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William Gardner is a Mystery

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 story.

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."

With regard 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 1780s.

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 still?
  • 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?


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