Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Evidence of the Use of Thomas Pell's Insignia To Seal a Letter from Lion Gardiner in 1636

Students of Pelham history know that long before he acquired the lands that became the Manor of Pelham from local Native Americans, Thomas Pell served as a surgeon at the tiny settlement of Fort Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut River under the leadership of Lion Gardiner. There is interesting evidence that in 1636, during the time Pell was at the small settlement, a letter sent by Lion Gardiner to John Winthrop, Jr. was sealed with the Pell family insignia. Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting provides information about this evidence.

Lion Gardiner was born in 1599. He served in the army of the Prince of Orange in the Low Countries as a military engineer responsible for designing fortifications.

He and his wife, Mary Wilemson Gardiner, emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts in late 1635. The following spring, he, his wife and a small group of settlers left the Boston area for the mouth of the Connecticut River where they built a fort and lived for four years. Among the settlers at Fort Saybrook was Thomas Pell.

During the settlers' time at the Fort, the Pequot War began. The settlers successfully defended the Fort from attack in the spring of 1637. In May of that year, Gardiner, John Mason and John Underhill were authorized to undertake an expedition against Pequot Native Americans and, on May 26, slaughtered an entire village of Pequots nearly exterminating the tribe.

In the book "Lion Gardiner and His Descendants" editd by Curtiss C. Gardiner and published by A. Whipple of St. Louis, MO in 1890, there is an interesting discussion of a letter that Lion Gardiner sent to John Winthrop, Jr., Connecticut's first governor, on November 6, 1636. Facsimiles of the seal and Lion Gardiner's signature from the letter appear immediately below.

The author points out that he was unaware of any family insignia borne by Lion Gardiner, his son, his grandson nor his great grandson. (Pg. xviii). Yet, the above-referenced letter contains a seal. Additionally, according to the author, the same seal was affixed to a letter by John Higginson, the Chaplain of the Fort, during his Chaplaincy. (Id.) The author notes that there is evidence that "early colonists were accustomed to stamp their letters with any seal conveniently at hand; therefore, the mere fact that a letter of that period should be found stamped with a certain seal does not of itself furnish sufficient ground for presuming that particular seal was the family insignia of the person who stamped the letter." (Pg. xix).

The author next notes evidence of particular interest to those who are students of Thomas Pell. He wrote:

"Thomas Pell, the surgeon of the fort at Saybrooke, was of the family of Pell of Walter Willoughby, Lincolnshire, England; and his family insignia were: ARMS -- Ermine on a canton azure a pelican vulning herself. CREST--On a chaplet vert flowered or a pelican of the first, vulned gules. Granted Oct. 19, 1594. . . . It will be observed that the Pell family crest, above described, is an exact description of the seal stamped on Lion Gardiner's Saybrooke letter." (Pg. xix).

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