Southold vs. The Hamptons: First Ladies, History, Wine

Southold for years has been locked in a struggle with Southampton over which town could enjoy the designation of “First English Settlement in New York.” Both claim it in their literature. Both claim to have been founded in 1640, and indeed both were. It comes down to which month. It also comes down to what’s meant by “settlement.” For instance, if two guys in one town sat on a log and talked about having a settlement there, does that beat two guys who bring a group together and announce they are a town? In most ways of looking at it, Southampton triumphs. The Southampton settlers landed at Conscience Point from New England in what is now North Sea on June 12. The Southold settlers landed from New England on October 21. Most other markers line up in Southampton’s favor. Just one thing, a technicality about a definition of the term “New York,” votes for Southold.

And now, in another startling development, Southold claims to have been home to a young woman who also became the First Lady of the land. I say “also” because there were two very beautiful young women from East Hampton who held that honor. One was named Julia Gardiner, who when she was 24 was married to a sitting president of the United States to become the First Lady. And the other was Jackie Bouvier, who was raised in East Hampton as a girl and became the wife of President John F. Kennedy.

The new claimant from Southold is a woman named Anna Symmes Harrison. And indeed, she was America’s First Lady during the administration of William Henry Harrison. Besides everything else, when you consider that there are 50 states in the union and there are only 43 presidents with first ladies, it is quite an honor that among those from New York, three are not only from Long Island but from Eastern Long Island. We certainly can claim to grow young ladies out here who are beautiful, smart and charming. There you have it. The population in the country is over 300 million; less than a million people live on eastern Long Island. We’ve had three first ladies.

There, however, the comparison between the beautiful Miss Gardiner and Miss Jacqueline Bouvier and the less beautiful (at least not celebrated as being that beautiful) Miss Symmes, ends.

Julia Gardiner was born and raised in East Hampton and Manhattan. So was Jackie Bouvier.

Anna Symmes was born in New Jersey, taken east by her father after her mother died to be raised in Southold by grandparents when she was 4 years old.

Score: Julia and Jackie 1, Anna 0.

Julia Gardiner got married to a widowed President, John Tyler, when he was in his third year in office. She brought elegance to the White House. She rode around in a coach pulled by a team of horses. Jackie Bouvier was a wealthy horsewoman who brought a new kind of style to the White House.

Anna Symmes married her husband when he was a simple lieutenant in the army many years before he became President. They lived on the frontier where her husband was fighting Indians. When William Henry Harrison became President in March 1841, he moved to the White House. Anna was sick and could not accompany him. She would be along later. Thirty days later, when she was getting packed to move, she learned her husband had died. He had been President for a month. And she never lived in the White House.

Score: Julia and Jackie 2, Anna Symmes 0.

Julia Gardiner bore John Tyler eight children. All were born after he became President. Jackie Bouvier bore Jack Kennedy two children before he became President.

Anna Symmes bore William Henry Harrison 10 children. All were born BEFORE he became President.

I call that a tie.

Score: Julia and Jackie 2 ½, Anna Symmes ½.

Julia Gardiner was educated as a young lady at a private school in Manhattan. But the family came out to East Hampton to their mansion here in the summertime. The same was true of Jackie Bouvier.

Anna Symmes went to the Clinton Academy in East Hampton when she was old enough to go to school. It would not be possible back then for a young girl to live at home and get taken from Southold to East Hampton for school every day. She had to be boarded in East Hampton.

Score Julia and Jackie 3 ½, Anna Symmes ½.

Julia Gardiner was swept off her feet by her future husband when a gun exploded on the ship they were on, killing her father. President John Tyler said he would never leave her as she cried. Jackie Bouvier married John Kennedy in one of the greatest weddings of the 1953 social season.

Anna Symmes, when she presented her prospective husband, the Indian fighter, to her father, was told by him that he would not give permission to marry Harrison because he would be taking her off to wars all over the place. In fact, he did not come to her wedding.

Score: Julia and Jackie 4 ½, Anna Symmes ½.

An oddity in this whole story is this. William Henry Harrison and John Tyler were friends, both born on plantations in Virginia, who ran together for the Presidency and Vice Presidency, respectively, in 1840 under the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” William Henry Harrison got sick after they won the election, but to show the country how healthy he was, he delivered his inauguration speech on a cold winter day without wearing an overcoat. He died 30 days later, the shortest Presidential term in history, his wife never having come to Washington. John Tyler, his Vice President, thus became President and served out the term, marrying Julia along the way.

Of course, Southold has more vineyards and wineries than any other community on Long Island, including the Hamptons. In that regard, we give Southold 5 points.

Final score: Southold 5 ½, the Hamptons 4 ½.

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