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The Story of Captain Thomas Callender

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Location: Philadelphia, PAmap
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Finding documentation of Thomas Callender's roots or connections to the Callender family in Scotland has proven difficult.

Family lore says our ancestor Thomas Callender was a Philadelphia sea merchant killed during the Revolutionary War. But, a closer analysis of various records reveals there's much more to be told. Thomas was the grandfather of Richard Price (Richard's mother Ann Callender has a recent but sparse profile; more research needed to meet protocols).

Family History During the American Revolution
(from Colonial Families of Philadelphia, Vol II)
Capt. Thomas Callender, father of Ann (Callender) Price, and grandfather of the above-named children [our ancestor Richard Price being one], was born in Scotland, and at sixteen ran away from home. He engaged with the captain of a ship sailing for America, and came to Philadelphia. He later followed the sea as captain of a merchant ship, and during the Revolutionary War, obtained Letters of Marque from Congress and fitted out his vessel as a privateer. Meeting with a British man-of-war and refusing to strike his colors, his vessel was fired upon, and he lost his life in the engagement which followed. Captain Callender had married in Philadelphia, Margaret Rourke, prior to going to sea as Captain of the privateer. He removed his family, a colored slave, and his furniture, to Quakertown, Bucks county, intending to bring them back to Philadelphia on his return. When the British took possession of Philadelphia, all the remaining property of Captain Callender was destroyed.

After the evacuation of the city by the British Army, Mrs. Callender returned to Philadelphia, and resided for many years in the family of Joseph Price, whose son her daughter later married, and where she died. She was remembered by her grandchildren as a very handsome woman, with beautiful hands and feet, who, at seventy years of age, embroidered beautifully without the use of glasses.

Verifying the Story of Thomas Callender
Research is needed to verify some details in the above Colonial Families account of Thomas Callender.

For instance, genealogy researchers have been unable to find documentation of the British capturing the Alfred. There is, however, documentation of the capture of Thomas Callender's ship the Alfred by an American privateer. Numerous reports in papers during the times provide the following details:

  • The Alfred was listed under Master Thomas Callender as captured by patriot privateer Retaliation under Capt. Giles on October 10, 1776 in the Atlantic somewhere midway between the coast of Maine and London.
  • The Alfred was said by some reports to be among many ships in a convoy en route from Jamaica to London.
  • The cargo of sugar, rum, fostick, and mahogany was auctioned off in Boston when the ship arrived to be "cleared" for sale. [Some reports give dates that suggest some ships reported were not in a convoy.]
  • When the ship Alfred was offered up for sale it was reported that William Bradford had held off buying due to a concern it had not been cleared by owners in Philadelphia. It's not known if the ship was returned to surviving part-owners in Philadelphia (possibly because it was renamed).
  • Alfred disambiguation: Callender's Alfred can be confused with the Man of War Alfred. This different ship was outfitted in Philadelphia in November 1775 by American patriots for use as one of a limited number of ships in the newly created navy. The Man of War Alfred was active in the Battle of Block Island, considered to be the first naval engagement in the American Revolution.

The inconsistencies between the only documented family lore and all other discovered documentation can be explained in a number of ways. Until more evidence is found, it is impossible to know which of these possibilities is the reality. A) Callender was Carrying on Neutral Trade and Killed by American Privateers During Capture. B) Callender was a Letter of Marque Holder, Killed by British, with his Ship Captured Prior to October 1776, and then Recaptured October 10, 1776.

Callender had been engaging in cross-Atlantic trade since as early as 1754. During a period between 1763 and 1775 he served as master for at least six different ships with Caribbean Passes issued by the crown. It's important to note that Caribbean Passes are protective documents issued by the King to protect against harassment from West Indies buccaneers and French privateers. These are not "Letters of Marque" issued during a Revolution, designed to contract for some percentage of the spoils when taking prizes. Numerous reports can be found in old newspapers showing that Callender (a) was involved in constant trade between Jamaica, Philadelphia, and Liverpool, with arrivals and departures reported regularly between 1754 and 1772, and (b) was frequently the victim of privateer attacks prior to the American Revolution. In 1757, his ship Lark was taken by the French and he was peacefully released, returning home via Dunkirk to St. Christophers, to start up with a new ship the Rebecca. On his return he reports of numerous English ships taken with losing all crew on board. In 1758, the Rebecca, en route to Jamaica, was boarded by French attackers and his crew succeeded at fighting them off. Despite evidence that he was no stranger to seafaring violence, there is no record of him being involved in the taking of any "prizes." While it is true that there were thousands of takings by both sides and only a small number of accounts were ever fully reported in the press, there is a pattern that suggest Callender was more involved in continued trade than active privateering.

His last known ship was the Alfred, which received a Caribbean Pass on March 3, 1775. Local Philadelphians may have heard a ship named The Alfred out of Philadelphia had been assigned for naval duty, misunderstanding that it was not Callender's Alfred; this one had previously been named the Black Prince.

Documentation that the Callender family was moved out of Philadelphia with the home being destroyed does not prove which side they were on. Thomas was known to have a son Thomas at age one in 1776 who has been found in the census for Harford, MD with a Robert Callender, who may have been the grandfather. This adds to confusion because Ann is not named in the census and Harford, MD and Quakertown, PA are each about 60 miles in opposite directions from Philadelphia.

Coming to a full conclusion on the true circumstances of Thomas Callender are made most unfulfilled by the absence of ANY consistent record of his death. His death has been reported in only one source (the Colonial Families). Despite the presence of considerable Philadelphia assets and the reliable record-keeping in the City, no will has been found and there has been no record of former property changing hands.

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