Multiple Organizations Team Up For Three-Year Archaeological Study

Shelter Island, NY: Sylvester Manor, the Shinnecock Tribal Nation Graves Protection Warrior Society, Honor Our Indigenous Ancestors, Inc., Unkechaug Nation and representative descendants of tribal people of Long Island are proud to announce the Afro-Indigenous Burial Ground Partnership at Sylvester Manor. This fall’s inaugural project will focus on the archaeological study of Sylvester Manor’s Afro-Indigenous Burial Ground under the direction of Dr. Stephen Mrozowski of the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The focus of this year’s work will be to survey an area of Sylvester Manor that has long been identified as the burial ground of the Indigenous, Enslaved and Free People of Color who lived and worked at Sylvester Manor. The cemetery is considered to be an ancestral burial ground of the Manhansett People who made Shelter Island their home for millennia. It was also used as the burial site for Enslaved African People brought to work at the provisioning plantation on Shelter Island established by Nathaniel Sylvester and his partners in 1651. Native and Free People of Color continued to be buried at the site for over three centuries. Julia Dyd Havens Johnson, a freeborn woman of color, is said to be the last person to be buried in the Afro-Indigenous Burial Ground, in 1908.

Dr. Mrozowski has led archaeological studies at Sylvester Manor for over 20 years and observes, “This project will usher in a new era of collaboration that seeks to right the wrongs of the past while charting a future shaped by indigenous voices. Archaeology owes nothing less to the indigenous peoples of Long Island – this is, after all, their land and their history.”

This project is set to start at the end of September 2021, the first phase of a three-year archaeological study at Sylvester Manor in collaboration with UMass Boston and representatives of the tribes of Long Island. The study will be partially funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Hart Family Fund for Small Towns and a federal grant from the 400 Years of African American History Commission.

According to Stephen Searl, Executive Director for Sylvester Manor, “This partnership will have a transformative impact not only on our ongoing archaeology work at Sylvester Manor but how we tell the history of this place, whose stories we tell, and how we use this 235-acre property in the future. This project has the potential to be a model for archaeologists, historians, and culturally significant sites around the nation. We are honored to be working with the Shinnecock Tribal Nation Graves Protection Warrior Society, Honor Our Indigenous Ancestors, Inc., Unkechaug Nation and representative descendants of tribal people of Long Island on such an innovative and groundbreaking project.”

The Indigenous Manhansett People of Shelter Island are Ancestors of Sylvester Manor, and their history and presence are vital to the nonprofit organization’s mission: Preserve, Cultivate and Share Sylvester Manor. This Partnership project and the participation of tribal members and organizations will enable us to tell fuller stories, histories, and traditions of the Indigenous People of Eastern Long Island.

Shane Weeks, Co-Chair Shinnecock Nation Graves Protection Warrior Society says, “Our histories have been a part of Shelter Island for millennia, and as such have been intertwined with Sylvester Manor since its establishment. Though our histories there speak in stories of slavery, displacement, desecration, and many other atrocities, today the tides of long overdue healing and acknowledgment are here. With representatives from the Sylvester family, African-Americans, and the Indigenous community of Long Island, we have begun to explore and expose the truth of Sylvester Manor as equal partners in this multi-year archaeological project. Our aim throughout this project is to preserve forever ancient and historic burials, sacred sites and other significant findings and we hope this partnership can serve as a model for future archaeological endeavors on Long Island and elsewhere. We thank the team at Sylvester Manor for reaching out to include us in this project in such a way.”

The first phase of the Partnership project will be September 24th through 27th, 2021 and continue the first weekend of October. The initial archaeological surveying will determine if the burial site is larger than currently described, map the area, and perform advanced ground penetrating radar in an effort to determine how many graves are present.

An opening ceremony and blessing will be held at Sylvester Manor on Friday September 24th, 2021 at 4:00 pm and the public is invited to visit the Afro-Indigenous Burial Ground site at Sylvester Manor during the project from September 24th to September 27th. 


Once the home and lands of the Indigenous Manhansett People, Sylvester Manor has since 1651 been home to eleven generations of its original European settler family. Gifted to the Shelter Island community in 2014, the 235-acre historic site is the most intact slaveholding plantation remnant north of Virginia. Sylvester Manor sits on Gardiners Creek and has been transformed to an Enlightenment-era farm, then to a pioneering food industrialist’s estate and today to a nonprofit organic educational farm and vibrant arts and education center with programs open to all. The property includes the Manor House built in 1735, a timber frame farmstand and a 19th century windmill. For more information, visit www.sylvestermanor.org.



AAQ / Resource: Riverhead Toyota