- Historic Sites
To The Manor Born
In 1639 an Englishman named Lion Gardiner singled out a piece of the New World and removed his family thereto—his very own island off the Connecticut coast. And despite invasions of pirates, treasure hunters, and British soldiers, Gardiners Island has remained in the hands of that family ever since. Because of Lion’s shrewd investment his descendants have indeed been
October 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 6
Never once, however, did Gardiner or later settlers have to employ arms against the local Indians. They helped him with the tilling, and he continued to befriend them. On the other hand, the Narragansets did their best to foment trouble. In one raid they took Wyandance’s daughter Momone prisoner on her wedding night, but Gardiner intervened through his friends in Boston and ransomed her. Thereupon Wyandance, now an old man and the grand sachem of Pommanocc, or Long Island, in gratitude for “his love, care and charge,” deeded Gardiner “a small tract of land” plus “one-half of all the whales or other great fish cast up on the beach from Napeake eastward to the end of the Island,” all for the sum of ten pounds annually for ten years. Wyandance’s gift, amounting to some forty thousand acres in Suffolk County, made Gardiner one of the largest landholders in North America. Unhappily the sachem was murdered shortly thereafter, allegedly poisoned by the Narragansets, causing Lion in his grief to write: “My friend and brother is dead. Who will now do the like?”
Gardiner also bought thousands of acres in other parts of the south shore. He was one of a group acquiring thirty thousand acres for the settlement of East Hampton, where, in 1653, after spending fourteen years on his Isle of Wight, he moved his family. There he died in 1663 at the age of sixty-four.
His son David could not have been more of an opposite. In his youth a fop and ne’er-do-well who wasted a good deal of his patrimony on high living in London, he so angered his father as to be disinherited. His mother, however, later left the island to him in her will. Eventually he returned and settled down as a farmer in Southold. He sold to Richard Smith the land that became Smithtown. Despite his wealth, his was a bitter, undistinguished life, full of dislike for the Indians and fondness for the rum bottle. Yet he did have the sense to protect his father’s patent after the Dutch surrendered Long Island to James, Duke of York. The first English governor, Thomas Dongan, consented in 1686 to draw up a third and final deed establishing “the Lordshipp and Mannor of Gardiner’s Island,” the name David preferred. But in 1688, the year before David’s death, the manor was annexed to East Hampton by the Assembly of New York and subjected to assessment for property taxes.
After David came John, a huge, salty reincarnation of his grandfather, who loved drink, Indian girls, and his land in equal measure. A servant, once asked to describe his character, replied: “On the main he might pass for a good man but on the island he was a devilish rogue.” The Indians called him Ginese, “the tall or powerful one.” He employed them to kill whales in the Atlantic and to till his corn, adding greatly to his wealth.
It was fortunate for the Gardiners’ survival that such a robust, fearless chieftain held sway during the heyday of piracy along the Atlantic coast. Many of the freebooters were fitted out by double-dealing, rich New York merchants. It was inevitable that Gardiners Island, given its convenient location between Boston and New York, its accessible beaches and concealed coves, would serve as an excellent pirate hide-out.
In the summer of 1699 an emissary came to John Gardiner with a mysterious tale about one William Kidd and his sloop, the San Antonio . Kidd, a member of Trinity Church in New York, then had the reputation of being a gentleman as well as a trustworthy merchant, sea captain, and privateer. Privateering, when sanctioned by the authorities, was considered a legal form of piracy on the high seas. Kidd had received a royal commission to arrest all unauthorized pirates and to prey mainly on French shipping in the Indian Ocean. But unbeknownst to Gardiner, Kidd had run afoul of the company of nobles that had backed his expedition, including the Earl of Bellomont, governor of the provinces of Massachusetts Bay, New York, and New Hampshire. Off the coast of Madagascar Kidd had captured the Quedagh Merchant , a ship belonging to the Great Mogul, and expropriated her rich cargo. His excuse was that he would be forgiven for plundering the vessel of an ally if it served to bring home plenty of gold to his impecunious king, William III. But his patrons, to free themselves from a charge of complicity, decided he must be made the scapegoat and proclaimed him a pirate. Now Kidd lay in wait near Block Island in the San Antonio , convinced of his innocence yet not daring to face Bellomont in Boston until he had obtained a pardon from the king. Soon he anchored at Gardiners Island, inviting John aboard and impressing him with charm and friendliness. Captain Kidd explained he was in need of a few supplies—six sheep and a barrel of cider would suffice—and he gave the proprietor a cloth of gold from the dowry of the mogul’s daughter as a gift for Mrs. Gardiner.