Rambles in Colonial Byways – Rufus Rockwell Wilson
Good to look at and pleasant to read are the sketches of old colonial times entitled “Rambles in Colonial Byways.”. In them the author sets forth in pleasing style the result of his observations during a series of leisurely jaunts to various nooks and byways in New England and New York, and along the Hudson, in Pennsylvania and through Washington’s country, the spots visited being such as are memorable for their associations and souvenirs of Colonial and Revolutionary days. Wilson offers a good deal of crious lore about old times and suggestions which will interest a modern visitor, whether it be to the city, the river valleys of the delightful Maryland shores.
Rambles in Colonial Byways
Excerpt from the text:
It is only a short hour’s sail from Greenport on the mainland to the sea-girt domain of Gardiner’s Island, set down, like a giant emerald on a woman’s breast, in the center of the wide bay that cuts deep into Long Island’s eastern end, yet the journey carries one into another world, for Gardiner’s Island was the first founded of the manors of colonial New York, and is the only one of them that has remained intact down to the present time. Not a foot of its soil has ever been owned by any save a Gardiner since it first passed from the possession of the Indians in 1639, nor have time and the years served to impair its quietude and seclusion. It still lies completely undisturbed in the busy track of commerce, a land quite out of reach of those modern aids to restlessness, the newspaper, the mail-bag, the railroad, the telegraph, and the hotel, where one is as completely severed from the rush and clamor of the thing men call civilization as one would be in mid-ocean, while wood and field and century-old manor-house peering out from its cozy nook, each helps to heighten the illusion of age and distance which the island imparts to the visitor, and makes potent and real the pleasing fancy that chance has wafted him for the moment to some placid feudal stronghold of the past.
A resolute, sturdy figure seen through the murk and mist of two hundred and sixty years is that of doughty Lion Gardiner, the first English settler in the province of New York and first lord of the manor of Gardiner’s Island. The name of Lion well became this hardy warrior, whose fighting days began in the time of the first Charles, when he went from England to Holland to serve as lieutenant with the English allies under Lord Vere. There he married a Dutch lady, Mary Willemson, daughter of a “deurcant” in the town of Waerden, and became, so he tells us, “an engineer and master of works of fortification in the legions of the Prince of Orange, in the Low Countries.”
Gardiner might have lived out his days in Holland, but being a friend of the Puritans and of the Parliament, he was engaged in 1635 by Lord Say and Seal, with other nobles and gentry, to go to the new plantation of Connecticut, under John Winthrop, the younger, and to build a fort at the mouth of the river. With his wife he set sail in the “Bachelor,” a barque of twenty-five tons burden, and was three months and ten days on the voyage from Gravesend to Boston, where he was induced to stay long enough to take charge of and complete the military works on Fort Hill, –– those that Jocelyn described later on as mounted with “loud babbling guns.”
Arrived at the mouth of the Connecticut, Gardiner proceeded to construct, amid the greatest difficulties, and with only a few men to aid him, a strong fort of hewn timber, –– with ditch, drawbridge, palisade, and rampart, –– to which he gave the name of Saybrook. This was the first stronghold erected in New England outside of Boston, and there Gardiner dwelt as commander for four years, years of ceaseless labor, of constant anxiety, of ever-present danger, and of active warfare with the Pequots, –– Gardiner himself was severely wounded in one close encounter, –– diversified by efforts to strengthen the plantation and agriculture carried on under the enemy’s fire.
Most men at the end of four years of this sort of hardship would have gladly sought a more peaceful pursuit in life’s crowded places, –– not so with Gardiner, for, when his engagement expired with the lords and gentlemen in whose employ he had come to America, he plunged still farther into the wilderness, purchasing from the Paumanoc Indians, for “ten coats of trading cloath,” Manchonake, or the Isle of Wight, now Gardiner’s Island, sixteen miles distant by water from the nearest settlement of English at Saybrook.
The Indians were Gardiner’s only neighbors in his new home, but, despite the fact that he had been the chief author of the plans which in 1637 resulted in the defeat and almost complete annihilation of the Pequots, he knew how to foster and maintain peaceful relations with the red men. Before going to his island he won the good will of Wyandance, later chief of the Montauks, and the friendship between them, which ended only with the Indian’s death, furnishes the material for one of the noblest chapters in colonial history.
