John Gardner was born to Thomas and Margaret Gardner about the time they were living in Cape Ann and made the move to Salem. Because there is no record, John's time and location of birth are uncertain.
His name was first mentioned in the records of the General Court at Boston in 1639 when "the treasurer was ordered to pay John Gardner 20s. for witness charge & carrying Goodman Woodward, his instruments to Ipswich." The first reference to him in the town records of Salem was in 1642 when he and his brother Richard were each granted ten acre lots "nere Mackrell Cove next to Mr. Thorndiks playne to be laid by the towne." This lot was sold to Samuel Corning on May 2, 1659.
John served as a juror from 1658 to 1661 and again in 1672. In 1659, he was an appraiser of the estate of William Jiggles. He was also appointed as an attorney for Henry Bartholomew in 1661 and served on a jury of inquest in 1662.
In Court Papers concerning the case of the town of Lynn vs. Thomas Brown, "Mr. John Gardener of Salem, being desired by the Select men of Lin to Run the bounds betwixt Bostone, Charlstown and Lynn upon a Nor. Norwest lyne, from the middle of Bride's brook upon the foote Bridge by Mr. Bennitts, by a meridian Compass, he the sayd John Gardener testifieth That the farm house which they call Roger Tylers is about One Hundred of Sixscore Rods with in the sayd Lyne."
John and Samuel Gardner and others were granted permission in 1663 to build a mill over the South river, provided it be built in two years or to lose their privilege.
The most interesting document found in Salem concerning John Gardner was his map of the Merrimac River. A reproduction of this map may be found in the Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. XIV, p. 157.
John Gardner, mariner of Salem, "sold unto John Putnam, husbandman for forty shillings tooe acres of medow lying nere Ipswich River as by deed dated 6th day of Februarie 1653 apeth."
John Gardner, mariner, bought of Hanna, wife of Samuel Shattuck, a dwelling house with a shop and 1/4 acre of land, bounded "with ye broad streete ye comes from ye meeting house on ye north, with ye dwelling of Richard Prince on ye east, & som ground of Nathanyell Pitman on ye south & adjoining to the dwelling of Richard Gardner on ye west, to have & to hold." dated May 27, 1659, See Essex Registry of Deeds, book 1.
Several other land transactions were made in Salem by John Gardner until it was noted "John Gardner, late of Salem in Co. of Essex, now of Nantucket." John lived in a house which stood on a lot south of the corner of Herbert and Essex Streets near the water. In his will, dated Dec. 2, 1705, he made the following bequest, "I give my Grandson John Gardner, my house and all my lands, with one eight part of the water mill at Salem." On Apr. 30, 1713, his grandson, John Gardner of Mendham in County Suffolk later sold the house and land "formerly ye estate of my Hononred Grandfather John Gardner, Esq., late of the Island of Nantucket" to John Lansford.
A grant was made on Aug. 5, 1672 by the town "to Mr. John Gardner of Salem, mariner, a seamans accommodation, with all appurtinances, etc. upon condition that he com to Inhabit and set up the Trade of fishing with a sufficient vessel fit for the taking of Codfish and that any of the Ingabitants shall have liberty to jiyne in such a vessall with him and that the aforesayd John Gardner shall use his best endeavor to prosecute the fishing trade effect in the fit season of the year and if he see casue to depart from the Island within Three years after the time that he shall com to Inhabit that then the land shal return into the hands of the aforesayd grantters, they paying for al necessary building or fencing that are upon it, as it shal be judged worth, also the said John Gardner is to be here with his family at or before the last day of April 1674 or else this grant to be voyd."
Other grants were made to him by the town as well as transactions made by John Gardner which were recorded in the Nantucket Registry of Deeds, book 1.
John went to New York with his brother Richard and returned in 1673 with orders from Governor Francis Lovelace that included a commission for Capt. John Gardner of the Island of Nantucket to bee the Captain of the Foot Company. The Governor also gave John and Richard a patent of land of their choosing along the seaside.
