Our History

On the ancestral lands of the Manhansett People, Shelter Island’s Sylvester Manor was established in 1651 as a provisioning plantation for the Barbadian sugar trade. Originally owned by an Anglo Dutch sugar consortium and worked by enslaved Africans, indentured or paid Native American and European laborers, Sylvester Manor is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. An historic site of conscience, our mission is to Preserve, Cultivate and Share Sylvester Manor, with the goal of ensuring that the voices and histories of the Indigenous, Enslaved and Free People of Color are honored, elevated and incorporated more completely into the greater historical narrative of the region and the United States.

History of Sylvester Manor

We bear a responsibility to share the history of indigenous displacement, generational enslavement, and indenture with our community, visitors, students, artists and scholars. As the most intact slaveholding plantation north of Virginia, held for 363 years by one family of European descent, Sylvester Manor is uniquely positioned to support this work with its landscape of 236 acres, 1737 Manor House, working farm and extensive onsite and offsite collections including archaeological artifacts, decorative arts objects, ephemera and documents deriving from the occupancy of eleven generations of the descendants of Nathaniel Sylvester, and from the native people who resided here for thousands of years.

Since early 2022, with funding from the Mellon Foundation, we have been able to devote staff and resources to research our history with greater depth and concentration than ever before. The results have been meaningful and exciting as we uncovered the identities and lives of Enslaved and Free People of Color that we had no knowledge of before tracing family lineages  from slavery to freedom at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island and the greater East End of Long Island. We have, to date, successfully confirmed the identities of over fifty people we know were laid to rest in unmarked graves in the Afro-Indigenous Burial Ground at Sylvester Manor.