by Mac Griswold
THE MANOR is the biography of a uniquely American place that has endured through wars great and small, through fortunes won and lost, through histories bright and sinister — as well as the tale of the family that has occupied it for three and a half centuries.
In 1984, the landscape historian Mac Griswold was rowing along a Long Island creek when she came upon a stately yellow country house and a garden guarded by hulking boxwoods. She instantly knew that boxwoods that large—twelve feet tall, fifteen feet wide—had to be hundreds of years old. So, as it happened, was the house; Sylvester Manor had been held in the same family for eleven generations.
Formerly encompassing all of Shelter Island, a pearl of 8,000 acres caught between the North and South forks of Long Island, the manor had dwindled to 243 acres. Still, its hidden vault proved to be full of revelations and treasures, including the 1666 charter for the land, and correspondence from Thomas Jefferson. Most notable was the short and steep flight of steps the family had called the “slave staircase,” which would provide clues to the extensive but little-known story of Northern slavery. Alongside a team of archaeologists, Griswold began a dig that would uncover a landscape bursting with stories.
Based on years of archival and field research, as well as voyages to Africa, the West Indies, and Europe, THE MANOR is at once an investigation into forgotten lives and a sweeping drama which captures our history in all its richness and suffering. It is a monumental achievement.
“Mac Griswold’s book documents two vast digs. In the first, archaeologists using trowels and sifters unearth an array of bones, tools, and pottery shards dating back hundreds of years beneath a long Island estate. In the second, Griswold deploys her own very different set of tools—her prodigious research in history, geography, fashion, botany, and landscape architecture, among many other things—to remind us that only a few miles from where america’s wealthiest people now play, slavery once thrived. The Manor is a work of enormous importance and energy, erudition and humanity.”
—David Margolick, contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song
“Fresh and urgent.” —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
“In sparkling prose, Mac Griswold brings the story of sylvester Manor to life through the experiences of the people involved over three centuries, from the american Indians who originally occupied the land to the displaced Europeans and enslaved Africans who created the plantation.”
—Karen Ordahl Kupperman, silver Professor of History, New York university
“Mac Griswold takes us to a grand house on an island in new york where generations of one family have lived since the 1600s to the present. Griswold’s flawlessly researched book presents a startling and comprehensive account of colonial interracial relationships and the way that people of widely distinct cultures held ties to the same land. The Manor is a superbly written and important book for readers of american history.”
—Maryalice Huggins, author of Aesop’s Mirror
Mac Griswold is a cultural landscape historian and the author of Washington’s Gardens at Mount Vernon and The Golden Age of American Gardens. She has won a Guggenheim Fellowship and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Travel + Leisure. She lives in Sag Harbor, NY.
by Katherine Howlett Hayes
The study of slavery in the Americas generally assumes a basic racial hierarchy: Africans or those of African descent are usually the slaves, and white people usually the slaveholders. In this unique interdisciplinary work of historical archaeology, anthropologist Katherine Hayes draws on years of fieldwork on Shelter Island’s Sylvester Manor to demonstrate how racial identity was constructed and livedbefore plantation slavery was racialized by the legal codification of races.
Using the historic Sylvester Manor Plantation site turned archaeological dig as a case study, Hayes draws on artifacts and extensive archival material to present a rare picture of northern slavery on one of the North’s first plantations. The Manor was built in the mid-17th century by British settler Nathaniel Sylvester, whose family owned Shelter Island until the early 18th century and whose descendants still reside in the Manor House. There, as Hayes demonstrates, white settlers, enslaved Africans, and Native Americans worked side by side. While each group played distinct roles on the Manor and in the larger plantation economy of which Shelter Island was part, their close collaboration and cohabitation was essential for the Sylvester family’s economic and political power in the Atlantic Northeast. Through the lens of social memory and forgetting, this study addresses the significance of Sylvester Manor’s plantation history to American attitudes about diversity, Indian land politics, slavery and Jim Crow, in tension with idealized visions of white colonial community.
“Hayes offers a skillful and captivating take on some of the big issues in contemporary historical and anthropological scholarship: race, community, material culture, memory, and heritage. This highly readable book will attract and satisfy archaeologists, historians, and general readers alike, and its thoughtful treatment of New York’s colonial and ‘racial’ histories will resonate with researchers of colonialism around the world.”
- Stephen W. Silliman, University of Massachusetts, Boston
“Under Katherine Hayes’s gifted eye, Shelter Island, NY, becomes the grain of sand within which a whole colonial world may be grasped. Skillfully blending archival and archaeological evidence, she shows Sylvester Manor Plantation to be a crucible of bondage in which Algonquians, Africans, and poor whites labored to provision the Atlantic economy even while beliefs about race drove them apart. Long forgotten (or intentionally suppressed), this colonial history speaks to our present as sharply as it clarifies our past.”
- James F. Brooks, President, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe
Katherine Howlett Hayes is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from UC Berkeley, and an M.A. in Historical Archaeology from the University of Massachusetts Boston.