Some of the inhabitants of the island, under the leadership of Tristram Coffin, opposed the Gardners and their newfound favor with the Governor. They passed a resolution stating that Capt. Gardner and his friends were forbidden "to medal at all hence forward in any of the towns Consernes ether at Yorcke or elce whare under any colour or pretence what so ever." John Gardner sent a letter to the Governor dated Mar. 15, 1676-7, see page 60 and page 61 informing him of the situation. The Coffin party, who had taken control of the court, issued a warrant for John Gardner's arrest. He was taken forcibly into custody. In Quaint Nantucket, pg. 43, William Root Bliss states that John Gardner was brought by force into court, "when the magistrates spoke to him about his "contemptuous carriages," he listened in silence and without removing his hat, he sat down on a chest whereon was seated Tristram Coffin who said to him, "I am sorry you do behave yourself as a Delinquent." To which JOhn Gardner replied, "I know my business; and it may be that some of those that have meddled with me had better have eaten fire." John was fined 10 pounds on Jun. 5, 1677 which he appealed to Governor Andros.
Governor Andros issued his final verdict stating that the court proceedings were illegal and beyond their authority. John and his brother Richard were chosen by the town to be sent to the Governor "to know his plesuer as to choyse respecting a Chife Magistrate fo the year ensueing." Every townsman present at this meeting voted for the choice except one. Tristram Coffin "enters his protest against the choosing of Capt. John Gardner." John was commissioned Chief Magistrate of the Island on Nov. 10, 1680, 1682 and 1684.
In Bliss' Quaint Nantucket, he gives the following review of the life of John Gardner during this time. "In the history of those times John Gardner stands as the greatest of all the men who had to do with the beginnings of Nantucket. He had the genius of a leader and his ability was recognized by Governor Andros in appointing him three times the chief magistrate of the island. The people made him their agent "to act in all matters of the towne at New York" and they said "Whatsoever captain Gardner shall agree for, about hireing a vessel to go, the towne will pay it." He was made the leader of a committee "to consult for the publicke good of the island against all invaders of the peoples Rights." and in May 1687, he was chosen "to go to New Yorke to manege such afeares as the town shall intrust him with." On his return he brought Governor Dongan's Patent to Certain Inhabitants of Nantucket," which made John Gardner with six associates, "one Body Corporate and Politiq to be called by the Name of the Trustees of the Freeholders and Comonality of the Town," with right of purchasing from the Indians all "Tracts or Parcells of Land" remaining in their possession, and to make such acts and orders "as they shall think convenient from time to time."
The town made many grants of land to John Gardner and his brother, Richard, in the coming years, including a mill along with Thomas Macy. John also completed many land transactions including purchases of land from the Indians.
John Gardner occasionally returned to Salem to carry out certain business affairs. In 1678, he witnessed the signature of his brother Thomas to a land deed to his brother George. In 1682, he was in Salem again to see about the settlement of the estate of his father-in-law, Joseph Grafton. He appointed "his loving cousin Mr. Samuel Gardner Jun'r of Salem" to act as his attorney.
In 1692, Capt. John Gardner and Mr. William Gayer were chosen Representatives to the General Court from Nantucket, being the first representatives after the transfer of that island from the Colony of New York to the Province of Massachusetts Bay.
John was the Tax Commissioner for Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket for the years 1692 and 1693. He was also appointed that year as Judge of Probate, an office he held until his death in 1706.
John Gardner married Priscilla Grafton, daughter of Joseph Grafton of Salem. His father-in-law died in 1681 and the children of his daughter Priscilla were remembered as follows, "John Gardner shall have for his Chilldren by Priscilla his wife that now is, one fourth part."
John Gardner died in 1706 at the age of 82 years. He was buried in the old burial ground on "Forefather's Hill." The inscription reads "Here lyes buried ye body of John Gardner Esq. aged 82 who died May 1706."
John Gardner and Tristram Coffin were key figures in Nantucket's early governance. Coffin represented the "full-share" men, or original founders of Nantucket, while Gardner was one of a group of tradesmen who came to work on the island but received only half-shares. Bitter debates between the full-share and half-share parties raged on Nantucket about land rights, who could hold public office, and the future directions for the island. A tentative compromise between the two factions was reached in 1678, but it was not until Coffin's death in 1681 and the eventual marriage of his grandson into the Gardner family that a full resolution of this conflict occurred.
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