The first mentions of the Gedney name occur in England between 600 and 800 CE, in the "Fen Country" ("Little Holland" so called because the area is known chiefly for it's exports of tulips, and known for little else.) near the "Wash", by the ancient cathedral town of Ely, and in Lincoln and Nottinhamshire.
As near as we can tell, the name is roughly Saxon for "I'm from Ged". Ged was purported to be a small island in the North Sea, and named, imaginatively enough, for the North Atlantic Blue Pike, which is in Anglo-Saxon called the "gedda". This is probably the reason for the ancestral "coat of arms" at the top of this page. (you might correctly draw the conclusion that Gedneys of the time were not particularly known for their imagination. We have been making up for it lately)
The Gedneys in England were small time shipbuilders and (because they had boats) importers of goods from the mainland. One branch of the family became prominent in the "Draper's Guild" (cloth merchant's trade union), and set up shop in London, no less. There are records in Drapers Hall in London of a John Gedney (we had a lot of John Gedneys then. We still do. Don't ask me why) who served terms as president of the guild, and stood a term as Lord High Mayor of London.
John Gedney (not that one, another one) came to America in 1643, ("on his own damn boat", as I am fond of pointing out to my acquaintances of "Mayflower" ancestry). Since John was a Quaker, and the first non-puritan to arrive in Salem, and since Puritans could not SELL booze, but could BUY booze, the town immediately confiscated his ship, and ordered him to open a tavern. In classic Gedney fashion, he said "They cannot take away my ship, and expect me to do nothing! I'll show them!" and opened his tavern. Which he called the "SHIP Tavern" and situated it on a wharf, over the water, and not a bit of it on Salem soil. This arrangement also made garbage disposal real easy... ("Splash") Come to think of it, it probably made sobering up unruly drunks easy as well! (Big "Splash"!)
Soon, John's son Eleazar had a thriving boat building operation (so he could leave when he felt like it, but he never did) and tried to join what passed for Society in Salem. In 1668, Eleazar helped build a house as a wedding gift for his daughter (He liked to build houses... they were like boats that don't sink -- Check out this one), she was marrying some up and comer in Salem Society named John Turner. The house he contributed laborers from his shipyard for building, is today famous as the "House of the Seven Gables". But he did not go as far, in Society, as did his brother, Bartholomew. Bart realized that not being among the chosen, meant that you did not get chosen (for parties, public office, lucrative shipping contracts), so he converted very early to Puritanism. Ever hear the phrase, "there is no zealot like a converted zealot"? Well that description fit Bartman to a "T"! He was a Holy Terror. He rapidly rose to the rank of major in the local militia. After teaching scalping to the Indians during the "Prince Phillips War" Indian uprising ("Odd's Blood! These heathen bodies are stacking up like cordwood behind the courthouse, I cannot dispose of them fast enough! OK, folks, since all these heathens all have different hairdos, from now on, if you want me to pay the two pound bounty on hostile natives, just bring me the pelt, and leave the rest where you found it"), he was most well known for hanging his friends during the Witch Hysteria. Nice guy. Wonder what he would say, if he saw his distant relative waving his hand in defined arcane patterns over a tablet marked with symbols, and making something out of nothing (writing this on a computer keyboard, to be put on the web)? My neck hurts even thinking about it.
After a while, wood got hard to find in the
heavily built-up Boston area, so the Eleazar's Son, Eleazar Jr.
(We can be so imaginative) Gedney moved the operation to the area
now known as Rye and Mamaroneck, New York. It was easy to ship
wood downstream from Newburgh, where it was plentiful, floating
it downriver to Rye, where it could be made into boats.
Eleazar, Jr. was just as big on building houses as was his father, and when his two of his sons got married, and moved to Newburgh, he had made them two fine houses. Those houses, however, were not where his sons lived. They were where his workers were, in Rye. What was a forward thinking Early Eighteenth-Century Neo-Puritan to do? Simple, he had the houses designed so that they could come apart by knocking out a few important parts with hammers, and fold flat. Then he shipped them by barge, up the river to Newburgh, and erected them, and replaced the pins, on the foundations the boys dug to receive them. This is the earliest example I have found of true "Prefab" housing to date.
The Gedneys stayed there in the Rye/Port
Chester area, and my family continued to build boats, until
W.W.II, when the U-BOAT scare stopped people from buying boats
for four years. We went out of business, but never moved very far
after that, staying in the Greenwich/Byram/Port Chester area.
(There is, by the way, a lot of confusion over where the border between New York and Connecticut in this area. People who live in Port Chester have this idea that they actually live in New York State. The truth is that they actually live in "West Byram", in Connecticut. We just fooled New York State into thinking that the border is where it is, so we do not have to fix the roads over there. Clever, huh?)
On the Amistad:
Lt. Thomas Gedney, who commanded the the Brig "Washington", which captured the "La Amistad" and brought her in to New Haven Harbor, actually came from a South Carolina branch of the family, and his personal views on slavery are not known. The New England Gedneys were long suspected of aiding escaping slaves and one pair of "Spinster" Gedney sisters in Glastonbury, CT. were found, during renovations of their house, after their deaths, to have had a hidden room in the basement, which has been shown to have been actually a stop on the "UnderGround Railroad". Why then the discrepancy between traditional family politics and Lt. Gedney wanting salvage rights to the "Mutineers"? Apart from the obvious answer that Lt. Thomas came from the south, and may have felt differently, we simply do not know (some southern Gedneys were suspected to have aided escaped slaves, some were known to be slave owners. It probably made for fractious family gettogethers. It still does, Gedneys have long memories...). But the answer probably lay in the way the US Navy operated at the time. Lt. Gedney was a sailor and officer, first and foremost, as many Gedneys had been before and after him. The Navy of the time paid very small wages, and advancement was hard to come by (It was over ten years for Ens. Gedney to achieve Lt. status). Many crews prayed for a rich prize to capture, as the salvage and prize fees were divided between the crew. A ship like the "La Amistad", with a cargo of very valuable slaves, would have netted a very handsome Prize fee, and made the difference for his crew of retiring from the Navy as paupers, or being set up comfortably, for life. As much as it may have bothered him, LT. Gedney was obliged by his duty to his crew, as commander, to get the "La Amistad" and her cargo, sell them, and divide it up between her crew.
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