There is a story passed on through several generations of Gardners about
William Gardner and his first wife, thought to be Anne (Nancy) Graves (Elias Gardner's parents). Several people have
researched the history of this story, but none have been able to confirm it
yet. If you think you know the answer, email me. There are several places where
this story is mentioned, but so far the story has only been found among
descendants of William's son Elias, who was born in 1809, just two years or so
before William left.
The story goes like this: William left his wife (Anne
(Nancy) Graves) some time around 1810 or shortly thereafter. Since
William was gone, at least one of his sons, Elias, went to live with William's
parents, James and Alice (Spink) Gardner. William apparently
returned seven years later, seeking
information about his wife and family. He inquired at a blacksmith shop he
had once owned. The blacksmith, Squire Harmon, told William that he would inform
Anne of William's interests. If she were still interested in William, Harmon,
Anne's new husband,
would step aside. William, however, felt he had no right to the love of the
woman he had deserted, so he merely went to her home to look at her through the
window. He left a present for her with Mr. Harmon, a beautiful shawl. Anne
(Nancy) died shortly thereafter; some ask if the reason for her death was perhaps
a broken heart. We just don't know and Elias was
apparently never old enough to know his parents' full
Below are some problems as well as some references
to official documentation for the story, as follows.
With regards to William's desertion:
The probate of James Gardner's estate states that
after his debts and widow's portion were paid, there
was $7.00 which was distributed to his children. Of
course, James was William's father:
"It is thereupon ordered & decreed by the
said Judge: that the said balance [$7.00] be divided
and paid in equal shares to Lodowick Gardner, Varnum
Gardner, Hannah [Gardner], the wife of Levi Church,
John Gardner, William Gardner or his heirs if he is
deceased, Henry Gardner & Isaac Gardner, children
of said intestate [James Gardner]...."
So the Massachusetts probate court, at the least,
and perhaps the family as well, did not know the whereabouts
of William Gardner in February 1818 (when his father
James' estate was distributed). One Gershom Bassett
was appointed "guardian to William Gardner."
to Anne (Nancy) Graves:
There is no birth record for a Nancy Graves, daughter of Phinehas, in Tyringham,
nor is there a marriage or death record for her. She has sometimes been listed
as Anne Graves, b. 20 Jun 1784 in Tyringham daughter of Thaddeus Graves, Jr. and
Amy Bette, who were married in Tyringham 31 Oct 1831. She has also been listed
as the daughter of Thaddeus Graves and Elizabeth Orton, who were married in
Tyringham 25 Dec 1755, though this seems unlikely given a birthdate in the
According to the story, Nancy died not long
after William's purported return to Tyringham. However, there is no death record
for a Nancy Gardner, Nancy Harmon, or Nancy Squire in the death records of
Tyringham in the years 1856-1860. The only Nancy Gardner death record found was
for a woman buried in the Shaker cemetery near Tyringham, who died 21 November
1859, aged 78 years, but the original death record shows that this Nancy Gardner
(who was a widow) was the daughter of Thomas and Susanna Ray or Roy, and was
born in Charlestown, [illegible--Rhode?] Island. Thus if Nancy's surname was
actually Graves, this could not be the right Nancy.
Here are some of the other unanswered questions:
- Who is Squire Harmon? Probably Squire is a title rather than a first name.
There were Harmons who owned land not far from the Gardners -- is it possible
that this is the Harmon family in this story? Was he really a blacksmith?
- If Anne (Nancy) died shortly after receiving the shawl from William, why is
there no record of her death in any Berkshire County records? Would she have
left the area so suddenly, despite the fact that her families were all there
- Did Anne and Harmon marry, and if so did she divorce William first?
- What happened to William -- did he remarry? Where was he for seven years and
why did he come back? Where and when did he die? Did he really own a blacksmith
shop? Did he have a drinking problem, as has been rumored?