Historical Society Revisits Slavery on Long Island

Historical Society Revisits Slavery on Long Island

The Suffolk County Historical Society’s exhibit concerning slavery on Long Island, "Who Are Our Brethren?” is small and understated, yet it amply conveys the everyday transgressions on human beings' “unalienable rights” made right here in Suffolk County.

In a display case showing records of the sale of slaves, there are the census-like facts: in 1698 there were 1,100 “bondsman” (slaves) on Long Island—with 10 percent of the population of Southampton being enslaved. In 1749 there were 3,400 slaves on Long Island; in 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution, there were 5,000.

“You have to realize,” said Ned Smith, the society’s librarian, “it was less than 200 years ago, in 1827, that slavery was officially abolished in New York State.”

More telling than numbers and years were the old documents, in perfect old-time penmanship, detailing the selling of slaves.

Slave Sale Notice, Published in Charleston, South Carolina, 24th July 1769




Slave Sale Notice, Published in Charleston, South Carolina, 24th July 1769


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“Sale of slave Cato to Henry Moore by Lemuel Howell, Southampton, October 17, 1777.” Another read: “Sale of Pero to Major Thomas Conkling from Pearsheal Howell of Southold.” The price was 25 pounds.

More than individuals were sold as well; one document details the sale of an entire family, “Robbin, Silvia and son Peter,” sold by John Hawkins to Joshua Smith, “forever,” for the sum of 102 pounds.

Then, as now, townships looked for tax revenue. In the 1740s the Town of Brookhaven required “the sum of one shilling currant money a head for every slave male or female, from ten to fifty years of age.”


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