The Mysterious Demise of Commodore Colt
He “died in the Hotel Punta Gorda,” posted the Scranton Republican on January 23, 1894.
“Caldwell Colt was the richest bachelor in America and he was also the youngest capitalist … his age was only 35 and he leaves millions,” printed the Scranton Republican four days later.
Who was Caldwell Colt?
“Collie” was the son of Samuel and Elizabeth Colt, of gun fame. He was just three-years-old when his father died and was their only child to survive to adulthood. He was his widowed mother’s comfort and she lavished upon him every favor her immense wealth could buy.
Based on his passport description, at age 18 he was just ½ inch shy of 6-feet-tall with light brown hair and blue eyes, a long face, pointy chin and roman nose.
In 1879, at age 21, he designed the Colt double-barrel rifle, but the family firearms business was of absolutely no interest to him. His proudest accomplishment was being Commodore of the Larchmont Yacht Club in New York.
Collie got his first yacht when he was 18 and collected four more. It was said he spent 10 months out of the year sailing throughout the world. In a transatlantic competition on his schooner Dauntless, he and his crew ran out of drinking water but survived on champagne and wine! Perhaps that’s why he was was described rather unkindly by biographer William Hosley as “a stereotypical icon of foppish indulgence.” He maintained his ketch, Oriole, in Charlotte Harbor year-round.
A worldly hedonist
He is described as a “hedonist who delighted in bringing pleasure to others” by Chester Brown and Marguerite Albro in their book Church of the Good Shepherd: The First Hundred Years. Caldwell Colt was a world-wide voyager and a sportsman. He was eulogized by Stanley Ogilivy of the Larchmont Yacht Club:
He has carried his flag with credit to himself and honor to his country in many seas. He was the master of his own vessel and never feared to face danger, never hesitated to embark in a race … he was ever a thorough seaman, a gallant yachtsman, and a true sportsman … In the private relations of life his loss will be felt and deplored by many men in many countries. He had traveled widely, and wherever he had gone he had never failed to win devoted and admiring friends. Always courteous, always generous, always mindful of the comfort and pleasure of others, it is not strange that he earned and kept the affectionate regard of all with whom he came into contact. It can be truly said of him that to him was to love him and the longer and better he was known, the more he was beloved.
How did he die?
What happened to the celebrated-playboy-bachelor-millionaire-yachtsman on the evening of Saturday, January 21, 1894 in Punta Gorda?
- The Fort Myers News-Press reported “he drowned under mysterious circumstances in Charlotte Harbor when he fell from a yacht.”
- The World in New York on Monday, January 22, 1894, reported he died of heart disease after a hunting trip with his friend Will Henn.
- The Detroit Free Press reported his death “was caused by malignant tonsillitis, occasioned primarily by the smoking of cigarettes.”
- The Hartford Daily Courant commented on rumors he had committed suicide. “We have heard a rumor has been started at the north that Colt killed himself. This is absurd and pure fabrication. If it be published it will grieve Mrs. Colt very much and ought to be promptly denied.”
- The salacious gossip on the streets suggested Caldwell was killed by a jealous husband.
To this day we don’t know the true cause of Caldwell Colt’s death, and we probably never will.
Hear more about Commodore Colt on our Haunted History of Punta Gorda Walking Tour.
Sources: Our Fascinating Past – Charlotte Harbor: Early Years by Lindsey Williams and U.S. Cleveland; Church of the Good Shepherd: The First Hundred Years by Chester Baum and Marguerite Albro; Newspapers.com; Ancestry.com; Wikipedia
Commodore Colt’s illustrated portrait was imagined by Simona Molino of Janas Studio Artistico in Italy. Janas is a fairy whose magic flights take her to starry skies and silvery seas. She inspires Simona’s fantasy artwork of memorable characters illustrated in rich colors and scrupulous detail.
Christiane Belle Tremblay
Commodore Colt’s painted portrait was created by a local artist. Originally from Verdun, France, this adventurous lady moved to the US at a young age and lived in Boston for many years before moving to Port Charlotte in 1990.