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Friday, May 19, 2017

Colonial New York Laws: David Gardiner, Eius Liber (1726)

(The following guest post is by our colleague Claire Stuckey, who has been doing terrific work to catalog our rare state law collection.  Some of these rare volumes date to the early colonial period, while others cover early state laws for those that achieved statehood later.) 

While cataloging a book for our rare collection, I found a bookplate and an inscription that led me to do some investigating, and I discovered a fascinating back story. I can’t confirm that the story is definitely related to the book we own, but it seems quite likely and is worth sharing.

The book in question is Actsof Assembly Passed in the Province of New-York, from 1691, to 1725, printed and sold by William Bradford, printer to the King’s most Excellent Majesty for the province of New-York, in 1726.  Bradford was the first printer in New York, and one of the earliest in the American colonies.  Benjamin Franklin sought employment from him, and an apprentice in his shop was John Peter Zenger.

At the front of this important volume of New York laws is an interesting bookplate. Although I was not able to identify the family crest as from the Gardiner family (discussed below), a single lion depicted on it may indicate Scotland. Sub cruce salus, the motto on the crest, is Latin for “salvation under the cross.” If anyone is able to discover more information on this crest, I would be very interested!

I had better luck with an inscription in the book: “David Gardiner, Ejus Liber 1726.” (Ejus liber means his book in Latin.) The date of the inscription, and the fact that the book is of New York laws, would fit with the book being the former property of a notable New York landholder, David Gardiner (1691-1751). The abbreviation, Esq., follows his name on his tombstone. According to a genealogical site, he was said to be a gentleman; a good farmer who kept about two hundred head of cattle, forty horses, and three thousand sheep; and a hunter who supposedly killed 365 wild ducks and sixty-five wild geese in one year. Most interestingly, he was the fourth proprietor of Gardiner’s Island and the first to be buried there.

Gardiner’s Island is a small island off of East Hampton, New York, which was granted in 1639 by King Charles I to David’s great-grandfather, Lion Gardiner (1599-1663). The island is still owned by the Gardiner family, and is the only American real estate still intact as part of an original royal grant. Lion also purchased the island from the Montaukett tribe, bartering a large black dog, blankets, a gun, powder, and shot. Lion and Wyandanch (1615-1658), the tribe’s sachem (primary chief), were said to be close friends, especially so after Lion arranged for the safe return of Wyandanch’s daughter when she was kidnapped by another tribe.

John Gardiner (1661-1738), Lion’s grandson and David’s father, had a brief encounter with the famed Captain Kidd (1645-1701), who visited the island in 1699 and buried some of his treasure there in John’s presence. Kidd told John that he would return to find the treasure intact or he would kill either John or David, who was eight years old at the time. Another story relates that he threatened to kill the entire family, should anything be missing from the buried treasure.

Kidd left the island shortly thereafter, sailing to Boston to meet with Lord Bellomont, the governor of the province of New York. Kidd trusted that Bellomont would help him clear his name of any wrongdoing with the English Crown. After all, he was officially a privateer for the English Crown, and Bellomont had been a major financial sponsor of Kidd’s in England. A series of circumstances, including quelling a near mutiny, had led Captain Kidd to piracy in 1698. Kidd’s trust in Bellomont was misguided, and he was arrested and shipped back to England. The treasure was retrieved from Gardiner’s Island and inventoried by commissioners for Bellomont, and a statement was taken from John Gardiner. Kidd was tried, found guilty, and eventually hanged (twice, because the rope broke) for the murder of a member of his crew and for piracy.

In 1953, the sixteenth proprietor of Gardiner’s Island, Robert David Lion Gardiner (1911-2004), took the Gardiner family’s copy of the inventory of Kidd’s Gardiner’s Island treasure with him to England when he and his wife attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It was compared to the inventory taken when the treasure arrived in England with Kidd in 1699. They didn’t match.  There is at least one known piece of that treasure remaining in the United States. Captain Kidd gave John Gardiner’s wife a piece of gold silk, which is on view at the East Hampton Library.


   - Claire Stuckey, Cataloger