Caleb Godfrey (c1736-1825)
The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the 1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM. Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
During a 2005 database search of the term "Gaspee" at the New England Historic Genealogy Society website <http://newenglandancestors.org> we came across the following entry;
Capt. Caleb Godfrey (c1736-1825) died at age 89 on 1Aug1825 in Providence, buried at St John's Cemetery (PV011) in Providence "Served as Soldier in the Revolution, and was one of those who burnt the Gaspee, in Providence river in June 1772".
The source is apparently the American and Patriot newspaper obituary. Note that St. John's Cemetery is also the location wherein fellow Gaspee burner Ephraim Bowen is buried. This prompted a more extensive search for the original article which appeared in the sister papers Rhode Island American on 9Aug1825 and the Providence Patriot and Columbian Phenix on 10Aug1825:
In our last [issue], we recorded the death of Captain Caleb Godfrey of this town. The decease of such a man, though humble in the walks of life, and only distinguished for those virtues which caused him to be joyed and respected, rather than applauded or feared in society, ought not to pass unnoticed. He was a veteran of the Revolution, and was among those daring spirits who struck the first decisive blow, and shed the first drop of blood in the cause of American freedom, having composed one of the boat's crews that attacked, took possession of, and burnt his Majesty's cutter, the Gaspee, in the Providence River, in June 1772. Of those daring men there are now but four that survive.
Caleb Godfrey would've been 36 years old when he took part in the raid on the Gaspee. His Captaincy may have been nautical or military, and may have been earned at a time after the raid in 1772. We know little for sure, but by text searching his name at the Early American Newspapers Collection we find that Mary Godfrey, the wife of a Mr. Caleb Godfrey of Providence died 6June1795, and that in 1825, a Caleb Godfrey (possibly his son) had a market at 93 South Water Street in Providence that advertised reed poles and ice. We cannot prove either of these relationships to our Caleb Godfrey, however.
According to Field, Edward, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century: A History. Boston, Mason Publishing Co. 1902, Vol II, pp424-430 "List of Privateersmen from Providence", James Godfrey was a master of Providence-based privateer, Lady Washington, and others. As noted in the genealogy below, this was probably the uncle of our Caleb Godfrey.
According to the 1770 List of Providence Taxpayers, Richard Godfrey owned property at Chace IIIB4. This Godfrey must have been of some standing; his lot is located right next to the Town Parade in the center of Providence, and lots owned by most of the important merchants of the day, many of who were Gaspee burners. South Water Street was right in this general location. As noted in the genealogy below, this was probably the uncle of our Caleb Godfrey.
From the NEHGS website obituaries we get a possible wife for Caleb Godfrey, Mary (Mayfield) Godfrey, wife of Caleb, and who died 2June1795 in Providence. They married in 1762. Once source lists this Mary Mayfield or Maxfield as being the wife of the Caleb Godfrey born in North Kingstown in 1740. Caleb Godfrey is listed without dates in the RI Historical Cemeteries Database as being buried in the St. John's Cemetery, PV011. The Mary Godfrey that died in 1795 was buried in a different location, the Providence Quaker cemetery, PV018, since moved to the Old North Burial Ground, PV001. This makes it somewhat unlikely that this is our Caleb Godfrey's wife.
A world-wide web search, instantly and unfortunately turns up disturbing information about another Caleb Godfrey; he was apparently a notorious slave ship captain. On Feb. 23, 2005, the Providence Journal ran a series about the history of a black slave girl known as Priscilla, and her journey on a Caleb Godfrey's slave ship from Seirra Leone to Charlestown, SC in 1755-1756. Godfrey captained the sloop Hare owned by William and Samuel Vernon out of Newport, RI. " On the 10-week voyage, 13 captives died, most of them children. The crew members threw their bodies in the ocean at night".
On the other hand, we find references that clearly indicate this was a distinct individual also called Caleb Godfrey, born in 1706, who lived in Newport, not Providence where most of the Gaspee raiders were from. The Caleb Godfrey of our concern (c1735-1825) is not the one portrayed in the article. From The Green Groves Of Erin genealogical web site we can determine that our Caleb Godfrey was NOT the notorious slave ship Captain Caleb Godfrey of Newport, but possibly was his nephew.
