February 25, 2021 … The Long Island Museum (LIM) is proud to offer its latest online publication: Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island. Based on the 2019 exhibition of the same name, the publication written by LIM’s curator Jonathan M. Olly, Ph.D, focuses on the experiences of people of color from the 17th to 19th centuries. The five-chapter publication explores the topics: how slavery operated, how African Americans resisted bondage, navigated the era of emancipation, and built communities in the decades after slavery, from Brooklyn to the Hamptons.
“It’s important to remember,” says Olly, “that people of color have been a part of every Long Island community since the beginning. They worked in all industries, raised families, built communities, and contributed to our shared history and culture in ways that are remembered and celebrated, and also being rediscovered through historical research and archaeology. Some of today’s challenges, such as de facto housing segregation, are rooted in the complex relationships between Black and white Long Islanders in the 18th and 19th centuries. To learn how we got to this point is essential to recognizing biases, fighting discrimination, and meeting our responsibilities to present and future generations. The Long Island Museum’s exhibition, and now this publication, are small steps in that direction.”
More than fifty organizations, companies, governmental offices and private individuals contributed objects and digital images to the exhibition that ran from February 15 to May 27, 2019 in the Art Museum. The unprecedented collection of material in one place for only a limited time prompted the desire for a publication that would provide a permanent record of the exhibition.
The publication of Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island was made possible through generous funding from LIM’s Premier Exhibition Sponsor, MargolinBesunder, LLP as well support from Baird Private Management Group, Bank of America, New York Community Bank Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, the Peter & Barbara Ferentinos Family Endowment, the Mary & Phillip Hulitar Textile Collection, the Long Island Museum Director’s Advisory Circle and public funding provided by Suffolk County.
Photo 1: Cover image of Long Island Museum’s online publication of Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island.
Photo 2: William M. Davis – Sharpening the Saw – 1867 – oil on canvas – LIM gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville 1957. Artist William M. Davis of Port Jefferson found inspiration for his genre and landscape paintings in the people and places around him. In this scene, Davis portrays an African American farmer sharpening the teeth of a bucksaw before resuming cutting logs into firewood. Painted two years after the end of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery in the United States, the farmer’s gray hair suggests that he lived through the final years of slavery on Long Island before it was outlawed forty years before.
Photo 3: Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, built circa 1737. English sugar merchant Nathaniel Sylvester and his wife Grizzell in 1653 brought possibly the East End’s first enslaved Africans — Jacquero, Hannah, and their daughter Hope — to Shelter Island, where they established one of the first provisioning plantations in the northeast. Their grandson, Brinley Sylvester, oversaw construction of this mansion in 1737, replacing the original house. Enslaved and indentured people of color continued to work at the estate into the early 19th century. Now a non-profit educational farm, Sylvester Manor is an important reminder that enslaved people built and labored in many of the structures and landscapes of early Long Island.