Thomas Gardner (planter)

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Thomas Gardner
Born c. 1592
Died 1674
Salem, MA
Resting place
Harmony Grove Cemetery
Occupation Overseer (Cape Ann settlement), Salem: Deputy to General Court, Land owner, Constable, Selectman/Juryman
Spouse(s) Margaret Fryer
Children Thomas, George, John, Sarah, Samuel, Joseph, Richard, Miriam, Seeth

Thomas Gardner (c. 1592 – 1674)[a] was an Overseer of the "old planters" party of the Dorchester Company who landed in 1624 at Cape Ann to form a colony at what is now known as Gloucester. Gardner is considered by some as the first Governor of Massachusetts, due to his being in authority in the first settlement that became the Massachusetts Bay Colony (which later subsumed the Plymouth Colony).[1] John Tylly was the Overseer of the fishery (Tylly was killed in 1636 in the Pequot War).[2][3]

Cape Ann[edit]

This area had been visited by the Plymouth group who had obtained a Patent and had fished in the area known as Gloucester. These visitors, from the south, had built structures for salting and temporary housing.[4] The Gardner-led group, who were to settle the area via another Patent, succeeded in maintaining themselves after their landing. However, eventual disagreement between the Plymouth folks and the 'West Country' folks, due to Patent conflicts, came about. Conant, having first been at Plymouth, was instrumental in working out a compromise, part of which was moving the Dorchester group away.[5] As well, the colony that had been planned for Cape Ann was doing well, having brought over adequate provisions and having had the proper skills, yet it was commercially unsuccessful due to rocky, infertile soil and poor fishing. In 1626, the Dorchester Company granted permission for Roger Conant, who had arrived in 1625 from Plymouth (via Nantasket) to assess the situation and to become the new Overseer, to move the colony.[1]

The first Great House in New England was built on Cape Ann by the planters. This house was dismantled on the orders of John Endecott, in 1628, and moved to Salem to serve as his "Governor's" house.[6] When Higginson arrived in Salem, he wrote that "we found a faire house newly built for the Governor" which was remarkable for being two stories high.[7]


Some of the Old Planters moved with Conant to the mouth of the Naumkeag (now, North) river (they first landed near the foot of present-day Skerry Street). Other members opted to return to England or to go south to Virginia. For a few years, the area was multicultural with peaceful relations with Native Americans who had been regular visitors to the area for generations. In the early years, "thatch-roofed cottages" of the planters huddled along the bank of the river.[8]

The new colony at Naumkeag proved to be successful and was named Salem in 1629 and, in Conant's words, laid the "foundation" for the Commonwealth. Those following Gardner and Conant as leader were John Endicott and John Winthrop, respectively, as new planters.

Thomas and Roger continued to be considered old planters who seemed to get little in the way of recognition from the religious leaders, such as Francis Higginson.[9] By the time of Winthrop, the influx into the area accelerated resulting in Mass Bay outgrowing, and annexing, Plymouth.

Gardner, and his sons, played several roles in the early development work. For instance, they did a lot of the early survey work laying out the area. As well, Thomas served on the court and oversaw highway work.

Biographical information[edit]

Thomas Gardner was born in 1592 to Thomas and Elizabeth Gardner. His mother was the sister of Minister John White who was instrumental in the founding and funding of the Dorchester Company that grew into the colony of Massachusetts Bay.[10][11] Thomas was chosen "through family-ties" to head up the 1623 Cape Ann Colony which was a "fishing station and saltworks" whose goal was to ship seafood back to England.[11]

Thomas Gardner's signature

He had two wives, Margaret (c. 1589 – 1659) and Demaris UNK (c. 1597 - 28 November 1674), widow of UNK Shattuck. With Margaret, he had six sons (Thomas, George, John, Samuel, Joseph, and Richard) and three daughters (Sarah, Seeth, and Miriam). In 1623, Gardner landed at Cape Ann with Margaret and the three sons who had been born in England. A fourth son was born in 1624.[12]

Gardner died on 29 December 1674 and is buried in Salem.


The legacy of Thomas Gardner, from seven children, is wide, and varied, as one would expect for the many generations. Some (small sampling) of Thomas' descendants are as follows, grouped by category and in chronological order by birth.

His descendants have supported America in all of its armed conflicts from its beginnings, built America through arts/sciences, and are examples of the brain, and backbone (necessary, despite pretensions otherwise from certain perspectives), of the country.[13] Many of Thomas' descendants, or their husbands, graduated from Harvard including its early Divinity School. In short, the phenomenal breadth of involvement with the arts, sciences, and trades covers the gamut.

