The scenic historic South End Cemetery in East Hampton nestled beside the pond is the final resting place of those who played such a large role in the making of the Town of East Hampton.
The gentle layers of white tombstones line up generations of family history. Perhaps the most prominent family name is Gardiner, whose Island home, Gardiner's Island precedes the founding of the East Hampton, then called Maidstone, in 1648 and the Town of Southampton founded in 1640.(In 1639 King James 1 issued a “Royal Patent” to Lion Gardiner for the Island, at the time Lion Gardiner referred to the island as Isle of Wright.)
One of the largest grave markers in the South End Cemetery is that of David Gardiner, father of a first lady, Julia Gardiner Tyler, and perhaps the only deceased member in the famed cemetery who’s untimely death was witnessed by a sitting President of the United States. He died aboard the Princeton a pre-Civil War era naval vessel that hosted the president of the United States and many cabinet members and two hundred distinguished guests.
David Gardiner had brought his 23-year-old daughter to Washington D.C. as a sort of coming out party on the national level for Julia whose beauty was unmatched in the high social circles of that time. In fact at that time she was called, “The Rose of Long Island.” The legend is that only the fact that Julia wasn’t feeling all that well that day and went down below the deck saved her life. Had she remained right next to her father, then a New York State Senator with ample political powers and influence, she most likely would have been killed as he was by the explosion of the testing of a new 12” gun design manufactured in New York City. The explosion killed the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Navy, an ambassador from Brussels and the president’s personal valet and a few others besides David Gardiner.
When told that her father had been killed the young East Hampton national debutante literally fainted into the arms of the widowed President Tyler. Julia Tyler always said the first words she ever spoke to her future husband was when she was comforted by President Tyler in his arms regaining her composure. Of course other historians claimed they were introduced earlier in the day. A wake was held in the East Room of the White House for all killed except the black presidential valet. At first, David Gardiner was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. before being reburied in East Hampton.
Soon, (only four months later), the widowed President Tyler, the first Vice-President to become President by the death of a sitting president, and Julia Gardiner were married. The country was shocked to learn that the widowed President of the United States from Virginia had married a twenty four year old New Yorker. Julia Tyler loved having gala balls and it is said that one was attended by over a thousand invited guests. After his brief Presidency the Tyler’s resided in Richmond Virginia. Julia bore President Tyler seven children to go with the eight his first wife blessed him with. Julia’s and President Tyler’s first son was name David Gardiner Tyler, (in honor of her dad), and was born in East Hampton. A house on Main Street was referred to as the East Hampton White House whenever President Tyler was there. At the time of his death in 1862 President Tyler was serving in the Congress of the Confederacy in Richmond. David Gardiner Tyler, after attending Washington College, (now called Washington and Lee,) actually fought for the south in the Civil War for the Army of Virginia under Robert E. Lee and was with Lee when he surrendered to General U.S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House. David went on to serve as a United States Congressman from the State of Virginia in the 1890s, and presided as a Judge in Virginia until his death in 1926. He and his mother Julia Gardiner Tyler, his father President John Tyler, and President Tyler’s first wife are all buried in Richmond Virginia.
It may be noted that after the Civil War, the widowed 46 year old former first lady Julia Gardiner was broke after having her property confiscated by the North. She and Mary Todd Lincoln were the initial, First Ladies, to have Congress appropriate a Federal Pension for widowed former First Ladies. The original sum was $1,200. It was increased to $5,000 yearly later on to assist Julia Tyler plus the widows of President Garfield, President Polk, and President Lincoln. Historians enjoy pointing out that when President Tyler’s last child died it was 100 years after the birth of his first, Mary Tyler, it is said never truly adjusted to being four years older than her step-mother.
With a $5,000 annual pension Julia Gardiner Tyler, one of two first ladies being from East Hampton, (the other being Jackie Kennedy, born in Southampton Hospital), lived comfortably in Richmond until she died in 1889 not quite 70 years old. The former “Rose of Long Island,” forever remains in Virginia.