In Homage

By all accounts Lion Gardiner was a powerful presence, both in his physical appearance (over 6’ tall and flaming red beard), and his courageous wisdom. A British engineer, he arrived in Connecticut in 1635 with a commission to build a fort. Despite the hard and dangerous work, and in the midst of warfare with the Pequot Indians, he constructed a strong fortification which he named Saybrook. Settling in New York in 1639, he bought an island from the Montaukett Indians in exchange for a few bottles of rum, ten cloth coats, a gun and a dog. Located 3 miles off the shore of East Hampton, he named it the Isle of Wight, now known as Gardiner’s Island—the oldest English settlement in New York. Quite extraordinary for the time, Lion and Wyandance, the Montaukett sachem, remained loyal and steadfast friends their entire lives. For nearly four hundred years the island has fascinated historians as well as those interested in the tales of its influential inhabitants. The unshakeable principles of this first settler of New York are well documented. For example, dire consequences would have befallen the accused in the East Hampton witch trial that took place in 1658 had it not been for Lion Gardiner’s unbiased intervention. Lion’s daughter Elizabeth accused the quarrelsome Goody Garlick, a former island tenant, of making her ill through witchcraft. This was just the excuse the townsfolk needed to vent their dislike of Goodwife Garlick, by accusing her not only of Elizabeth’s illness and subsequent death, but holding her responsible for accidents, injuries, the death of wild stock, and whatever else they could come up with. The town tribunal could not decide her fate and it’s said Goody was about to be held underwater in the Town Pond to see if she would drown when Lion stepped in. His intercession prompted the transfer of her case to the Higher Court in Hartford and his testimony that his daughter’s illness and death were not the result of an evil spell resulted in a verdict of not guilty. Indian attacks on English settlements and intertribal wars were a constant threat in Lion’s time. In an attempt to solve the Indian problem, in1660 he wrote Relation of the Pequot Warrs. The republished version of the manuscript in 1901 by the Acorn Club includes in its introduction the best description of him that I have come across: “The character of Lion Gardiner is brought out with charming distinctness in the Relation. Common sense, splendid courage, the severity and grim humor of the soldier, love of justice and honesty in all things with all men – even Indians, — and the sturdy independence of the best type of liberal Puritan, are qualities one can be sure the commander of Saybrook Fort possessed.” Lion’s son David inherited the island and it was during his proprietorship in 1686 that New York Governor Dongan granted the title of lordship, declaring it shall “henceforth be called The Lordship and Manor of Gardiner’s Island.” It was David’s son John who was Lord of the Manor when the island was visited by the infamous Captain Kidd. Kidd, a renowned privateer, arrived in New York in 1691 when he was 37 years old. Soon after his arrival, he married a wealthy widow, becoming one of its most influential gentlemen. It was during a trip to London to seek a commission in the Royal Navy that Kidd fortuitously met with Robert Livingston, a rich New York merchant. Livingston asked the Earl of Bellomont to obtain backing from King William for Kidd to go after pirates. Due to England’s burden of its war with France, the King declined, leaving Livingston and Bellomont to back the undertaking themselves, with additional financing from other nobles. The King, relieved of any financial obligation, generously gave the venture his official blessing in January of 1696. Kidd was outfitted with a new ship, the Adventure Galley, and a hand-picked crew. Unfortunately, his most competent crewmen were drafted into the Royal Navy in retaliation for failing to respectfully furl their topsails and dip their flags when passing English vessels. When the ship arrived in New York, Kidd replaced his lost crew with the only men then available, most of whom were criminals. From Madagascar, to the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, through the Arabian Sea, Kidd failed to capture any pirates. His men who hadn’t succumbed to cholera, were sick with scurvy and other diseases and, employed on a “no prey, no pay” basis, were frustrated with the illustrious captain. As a result, the crew attempted mutiny. After the attempted mutiny, Kidd began to go after ships – indiscriminately. He captured small merchant ships and the large, rich Indian ship, the Quedah Merchant. On his journey home he heard through the port-to-port grapevine that he had been declared a pirate by the English government. Afraid to land in New York Harbor, he sailed into the safer port of Oyster Bay and sent messages to his lawyer and his wife to meet him at Block Island. From there his schooner anchored offshore Gardiner’s Island. For two days Lord John saw the strange schooner anchored nearby. Fearless like his grandfather Lion, he went to investigate. The Captain invited him aboard, and in a spirit of bonhomie, introductions were exchanged whereupon Kidd requested some supplies. Lord John returned with the requested provisions for which Kidd gave him gold cloth in appreciation. Kidd then left for Block Island where he was informed that a pardon was possible and he was to go to Boston to face Bellomont, now Governor of New York. Before leaving, he returned to Gardiner’s Island and left chests with 100£ of gold and silver and valuable spices and fine cloth in Lord John’s safekeeping (a remnant of gold cloth can be seen in the East Hampton Library). Kidd’s spirit of good will was now replaced with a threatening warning to Lord John that his bounty better be there when he came for them or he would take his head as well as his son’s. For safekeeping, Lord John chose Cherry Harbor to hide the treasure, later memorialized by a small stone marker. In Boston, Kidd’s pardon was refused, he was arrested, and Bellomont wrote to John Gardiner for the return of the treasure. Lord John, being a faithful subject and innocent of any foul play, went to his hiding place and uncovered his precious cache. He then set sail for Boston where he returned the ill-gotten treasure. Kidd, returned to England, was confined to the infamous Newgate Prison. Throughout the trial he declared his innocence, stating that he was forced to piracy by his mutinous crew. Nonetheless, a guilty verdict was rendered and in 1701 he was carted through London to Execution Dock whereby he was hung and later tarred and strung up to a pole. It is said he hung over the Thames until there was nothing left of him. Years later Lord John Gardiner was again invaded by pirates who ransacked his house and stole his cattle. When he was 67, a band of Spanish pirates came ashore and not only ransacked the manor and stole whatever they wanted, but tied Lord John to a mulberry tree where he was beaten and cut by the pirates’ swords. For 250 years the island was a prosperous self-sustaining plantation. It survived Indian wars, pirate attacks, and occupation by British forces during the Revolutionary War, after which it was brought under East Hampton Town jurisdiction. The island has remained in the Gardiner family — soldiers, surgeons, a senator… farmers, financiers, a First Lady. Today it is an idyllic refuge seemingly worlds apart from the crowded East End of Long Island. It is not without great care and expense that the nearly 3350 acres are unspoiled, with verdant woods of chestnut, cherry, willows and white oaks. The luscious landscape provides a safe haven to wild deer, turkeys and a variety bird species including the largest colony of ospreys in North America. To keep its environment pure, the island is not open to visitors. One can only imagine this beautiful, protected preserve. Sources: Relation of the Pequot Warres (1660) Lion Gardiner, republished, W.N. Chattin Carlton, Acorn Club of Canada (1901); Transcript from magazine article by George Parsons Lathrop, published in 1885 (magazine unknown); Richard Zacks, The Pirate Hunter (Hyperion, 2002); Steven Gaines Philistines at the Hedgerow (Little Brown 1998); Long Island Genealogy, “Pirates and Prohibition,” excerpted from East Hampton History by Jeanette Edwards Rattroy, copyright 1953, Long Island Genealogy.com; Captain Kidd.org, History, Kidd’s Examination, Trial and Execution; John Hanc; Smithsonian.org, Before Salem, There Was The Not-So-Wicked Witch of The Hamptons; Debating the Future of Gardiners Island, John Rather (New York Times, 2004).