The Fantastic Tale of George A. Gardiner
April 10, 2018
In this letter from the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, George A. Gardiner, most likely a confidence man, requests assistance from Columbian Lodge, located in Boston, Massachusetts.
|(reverse of letter)
for the present and immediate relief of a distressed family who have never before known want.
In 1820, two years after writing the above letter to Columbian Lodge, Gardiner published his only known literary attempt, A Brief and Correct Account of an Earthquake Which Happened in South America, an account of the 1812 Venezuela earthquake. In addition to incorrectly dating the event (Gardiner stated the earthquake took place on March 26, 1818), Gardiner greatly exaggerated the numbers of casualties and his tall tale included a fantastic description of a “subterranean channel” that “was formed by the tops of two very high mountains falling together” nearly four hundred miles from Caracas.
Gardiner's surreal description of Venezuela drew the attention of respected Venezuelan geologist Franco Urbani Patat in 1985. Urbani Patat debunked Gardiner’s work, calling it a fictitious invention possibly used to impress others. Gardiner’s account amounted to literary fraud, Urbani Patat concluded.
It is unclear as to why Gardiner, who does not appear to have been a Mason, requested aid from Columbian Lodge or whether he made the same request to other lodges. Furthermore, we may never know for certain whether Columbian Lodge ever responded to Gardiner's plea for assistance. The Museum's collection of records for Columbian Lodge is incomplete and contains several gaps that prevent this question from being answered. That said, research into Gardiner’s life provides a better, if not always clearer, picture of the man and of his life.
George A. Gardiner was born in New York State in about 1786, and married Mary Anne Headley of New Jersey sometime before 1818. The couple had at least three children together: a son George A., who was born in 1818; a son John Charles, who often used the name Carlos or John Carlos and was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1824; and a daughter whose name and birth record could not be discovered during research for this blog post. While no record of George A. Gardiner's death was found in Ancestry.com, courtroom testimony from the trial of his two sons for perjury and fraud, the infamous Gardiner trial, uncovers that senior Gardiner died in Havana, Cuba, possibly around 1840.
Letter from G.A. Gardiner to Columbian Lodge, May 6, 1818. Gift of Columbian Lodge, Boston, Massachusetts, courtesy of Mrs. Godfrey S. Tomkins, MA 002.
Barthel, Thomas (2010). Abner Doubleday: A Civil War Biography. Jefferson: McFarland.
Gardiner, G.A. (1820). A Brief and Correct Account of an Earthquake Which Happened in South America. Poughkeepsie, New York: P. Potter.
Moore, John Bassett (1898). United States and Mexican Claims Commission: Convention of April 11, 1839. In History and Digest of the International Arbitrations to Which the United States Has Been a Party, (Vol. 2, pp. 1209-1359). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. Accessed: 5 March 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=s10QAAAAYAAJ
United States. Congress. Senate (1854). Reports of the Committees of the Senate of the United States for the First Session, Thirty-third Congress, 1853-’54. (Vol. 708, pp. 1259-1260). Washington, D.C.: Beverley Tucker. Accessed 5 March 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=qWxHAQAAIAAJ
Urbani Patat, Franco (1985). George A. Gardiner (1812-1820). Accessed 15 March 2018.