Twice Gardiner foiled conspiracies for a general onslaught on the English by means of the warnings which his firm friend gave him; another time he remained as hostage with the Indians while Wyandance went before the English magistrates, who had demanded that he should discover and give up certain murderers, while on still another occasion, when Ninignet, chief of the Narragansetts, seized and carried off the daughter of Wyandance, on the night of her wedding, Gardiner succeeded in ransoming and restoring her to the father. The sachem rewarded this last act of friendship by the gift to Gardiner of a large tract of land on the north shore of Long Island, and when he died left his son to the guardianship of Lion and his son David. Indeed, a singularly beneficent one was this friendship between the white man and the red. They acted in concert with entire mutual trust, keeping the Long Island tribes on peaceful terms with the English by swift and severe measures in case of wrong-doing, tempered with diplomacy and with justice to both sides.
For thirteen years Gardiner remained on the island which bears his name. Here he exerted his good influence unmolested by the savages about him, at the same time developing his territory and deriving an income from the off-shore whale-fishery, which then flourished about the eastern end of Long Island. In 1653, leaving the island to the care of the old soldiers whom he had brought from the fort as farmers, he took up his residence in East Hampton, where he had bought much land and where he died in 1663, at the age of sixty-four. No one knows the place of his sepulture, but in the older East Hampton Cemetery, among the graves of many Gardiners, may be seen two very ancient flat posts of “drift cedar” sunk deep in the soil and joined together by a rail of the same material, about the normal length of a man. Under this rude memorial, it has been surmised, rests the body of Lion Gardiner. When the time comes to rear a monument to the ideal First Settler here is the spot where it should be placed.
When Lion Gardiner died his island passed to his wife, who at her death left it to their son David “in tail” to his first male heir, and the first heirs male following, forever. David, in leaving it to his eldest son, re-expressed the entail, and the estate descended from father to son for more than a hundred and fifty years until, in 1829, by the death of the eighth proprietor without issue, it passed to his younger brother, in the hands of whose descendants it has ever since remained.
Lion Gardiner’s title to the island derived from the Indians was confirmed by a grant from the agent of the Earl of Stirling, who held a royal patent for an immense slice of territory, in which the island was embraced, –– a grant which allowed Gardiner to make and execute such laws as he pleased for church and civil government on his own land, if according to God and the king, “without giving any account thereof to any one whomsoever;” and David Gardiner, although he duly and formally acknowledged his submission to New York, received from Governor Nicholls a renewal of these privileges, the consideration being five pounds in hand and a yearly rental to the same amount. Each royal governor who came out to New York after Nicholls’s day levied a charge of five pounds for issuing a new patent confirming the older ones, but in 1686 Governor Dongan, for a handsome sum paid down, gave David Gardiner a patent which created the island a lordship and manor, agreeing that the king would thenceforth accept, in lieu of all other tribute, one ewe lamb on the first of May in each year.
John Gardiner, third lord of the island, aside from several memorable visits from Captain Kidd, of which more in another place, was much annoyed by pirates, and occasionally fared badly at their hands. Twice they ransacked his house, carrying off his plate and cattle, and once they beat him with swords and tied him to a tree, while they searched for the money which they believed he had concealed somewhere about the manor. Then for a long time Gardiner’s Island was a country without a history, but in the first year of the Revolution it was plundered by the British of its droves of cattle and sheep, which went to feed the troops of General Gage encamped at Boston; a patriot committee seized the rest of the stock, paying for it in Continental money, and the officers and men of the royal fleet, which during the winter of 1781 lay at anchor in the neighboring bay, plundered and marauded so effectively that when the war ended there remained on the island hardly enough personal property to pay arrears of taxes. However, John Lyon Gardiner, seventh proprietor and an able man of affairs, held the estate together and restored its prosperity, and ever since his death its history has been one of peace and contentment. Time was when the lords of the island derived a considerable revenue from whaling and the culture of maize, but in later years the estate has been devoted to farming, sheep-raising, and stockbreeding, the sea being resorted to only for such fish, clams, and lobsters as may supply the daily needs of the inhabitants.