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Sixty-Something: The Story Of Two East Hampton Born Fathers Of U.S. First Ladies

T.J. Clemente

Old South Cemetery. (Photo: TJ Clemente)

Both men were born and are buried in East Hampton, but in different cemeteries as they are from two different centuries and two different religions. Both men died before their daughters became First Lady of the United States. Here are their stories.

First there is "Black Jack" Bouvier, the father of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who was born in East Hampton on May 19, 1891 and died on August 3, 1957 - three years before his daughter would become the nation's First Lady. He died from complications of liver cancer. Black Jack was known for drinking and that lead to his early death. Black Jack, a name he picked up because he was always so tan, was born John Vernou Bouvier III. In life they called him a "stockbroker," but his socialite family had made their fortune in both furniture and land speculation, and eventually on Wall Street, long before the year 1900 rolled around. Black Jack attended Phillips Exeter Academy, Columbia College and also Yale. After college, he joined the firm of Bouvier, Bouvier & Bouvier. He served some time in the Navy and Army during World War I, reaching the rank of Major. He married Janet Norton Lee and had two daughters Jacqueline and Lee. They all summered in the family home, Lasata, the estate of Jack's father on Further Lane that still to this day looks the same. It was here that his daughters rode horses and walked the very short distance to swim in the ocean behind the Maidstone Club. He is buried at the Most Holy Trinity Cemetery in East Hampton. His claim to fame in most history books was him being excluded by the Kennedy family from attending his daughter Jacqueline's wedding to John F. Kennedy.

David Gardiner was born on May 29, 1784 in East Hampton. David, the son of Abraham Gardiner, was not a direct descendent of Lion Gardiner (a founding father of the Hamptons and the first owner of Gardiner's Island). Although David was not a direct descendent, he was born and lived on Gardiner's Island. He married Juliana McLachlan in 1815. She was originally from Jamaica, West Indies but her family had moved to NYC and founded a successful brewery. David and Juliana Gardiner had four children including, Julia who married John Tyler and became the youngest U.S. First Lady to this day at 24-years-old.

There are a few versions of how Julia Tyler became First Lady, I am going with this version. In 1843, David Gardiner was a powerful member of the New York State Senate. He took daughters Julia and Margaret on a grand tour of Europe. Julia at the time was referred to by NY newspapers as "The Rose of Long Island," the most beautiful socialite. When the tour concluded, the Gardiners were in Washington D.C. for the dedication of a new type of Naval cannon gun called the "Peacemaker," aboard the USS Princeton on February 28, 1843. The big gun was made of New York iron, so it was dedicated with a large fanfare event that included members President Tyler's Cabinet. The Gardiners were also invited. However, young Julia, who was 22-years-old at the time, fell ill and went below deck before the actual festivities. For the festivities, besides his Cabinet, President Tyler, a Virginian, invited former First Lady Dolley Madison. So that day USS Princeton departed Alexandria, Virginia on a demonstration cruise down the Potomac with President Tyler, members of his Cabinet and about 400 guests. Captain Stockton decided to fire the larger of the Peacemaker's two long guns to impress his guests. Peacemaker was fired three times on the trip downriver and was loaded to fire a salute to George Washington as the ship passed Mount Vernon on the return trip. The guests aboard viewed the first set of firings and then retired below decks for lunch and refreshments. Yet others stayed on deck.

Secretary of the Navy Gilmer urged those guests still on deck to view a final shot from the Peacemaker. When Captain Stockton pulled the firing lanyard, the gun burst. Its left side had failed, spraying hot metal across the deck and shrapnel into the crowd. Instantly killed were David Gardiner and Secretary of the Navy Gilmer; Secretary of State Upshur; Captain Beverly Kennon; Virgil Maxcy, a Maryland attorney with decades of experience as a state and federal officeholder; and a slave named Armistead who served as the President's valet. Another 16 to 20 people were injured, including several members of the ship's crew, U.S. Senator Benton, and Captain Stockton. The President was below decks and not injured.

It was President Tyler himself who told Julia Tyler of her father's death. The story is she collapsed into his arms. When she awoke she was still in his arms. Some historians say the two, President Tyler and Julia Gardiner, were already secretly seeing each other quietly due to the death of President Tyler's wife not yet being a year. Others say they already made plans to marry with the President proposing to Julia on February 22, 1843. The facts state that on June 26, 1844 President Tyler married Julia Gardiner and they had seven children. It was during Julia Gardiner Tyler's time as First Lady that East Hampton was called the location of the "Summer White House."

David Gardiner is buried in historic "The Old South" cemetery (across from the Maidstone Inn) and has a huge gravestone that looks like a temple.




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