Caleb Gibbs and Washington's Life Guards

Caleb Gibbs and Washington's Life Guards

During the American Revolution, the need to protect George Washington's life and possessions was no secret.  That duty fell to Caleb Gibbs.

Old-Fashioned Secret Service

When George Washington arrived in Boston in 1775, the Continental Army had been haphazardly assembled.  On top of that, by the following year, most of the soldiers’ enlistments had expired.  Washington was responsible for rebuilding most of the army.

One of the first things the General did was establish the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard.  Also known as Washington’s Life Guards, this group would be responsible for his personal security.  

The Life Guards worked much like the modern day Secret Service.  They would protect Washington while he was on the moved and overseeing battles.  Additionally, the Guards would scout and secure locations before making camp and would protect the perimeter of the General’s headquarters.

As selfish as this may sound, Washington was well aware of his symbolic importance to the Continental Army.  He knew that an assassination of the Commander-in-Chief, no matter who that might be, could destroy the Revolution.

Also like the modern Secret Service, the Life Guards were responsible for the General’s belongings.  This included incoming and outgoing correspondence, maps, intelligence, and money.  Not just Washington’s money…the Continental Army’s money.

Caleb Gibbs

When the orders were given to recruit soldiers for the Life Guard, Washington was very specific in what he was looking for.  Everything from height to, “sobriety, honesty, and good behavior,” where to be considered when recommending men.  Most importantly, “as there is nothing…more desirable, than Cleanliness in a Soldier,” those who made up this outfit needed to be known for well-maintained uniforms and higene.

After reviewing the soldiers who were sent to make up the Guard, one man stood out above the rest.

Caleb Gibbs was a 28-year-old militia captain from Massachusetts.  He had answered the call of his country by responding to the alarms sounded for Lexington and Concord.  Gibbs was a part of the Siege of Boston since day one.

Gibbs was appointed a Major and would serve in this position for the first half of the war.  He was a part of Washington’s inner circle, known as his ‘family.’  Gibbs was later replaced as commander of the Guard, but this seems to be due to a reduction in the size of this outfit and to stay would have meant a demotion in rank.

After Caleb was replaced by William Colfax he continued to serve his country.  Gibbs was injured during the Battle of Yorktown but survived. 

Caleb Gibbs would go on to hold important positions at the Charlestown Naval Yard, a position he was appointed to by Washington himself.  Gibbs would be involved with the construction of many early U.S. Navy ships, most notably the U.S.S. Constitution.


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