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Item of the Week: The Names John Lyon Gardiner Drops

Thu, 05/04/2023 - 09:06

From the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection

John Lyon Gardiner (1770-1816), the seventh proprietor of Gardiner’s Island, wrote to David Gardiner, his brother, in Flushing, Queens, 233 years ago, on May 4, 1790, with a series of updates about local people and some complaints about delays in the mail.

Many of the references will likely be lost on readers, but the asides refer to the activities of a few recognizable figures. Gardiner first remarks that he has not heard from his brother in “some time,” but he heard from “Mr. Jermaine” that David was well. This Mr. Jermaine was John Jermain, the namesake of the library in Sag Harbor, who clearly traveled west and had encountered David.

John Lyon continues with his complaints, reporting that he just returned from “the Island,” meaning Gardiner’s Island, but with a bad cold. He requests his brother’s help borrowing a copy of the 1789 John Gillies history “View of the Reign of Frederick II of Prussia.”

His tone turns more optimistic as he admits that he has not written to their cousin Nathaniel again, since he expects Nathaniel to return home soon, implying that he lives in the East Hampton area. John Lyon reports that their relatives are mostly well, except for Jerusha Buell (presumably their mother’s half sister, who shared her name), who was recovering from whooping cough after being “dangerously ill.”

Perhaps the most interesting update he shares with his brother is his opinion of “Mr. Payne,” offered in the context of the logistics of delivering his letter to David. John Lyon writes, “Mr. Peck will deliver this [letter], he sets off tomorrow with his family for N. York — Mr. Payne after all his talk about going will stay I believe.”

The Mr. Payne he refers to is likely William Payne, a teacher at Clinton Academy and the father of John Howard Payne. William Payne left East Hampton for a teaching job in New York City less than a year after this letter was written.

Andrea Meyer, a librarian and archivist, is the head of collection for the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.

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