Why My Middle Name Is Lion, My Connection to President John Tyler and the King of England

Lion Gardiner's Tomb in East Hampton
Lion Gardiner's Tomb in East Hampton

People ask me quite frequently about my middle name, Lion, which I often use in my byline. No, my dad doesn’t have an obsession with African cats and my mother didn’t name me Lion because I roared loudly as a baby in Southampton Hospital.

My name entirely has to do with Lion Gardiner, who was the first English settler of Long Island. Long Island and the Hamptons, as you may know, were the first English settlement in New York, and Lion became the first guy to do so by buying Gardiner’s Island from the Montaukett Indians in 1639 for one large dog, one gun, some powder and shot, some rum and several blankets—worth in all about five Pounds sterling.

Lion Gardiner, a celebrated English soldier and military engineer, was able to own Gardiner’s Island outright with proprietary rights and the authority to draft laws for Church and State on the island due to grant acquired from the King of England himself, which also made it in no way connected, law-wise, to New England or New York. Technically speaking, this still applies to this day.

Lion Gardiner was born in 1599 and died in 1663 in East Hampton, and you can visit his grave at the graveyard right by Town Pond there. He married and had one son, whom he named David, which is the inspiration for my first name. My dad also credits my first name to King David of Jerusalem, but told me that was just sort of convenient. It was Lion Gardiner, his son David, and a later descendent by the name of Robert David Lion Gardiner.

My dad knew Robert David Lion Gardiner—the last living descendant of Gardiner’s Island, who died at 93 years of age in August of 2004and always liked him and his way of reminding people that it was his family who arrived here first, especially when interacting with celebrities or rich people who were constructing family estates in the Hamptons to build their legacies. The story of his family inspired my dad to name me David Lion. 

Okay, you’re saying, let’s get to how the President of the United States is involved in all this. But back to David Gardiner. David Gardiner, son of Lion Gardiner, was a New York State Senator from the first 1st District from 1824 to 1827. He died while aboard the USS Princeton after a cannon called “The Peacemaker” malfunctioned and exploded. He’d been aboard the USS Princeton because the President of the United States at the time, President John Tyler, had invited him and his daughter, Julia Gardiner, for a trip aboard the ship. This all happened in 1844.

Julia, who was born on Gardiner’s Island, went on to marry President Tyler and became First Lady of the United States for the remainder of the one-term president’s time in office. She was just 24 years old when she married the 54-year-old Tyler.

President Tyler fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler in 1853, at age 63.  Then, at the age of 71, in 1924, Lyon Gardiner Tyler fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. Four years later, at age 75, Lyon Gardiner Tyler had another son, Harrison Ruffin Tyler. Both men are still alive today.

Think about this for a moment. Three generations of the Tyler family are spread out over more than 200 years.

And yes, the name Lyon, spelled with a y, is carried on. I do not know why President Tyler chose to do that—maybe because his last name has a y and he thought that if he spelled Lion with a y that it would look cool, even though the original Lion Gardiner spelled it with an I.

As a side note, my freshman year of college at Northeastern University School of Finance in Boston was a time when I truly embraced the name Lion, and I would frequently tell people that my name was Lion because I’ve always thought it was such a cool middle name. To this day, some of my friends and former professors at Northeastern University still address me as Lion.

That’s the story behind my name. I know a lot of my readers have always wondered about that, and I will admit, it’s a hell of a name to live up to, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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