American patriots (and military)[edit]



Frank A. Gardner, MD, Who's Who in New England,1916


Thomas was buried on Gardner Hill near present day Boston Street and Grove, in Salem. Others buried in the same location included Seeth, his daughter, and Abel, his grandson.[16] Abel's wife, Sarah Porter Gardner, whose mother was the sister of John Hathorne, was buried with her husband.

One hundred and fifty graves were moved from this area to Harmony Grove Cemetery when Grove Street was expanded in the 1840s.

Degrees of separation[edit]

Through his second wife, Damaris, Thomas' influence could be expanded through the shrinking world argument. Damaris was the widow of (unknown first name) Shattuck. Their son, Samuel. was an active Quaker. Among Thomas' stepchildren's descendants, one can find Nathaniel Gorham (1738-1796), Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), John Marshall Harlan (1833-1911), Henry Sloane Coffin (1877-1954), Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965), and Sandra Day O'Connor (1930- ).[citation needed]

Other Gardner families[edit]

There were several Gardner families concurrent with Thomas, the planter.[16] Richard Gardiner was passenger on the Mayflower. In 1635, Lion Gardiner arrived in Boston. One of his legacies is Gardiners Island in New York.[55] George Gardiner (settler) was an early settler of Rhode Island.

Thomas Gardner (Roxbury) (c. – 1638) arrived in 1635 and settled in Roxbury. He left a young son, named Thomas, and had the following descendants:

Economic considerations[edit]

Many views have been expressed about the political aspects of the "Old Planters (Massachusetts)" and their experience.[58] That is, Conant is credited with founding Salem and was then followed by Endicott and Winthrop. Also, cited motivations were largely more related to independence (religious, economic,...) for the folks that moved to the new world than not.

Some sources describe that, though succeeding in Cape Ann provided a struggle, Thomas Gardner, and his crew, were successful in maintaining themselves and their families. Conant, essentially, was sent because the old planters were not seen to be successful in London as expected. That is, the capitalists were calling for their profits.[59]

Of course, Conant could not overcome the elements either. So, moving to Naumkeag was a good choice. And, Gardner may have been instrumental in that in many ways. For example, the old planters laid out the framework which supported the later influx of many emigrants from Europe, and elsewhere.[59]

Now, many lessons from that time apply to current situations, and financial messes, and the hope is that future research acknowledges people, like Gardner and his party. Actually, that they were the backbone of the country that ensued, and that they contributed more than did any subsequent puppet of London, is one lesson.

Consider that events of a hundred years later, supported by offspring of Gardner and the old planters and many others, demonstrated the problems with London's views. Gardner and party were just ahead of their time.

Not only was Gardner's party more tolerant and independent, they were of the type that contributes directly in ways that are incalculable (the bone and sinew of the country, noted one historian).[60] Except, seeing how modern views have allowed infrastructural decay (by out-housing our backbone, for example), there may be many other lessons that we can learn from the old planters, and in places other than Massachusetts, to boot.

History and its lessons[edit]

Different historical sketches about this period of time show just how difficult are the issues related to retrospective views, especially when the principal players are not available for vetting via interview. As we have seen with history, those with the written record are often considered the prime purveyors of the facts of the situation. In this case, we have the records of John Endicott, John Winthrop, and others.[citation needed]

In addition, there are the recordings of those who reported to London (list these) during this period. It may be that the "old planters" were given essentially untrue descriptions due to the behavior of some and to the opinions of the Puritanical viewpoint.[5] One of their more insightful, and talented, descendants, Nathaniel Hawthorne, provided, 200 years later, an allegorical sketch in his short work, "The Maypole of Merry Mount" in regard to this theme.

Later renditions of the period came from recollections of members of the families who were there. Such material was gathered by historians of differing opinions (list Phippen, Trask, et al.)[citation needed]

As a case in point, there are different views about the roles of Gardner and Conant. Here, there has been some rectification, as Frank A Gardner, MD wrote, in the early 20th century, books for both families using extensive material gathered in the Essex Institute.


  1. ^ Alternately spelled "Gardiner, Gardener"
  2. ^ The Gardner Memorial book details descendants of son, George"
  1. ^ a b Gardner 1907, p. 6.
  2. ^ Perley 1924, p. 68.
  3. ^ Arrington 1922, p. 15.
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  11. ^ a b Goff 2009, p. 19.
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