- 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
Three sloops were observed at rendezvous in the bay and taking chests off the San Antonio , evidence subsequently that Kidd had arranged to divide the spoils. After a few days Kidd requested permission to leave on shore four bales of cloth, a bundle of quilts, a chest, and a box of gold. Gardiner permitted him to bury all of it in a swamp between the manor house and Bostwick Point. To keep Gardiner honest, Kidd issued a chilling warning: “If I call for it and it is gone, I will take your head or your son’s”; with that he sailed away, never to return. Apparently he had changed his mind and decided to risk the wrath of Bellomont, for he made for Boston but was quickly jailed.
During his investigation of Kidd’s exploits the governor uncovered the story of his visit to Gardiners Island and summoned its proprietor to Boston along with the treasure. There was a great discrepancy between the list Kidd had given to Gardiner and the goods returned, giving rise to doubts as to whether Gardiner was telling the whole truth. Admittedly John had overlooked a small chest containing rare stones, but Bellomont could prove no intent to defraud.
On his return home John was horrified to learn that his wife had been harassed by one of Kidd’s accomplices. James Gillam, who had escaped from custody in Boston, wanted the gold and jewels he himself had deposited on the island, but Mary Gardiner somehow inveigled him to leave empty-handed. The ruffian threatened: “I will be the downfall of Gardiner even if it takes twenty years. …” The goods Gardiner gave back to the Crown were valued at thirty thousand dollars, yet most of the treasure was never accounted for, except for one item. The family still tells the story that when John Gardiner unpacked his portmanteau, a large diamond rolled out on the floor. Mary seized it, declaring she would keep it as recompense for all the trouble she had suffered, ft remained a valued heirloom for several generations. Gillam was never able to carry out his threat, and the unfortunate Kidd was hanged in London in 1701, not for piracy but for having killed a mutinous member of his crew.
There were other piratical forays. At dusk in September, 1728, two squaws reported a schooner mounting six guns at anchor. John laughed it off with the remark that the Indians couldn’t tell a schooner from a canoe; but under cover of night there landed some eighty buccaneers, a motley lot of Spaniards, French, and mulattos. Because old John was too ill to leave his bed, his Indian steward gathered up the women and children and transported them safely to the south shore in his canoe. The pirates plundered the manor house, breaking up the furniture and taking all of the family silver. Enraged because Gardiner’s money was in East Hampton, they gashed him with their cutlasses. For several days they continued their depredations, removing to their vessel everything they could carry. Word finally reached Rhode Island, and two boats with a hundred and forty men set out in pursuit. But the pirates escaped, leaving Gardiner tied to a mulberry tree yet far from dead.
At last John was left in peace. Every inch the lord, he outlasted three wives and was married to a fourth in his seventy-second year. Once he complained that his third wife, Elizabeth Allen, who was called the “up-river woman” from Hartford, had been a mistake, declaring that “I would as lief lie with a bag of carpenter’s tools.” At the age of seventy-seven, while visiting his son in Groton, Gonnecticut, he died after a fall from a spirited horse.
The ownership of the island alternated from Davids to Johns for eight generations. There was serenity and prosperity until the Revolution erupted. John’s heirs were gentlemen farmers who maintained careful accounts of their stewardship in large calfskin ledgers and continued to add to their Long Island holdings. David, the fourth lord, entailed the island, his will providing that his eldest son inherit it, “to continue in a lineal descent of the male line of my family to the end of time.” The fifth proprietor, John, and his son both attended Yale College. Indolent and a spendthrift, this John is remembered for abolishing the chaplaincy that Lion had established on the island; John was angry because his daughter had eloped with the young minister. David Gardiner, the sixth proprietor, after settling his father’s debts, built the fourth and most imposing manor house, which survived until 1947.