Lion Gardiner

Lion Gardiner

(1599-1663)

One of the most unlikely of the colonial leaders, was Englishman Lion Gardiner. Born in England in 1 599, Gardiner’s activities first date from 1635, when he was a military engineer serving with the Dutch army in the Netherlands. There he became acquainted with Puritan ministers such as John Davenport, who wa; one of the founders of New Haven, Connecticut.

That same year, several English Lords planned to establish a new colony at the mouth of the Connecticut River. (The town of Saybrook still stands there today.) The noblemen hired Gardiner to go to the New World as an engineer, and build a fort at the river’s mouth. In return, he was to receive free transportation for his family, and 100 pounds sterling per year.

Gardiner and his wife Mary arrived in Boston late in 1635. Gardiner built a fort at the harbor’s entrance that winter, and in the spring he and his wife journeyed southwest to the mouth of the Connecticut River. Gardiner built a fort there, as promised, and his son David and daughter Mary were the first English children born in what is now Connecticut.

When the Pequot War broke out in 1637, Gardiner and his garrison at the fort came under attack. They fended off the assault, but Gardiner complained to the Puritan leader John Endicott that, “You come hither to raise these wasps about my ears, and then you will take wing and fly away.” This was true enough; the Pequot Indians could not venture to attack Boston or Plymouth, but they could threaten the safety of Gardiner, his family, and his soldiers.

After Gardiner participated in the campaign that destroyed the Pequots in May, 1637, he looked for a safer location. In 1640, he bought an island j off the coast of Long Island from the Indians for ten coats of trading cloth. He and his family moved there in 1641. “”Although he moved to East Hampton, Long Island in 1653, he was best known as the proprietor of what Gardiner’s Island.”

In 1665, after Gardiner’s death, New York Governor Nicoll confirmed David Gardiner as heir to the island. In 1686, Governor Thomas Dongan raised the island to the level of an English manor. The Gardiner family still holds the island, which has the distinction of being the oldest surviving manor in North America.