Dan Rattiner's Stories

Auction: The Day East Hampton Historical Documents Went to Malibu

This past Saturday, 84 documents owned by descendants of John Mulford of East Hampton were auctioned off in a regional auction house in upstate New York. Twelve registered bidders, two from East Hampton, vied for these items. One document is a request for permission to sell the trees cut down to clear land for the building of the Montauk Lighthouse, another is the deed for the East Hampton property bought by the Mulford family from the Montaukett Indians in 1680, another is a receipt for a tax paid to the King of England for the annual privilege of owning a pocket watch, and still another a 1775 letter from the head of the Southampton and East Hampton Militias to an out-of-the-area superior that they stood at the ready for battle now that it was clear war was the only way forward.

The single most valuable document by far, worth more than the other 83 items put together, was an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. After the original document was approved in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, various printers made copies and sent them out to high officials in the 13 colonies. One batch consisted of 500 copies printed broadside by a John Holt on July 9. Holt fixed the syntax of the original and added comments by New York State officials—and sent them out by horse and rider for New Yorkers to see. Only five copies are known to have survived to this day. None have ever been sold. One of the five copies was delivered to Colonel David Mulford of East Hampton, the head of the local militia here. His family kept it as a keepsake in this community until, some years ago, one branch of the family moved to a new home in upstate New York with a folder filled with the documents. They kept them in a desk drawer. That’s how this copy of the Declaration of Independence wound up for sale at Blanchard’s Auction Services in Potsdam. According to an article in The New York Times, the Declaration was expected to bring in as much as one million dollars.

The other 83 items at auction consisted of broadsides, letters, wills and papers from the Mulford, Gardiner and Buell families of East Hampton during the period 1667 to 1815. The contents of some of these are mentioned above. Another item consisted of receipts from a man who’d been hired to find Tobe, a slave who ran away from the Gardiner family. It was for expenses incurred. Not many people are aware, that until about 1830, Northerners held slaves, although in vastly fewer numbers than the 3 million in the South. Anyway, the law said that if a slave ran away and someone returned him to his owner, compensation had to be paid. No further mention is made of Tobe or what happened to him. Other documents and broadsheets are written by or to English settlers, Native Americans or Africans, and also many women in the community.

East Hampton residents had hoped these documents, other than the Declaration of Independence, could be purchased for the East Hampton Library—estimates were that, as a second lot, after the auction of the Declaration, they would go for between $25,000 and $50,000. Many feared that, because of the attention brought to the auction by the Declaration, the cost for saving the second lot might be beyond reach.

Nevertheless, a person on behalf of the East Hampton Library was a registered bidder and was on the phone as the auction took place trying to get the material. Another person from this town, also registered, was on another line. There were 12 bidders in all.

Blanchard Auction opened their doors to the public at 9:30 a.m. on November 11 with all items on display in glass cases. Security was tight. About 150 people were in the auction house for the viewing and subsequent bidding at 11 a.m. They consisted of members of the media, some local people there for the excitement, security officials and two registered bidders, one from New Jersey representing an American Revolution Museum in Philadelphia, and the other a private individual. Ten other registered bidders were on phone lines.

The auction was streamed live on Facebook. I spoke to Kip Blanchard on the Monday after the auction. He is the owner of the auction house and was the presiding auctioneer, and he told me what happened.

Just 10 minutes to 11, with everything about ready to go, a woman arrived, breathlessly, to attend the bidding. People wondered, who was she?

Well, she was Holly M. Kinyon of Malibu, California, and since she had pre-registered, she was allowed to take her seat.

“The Declaration went first. Then came the Mulford papers,” Blanchard said. “The whole thing was over in nine minutes.”

I asked him if either of the parties from East Hampton bid, and he told me no. Apparently it was quickly more than they could afford.

The bidding for the Declaration began with an asking price of $1 million and a hand went up. It stalled a bit after that, but then it resumed and it went up further. Three bidders, the one from New Jersey, one from Connecticut and Ms. Kinyon drove it higher and higher. Finally, Ms. Kinyon was the winner at $1,500,000.

Next came the Mulford papers. The bidding started at $50,000 and that too went up and up.

“It almost sold at $70,000, and I said, ‘Going once, going twice’ and then one of the three bidders took it further up.”

These same three bidders, none of them from East Hampton, drove it to a final purchase price of $290,000 for, again, Ms. Kinyon.

Ms. Kinyon told the media immediately after the auction that she was a descendant of John Witherspoon, one of the signers of the Declaration. She said she had seen the original Declaration when she visited Washington, D.C. as a young woman and “it’s difficult to explain how important this is to me personally.”

She said she intended to enjoy owning that document and the others—which she had not yet inspected—for the rest of her life and that she would be going to Washington D.C. to talk to a friend who worked at the National Parks Service about how to display the documents for public viewing, which she intended to arrange, although it would not be in her home.

Mrs. Kinyon explained her late arrival. She had arrived by plane at Watertown Airport late at night, rented a car at 2:15 a.m., and stopped at a hotel in the town of Canton near to the auction house to get some sleep. She set an alarm but then she overslept. She had also, in the dark on this drive, barely avoided a collision with an Amish buggy. Well, she just made it on time, and you know the rest.

Kip Blanchard told me he believes that Ms. Kinyon intends to display the documents somewhere in Washington D.C. So if he is correct, they won’t be too far away. Anyway, there’s always the internet.

The Mulfords, the Gardiners and the Buells are original settlers of East Hampton. Another famous Mulford, Samuel “Fishhook” Mulford, went to London in 1704 to speak in Parliament to protest the burdensome taxes demanded of the colonists in East Hampton, particularly the Whale Oil Tax. This Mulford put fishhooks in his pockets as a deterrent against pickpockets, which he had been told were everywhere in London. Official London documents of his speaking to Parliament suggest the Londoners were amused by this countryman. Nothing was done, of course.

Turns out that genealogy papers in this collection show David Mulford as either the grandson or grandnephew of “Fishhook” Mulford. Both were fierce revolutionaries.

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