Princess Heather Flower and the Land Grab

Written By: Heather Miller

Princess Heather Flower and the Land Grab A True Story By Heather Miller I would like to say that my East End roots go back about 400 years, so I’ll go ahead and do that. After all, it’s perfectly true. Especially if you regard, as I do, illegitimate heirs to be as legitimate as legitimate ones. My ancestor Richard Bull Smith alighted in Southampton around 1640. He’d arrived in Massachusetts several years earlier. He was no pilgrim soul with a dream and a prayer. He was a pragmatic man of means, the son of a wealthy armigerous family. He had come to the New World in search of land and lots of it. In spite of his wealth, he’d been kicked out of every hyper-religious community he set foot in in Massachusetts. His pilgrim’s progress tracked southward through Massachusetts and Rhode Island. And that is how, after five years of being a rich misfit, expelled from this village and then that town, he boarded a ship for the Hamptons. I like to imagine him, a sort of 17th Century Owen Wilson, arriving in town. His popularity was immediate. By 1653, he was the leader of the first squadron of Southampton. That was a big deal back then, a mark of wealth and stature. The rights to carving up beached whales were shared by four wards in Southampton. A squadron leader had direct access to the enormous wealth the whale represented. Smith seems to have had a keen eye for making powerful friends. He became close friends with Lion Gardiner who had moved off his eponymous island to live in East Hampton during a time of constant raids from the Narragansett and Pequot Indians. Lion Gardiner wasn’t the only one who’d moved inland as a result of the raids. Chief Wyandanch, the leader of The Montauketts, had also moved his tribe off the peninsula to East Hampton. He regarded the English, in general, and Gardiner, in particular, as friends. Gardiner had taken the trouble of learning the Montaukett’s language. It isn’t clear if Wyandanch was fatally naïve in trusting Gardiner as much as he did or if he was merely desperate. Between the raids and diseases, the Montauketts’ numbers were dwindling. Wyandanch bore the title of Grand Sachem of all Long Island Indian tribes, but it was a title given him, not by his fellow tribes, but by the English settlers who now lived in his ancestral territory. At the time, the English on the East End followed a policy of indirect rule through manipulation of local tribes. By elevating their friend Chief Wyandanch and keeping him under their protection, Gardiner and the other leading Englishmen in the Hamptons empowered Wyandanch to sell not only his own tribe’s lands, but lands belonging to other tribes across the island. The Narragansetts had begged Wyandanch to join them in overthrowing the English settlers on both Long Island and in Connecticut. But Wyandanch’s loyalty to the English was total. He even alerted Gardiner to the Narragansetts’ plans. And that put a full stop to them. One of the consequences of Wyandanch’s pro-English stance is that my ancestor became the patentee of Smithtown. When I was a little girl, I was told the traditional legend about Richard Smith ; that he was an extraordinarily accomplished bull rider. The local tribe, not knowing this, laughingly offered him all the land he could ride his bull around. And then, he rode the bull a distance of thirty miles, across the area that is now Smithtown. That legend of course is fiction. The real story behind all that land involves the daughter of Chief Wyandanch, a girl named Princess Momone or as she was also known, since the Montaukets had several names, Heather Flower. Today the name “Heather “ is associated with suburban, blond and bland, mean, girls, or worse. It’s refreshing to note that the name was once given to a Native American princess in honor of the purple wildflowers that border the banks of Georgica Pond and Mecox Bay. Gratifying too, to learn that Hither Hills Park in Montauk was originally called Heather Hills—a name given to it by the Montaukets who must have loved the purple wildflowers very much. It’s a gratifying thought, especially if, like me, you are named Heather. Princess Heather Flower was betrothed to her true love, a young Montaukett. Her wedding was the social event of 1653. Everyone who was anyone was there, including the leaders of the English settlement, which included Lion Gardiner and Richard Smith. With so many festivities to arrange and smaller and smaller numbers of Montauketts to carry them out, it is understandable that security was somewhat overlooked. In 1653, Chief Wyandanch had a reasonable right to believe that a wedding planned quietly on the East End of Long Island would not have the details of location and date leaked to people he would just as soon not have in attendance. Namely the Narragansetts. In this, as in so many things, his trusting nature failed him. Picture the scene. A perfect summer’s evening on East Hampton. Princess Heather Flower is dressed to the nines. Her husband to be is surrounded by his groomsmen, his dearest friends from childhood. The ceremony is underway in the moonlight. And silently, silently the Narragansetts are kayaking across Long Island Sound. Fast. And they haven’t brought wedding presents. They’ve brought hatchets. It was a bloodbath. The Narragansetts slaughtered the groom and every one of his groomsmen Then they grabbed Princess Momone and stuck her in one of their boats. As quickly as they’d come, they kayaked back to Connecticut. Historians try to explain what happens next, but it has never really made sense to me. One man and only one man could help bring Princess Heather Flower back to her father. That man was Lion Gardiner. Chief Wyandanch had lost all power, it seems, to negotiate on his own behalf. Or perhaps, he simply did not have the money needed for his daughter’s ransom. He turned to Lion Gardiner for help. According to some accounts, it took as long as three years before Gardiner succeeded in gaining Heather Flower’s release. One of the many things that troubles me about this part of the story is: If Gardiner was so powerful, why did it take him so long to free the princess? By the time Heather Flower was released, she had become a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome. She refused to set foot in a kayak bound for Montauk, unless her new love interest, a well-born Narragansett, came too, as her husband. You can imagine her father, Wyandanch, being counseled by Gardiner that ultimately it would be a match to ensure the peace between the tribes. Wyandanch must have loved his daughter very much. Not only did he agree to welcome her daughter’s captor as his son in law—but his gratitude for her return was so immense that he made a gift of vast tracts of land to Gardiner in thanks for it. At least , that’s what the deed transfer says, years and years after the girl’s release, in the words attributed to Wyandanch which sound, according to historians, awfully like words that Gardiner may have written for him. In earlier land transactions, Gardiner had paid Wyandanch for giving up all rights to his tribe’s land forever. In this transaction, Wyandanch parts with thirty miles of land just as a gift, as an act of friendship, in thanks for his daughter’s rescue from years before. As the local tribe in the area that had been given away took pains to point out, it wasn’t Wyandanch’s land to give. But it didn’t matter. The English had established Wyandanch as the Grand Sachem of all tribes on Long Island. With that authority established, the land transfer was legitimate. A few years later, just before his death, Lion Gardiner quietly sold the land to my ancestor Richard Smith. And that was the end of my family’s sojourn in the Hamptons for many years. Our departure was not by choice. Richard Smith had done it again. He had failed to take off his hat in deference to an elder and better. The folks in Southampton had had enough of his attitude. He was ordered to leave on his own will or have the Sherriff escort him out. Upon purchasing the large tract of land from Gardiner, Smith promptly named the region Smithfield. He would spend the rest of his life pursuing long and determined law suits to deny any claimants to the land but him and his heirs. He succeeded. I don’t mean to be critical of my ancestor. He was an ambitious man. A striver. What could be more Hamptons-esque? But it is a little curious how neatly things worked out for Lion Gardiner and Richard Smith in this chapter of East End history. And so I wonder, who leaked the details of Heather Flower’s wedding to the Narragansetts?