Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lion Gardiner: 10th Great Grandfather

Lion Gardiner is probably our earliest European ancestor in the Americas. He married his wife, Mary Duercant, in Holland on 10 July 1635. We come through his first child, David, born in Connecticut.

" Born in England in 1599, Gardiner was an adventurer at an early age. His exact birthplace is not known, nor who his parents were. A laudatory description of Gardiner, published in 1885, gushed, "He was . . . of fine military presence, well proportioned although slightly under the average height, with quiet face, eyes keen, intelligent and deep-set, and the manners and bearing of a gentleman."

His recorded history begins in his early 30s, when he served in the English army in the Netherlands. There, in a protracted war between Protestants and Catholics, Gardiner earned a reputation as a "master of works of fortifications" -- a fort builder.

His fame spread across the ocean, and in 1635 he was summoned by the backers of a fledgling English colony in what would become Connecticut. The tiny colony was in a precarious position -- Dutch traders from New Amsterdam had begun to make inroads into the area, trading from their boats with the local Indians and constructing permanent outposts. By doing so, the Dutch hoped to keep the English from expanding south from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

But the Dutch were the least of the colony's problems. Of even more immediate concern were the Pequots, a group with a fearsome reputation who lived along the same stretch of coastline where the English hoped to build settlements. Records of the day show the English feared and despised the Pequots, as did other Indian groups such as the Mohegans, who lived in the same territory.

Gardiner was 36 years old the year he and his Dutch-born wife, Mary, sailed to Massachusetts aboard the Bachelor, arriving in November after a stormy 31/2-month voyage. The couple spent the winter in Massachusetts, and by April, 1636, they were living with a small group of colonists near the mouth of the Connecticut River. They were well south of the English settlements in an area largely untracked by white men.

Gardiner supervised the construction of a fort near the mouth of the Connecticut River, and commanded it while farms and homesites were carved out of the surrounding wilderness. As the fort was being built, two momentous events happened in his life -- his wife gave birth to their son, David, the first white child born in what is now the state of Connecticut, and a war broke out with the Pequots that would forever change the fort-builder's life. "

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