music, Gardner's wife arranged for Newport to study with a singing master, most likely Andrew Law. In 1791 Gardner won a lottery in which he secured enough money to buy freedom for himself and his family. Gardner rented the upstairs of a house in Newport, Rhode Island where he started his own singing school. He was also a composer and started writing music at the age of eighteen possibly becoming published as early as 1803 with the song Crooked Shanks from the collection A Number of Original Airs, Duettos and Trios. He also composed the Promise Anthem. Although the music has been lost, the text is still preserved and is based on passages from the Bible (Jeremiah 30:1-3, 10; Mark 7:27-28).
Gardner was also a prominent member in the religious and educational communities. He served as a deacon in the First Congregational Church and as headmaster at a school for black children. Gardner also helped found the Colored Union Church, Newport's first black church, in 1824. The Congregational Church in Boston ordained him as a deacon the following year.
Return to Africa and death
In January 1826 at the age of 80, Gardner sailed from Boston on the brig Vine with 31 fellow Africans to Liberia. The ship made it to Liberia, but many in the party including Gardner fell ill with fever and died within a year. Gardner was buried, as he had always wished, in Africa.
- Southern, Eileen (1997). The Music of Black Americans: A History (Third Edition). New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 68–70. ISBN 0-393-97141-4.
- Stokes, Keith (19 December 2017). "R.I.'s former slaves achieved great things". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
- "From Africa to Newport and Back – Musician Occramer Marycoo's Incredible Journey". New England Historical Society. New England Historical Society. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
- Stokes, Keith. "The Black Origins of the Back to Africa Movement". 1696 Heritage Group. Retrieved 20 December 2017.