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Caleb Gibbs (c. 1748-1818)

Appointed the commander of the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard on March 12, 1776, Caleb Gibbs served as both the head of headquarters security and chief steward of George Washington’s military household for nearly five years during the War for Independence. Before retiring as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington attested that Gibbs, “on all occasions …behaved with propriety & honor that he several times performed the duty of a temporary Aid with fidelity and intelligence – and that having been present at the various skirmishes & actions he always conducted himself as a brave & discreet officer.”1

The third child of Robert & Sarah Gibbs, Caleb was baptized on September 25, 1748, at the Second Congregational Church in Newport, Rhode Island.2  By 1769, he had moved to Marblehead, Massachusetts and became acquainted with local patriot leader John Glover. After turning “out a Volunteer at the Battle of Lexington,” Gibbs was appointed Adjutant of Glover’s regiment on April 24, 1775, with the rank of lieutenant.3 As the British Army prepared to evacuate Boston in March of 1776, General Washington recognized the shift in the war and saw a need to establish a guard “for himself and [his] Baggage” in the General Orders of March 11.4

Washington was impressed with Caleb Gibb’s supervisory function in one of the best disciplined units in the Continental Army, and selected the New Englander to command the guards the following day with the rank of captain. The young officer was initially tasked with coordinating the security of the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, but quickly and ably took on the supervision of its daily operations.5

Illustration of the banner of the Commander-in-Chief's Guard. Image from Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, Vol. 2. (New York: Harper, 1852), 120.

Moreover, Gibbs would command detachments for special combat missions at various times during the war.6  For the commendable execution of his duties, Gibbs was promoted to the rank of major on July 29, 1778.7 Despite a dust-up in 1779,8 George Washington thought well of the “good-natured” Yankee and publicly thanked him in general orders for “his Conduct while in the command of his Corps of Guards” when Gibbs transferred to the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment in the spring of 1781.9

Gibbs was wounded in the ankle at the Battle of Yorktown10, but remained on active duty with Henry Jackson’s Continental Regiment until mid-1784.11  In 1798 during the Quasi-War crisis with France, Gibbs’ name was put forward by George Washington to command one of the Massachusetts regiments in the Provisional Army. However, this idea was rejected by several members of Congress. Washington protested and cited his service “through the whole Revolutionary war” and lamentably concluded that a “Veto of a Member of Congress…was more respected; & Sufficient to set [Gibbs] aside.”12

After the war, Caleb Gibbs settled in Boston in 1785, where he married, began a family, and struggled to establish himself in private business.13  After several appeals to President Washington for government employ,14 he was appointed first as a clerk at the Boston Navy Yard in 1794 and then superintendent in 1812.15 Caleb Gibbs passed away on November 6, 1818.16

Samuel K. Fore
Harlan Crow Library

Bibliography
Wehmann, Howard H. “To Major Gibbs with Much Esteem” Prologue 4 (1972): 227-232.

Godfrey, Carlos E. The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, Revolutionary War. Washington, D.C.: Stevenson-Smith Co., 1904

Notes
1. "From George Washington to Caleb Gibbs, 1 December 1783," Founders Online, National Archives.

2. Arnold, James N., ed. Rhode Island Vital Records, 1636-1850. First Series. Births, Marriages & Deaths. Vol. VIII. Episcopal & Congregational. (Providence: Narragansett Historical Society, 1896), 445.

3. John Glover, "Certificate of Service for Caleb Gibbs, 8 Nov. 1779," Harlan Crow Library.

4. "General Orders, 11 March 1776," Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 3, 1 January 1776 – 31 March 1776, ed. Philander D. Chase. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988, pp. 448–449.

5. See, for example, "From George Washington to Captain Caleb Gibbs, 22 April 1777," Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 9, 28 March 1777 – 10 June 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, p. 236.

6. See, for example, "Caleb Gibbs to William Maxwell, 8 June 1777," George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

7. See "Robert Morris to Gouverneur Morris, 16 June 1778," in Smith, Paul H., ed. Letters of Delegates to Congress, Vol. X, 1 June-30 Sept. 1778. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1983),109-11 & Ford, Worthington C., ed. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. XI, 1778. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1908), 730.

8. See "George Washington to William Colfax, 2 October 1779," The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. Vol. XVI, 29 July-20 Oct. 1779, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1937), pp. 393-394.

9. "General Orders, 23 April 1781," Founders Online, National Archives. Gibbs, later "perusing" his papers, joined his new regiment on the same day; see "To George Washington from Caleb Gibbs, 24 October 1785," Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 3, 19 May 1785 – 31 March 1786, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 314–317.

10. Thacher, James. A Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War (Boston: Richardson & Lord, 1823), 341.

11. "Officers of the [1st American Regiment] to John Pierce, June 21, 1784," Papers of the Continental Congress (M247, RG360, i63, r76, pp. 49-51), National Archives & Records Administration.

12. "From George Washington to James McHenry, 25 March 1799," Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 16 September 1798 – 19 April 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, 438–44.

13. "To George Washington from Caleb Gibbs, 24 October 1785," Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 3, 19 May 1785 – 31 March 1786, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, 314–17; Massachusetts Gazette, January 19, 1787.

14. "To George Washington from Caleb Gibbs, 11 March 1789," Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 1, 24 September 1788 – 31 March 1789, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987, 380–1.

15. "Memorandum, 31 December 1794," War Department Letterbook, Records Group 45, National Archives & Records Administration; The Columbian, January 30, 1812.

16. Boston Intelligencer & Evening Gazette, November 7, 1818.