22.214.171.124. John GODFREY b. 31 Jan 1704, m. ABT 1726, Mary GREENE, b. 16 Feb 1706, Warwick, Kent Co., R.I. John died 1752, St. Martin, West Indies.
126.96.36.199.1. John GODFREY b. ABT 17188.8.131.52.3. Caleb GODFREY b. 17 Jul 1706. This is probably Captain Caleb Godfrey, the slave ship captain
184.108.40.206.2. Caleb GODFREY b. ABT 1735. probably OUR Caleb Godfrey that burnt the Gaspee
220.127.116.11.3. Richard GODFREY b. ABT 1736, Providence, Providence Co., R.I., m. Sarah Arnold, b. 13 Feb 1738, Providence, Providence Co., R.I.
18.104.22.168.3.1. John GODFREY b. ABT 1759, Providence, Providence Co., R.I.22.214.171.124.4. Christopher GODFREY b. ABT 1740.
126.96.36.199.3.2. Richard GODFREY b. ABT 1761, Providence, Providence Co., R.I., m. Amy Low, b. ABT 1776.
188.8.131.52.3.3. Christopher GODFREY b. ABT 1763, Providence, Providence Co., R.I., m. Rebecca (Godfrey), b. ABT 1763.
184.108.40.206.3.4. Mary GODFREY b. ABT 1765, Providence, Providence Co., R.I., m. Benjamin Davis, b. ABT 1765.
220.127.116.11.3.5. Elizabeth GODFREY b. ABT 1767, Providence, Providence Co., R.I., m. Benjamin F. Carlisle, b. ABT 1767.
18.104.22.168.5. Capt. James GODFREY b. 1747, d. 29 May 1830.
Per the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the slave-ship captain Caleb Godfrey married an Abigail Prince in 1730 and had a son, Caleb Godrey, Jr, born 15May1732, in Newport, RI, who also is known to have sailed the Caribbean and Florida keys.
Note that our Caleb Godfrey's father, John Godfrey, was also a mariner, and his mother was of THE Greene family of Warwick that also produced Gaspee raider Rufus Greene and his cousin, General Nathanael Greene. A search of AWT on Ancestry.com does suggest a more exact birthdate for our Caleb of 30Nov1737. Note that we find several distinct Caleb Godfreys; his uncle born in 1706, his cousin born in 1732, one in Chatham, Massachusetts born in 1726, one born in North Kingstown, RI c1740 but who died in Adams, MA in 1803, and one that lived on in Providence and was a merchant.
The only other found possible reference to our Caleb Godfrey is a petition for custody in 1823, followed by an administration of a will in 1825. We also see an Notice of Guardianship for Caleb Godfrey by Samuel Pearson in the February 22,1823 edition of the Providence Gazette. His obituary cites Capt. Caleb Godfrey's date of death as 1Aug1825, his age as 89 (therefore born c1735-1736), and his funeral was held at the home of Capt, Samuel Godfrey. From the October 18, 1825 Rhode Island American and Providence Gazette is found a notice from Samuel Godfrey and other heirs of the estate of the late Caleb Godfrey appointing Samuel Pearson as administrator of the estate. This would assumably indicate a blood relationship between Samuel and Caleb Godfrey. What exact relation Caleb Godfrey held to fellow Gaspee raider Samuel Godfrey is still to be elucidated, but the fact that many of the Gaspee raiders were related to each other makes this no surprise. One assumes that Caleb had suffered a mental or physical decline in 1823 that required a petition for custody, followed by his death in 1825. We also see an auction of his worldly goods was held in December 1825 by E. S Sheldon, auctioneer. Unfortunately, no marriage or offspring are found of our Caleb Godfrey in a search of LDS, Whipple, Ancestry.com, or the NEHGS sites.
|The Gaspee Days Committee recognizes Captain Caleb Godfrey as a Gaspee raider, and therefore, a true American patriot.|
|Back to Top | Back to Gaspee Virtual Archives|