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Slavery before Race

Slavery before Race: Europeans, Africans, and Indians at Long Island's Sylvester Manor Plantation, 1651-1884

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 238
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  • Book Info
    Slavery before Race
    Book Description:

    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 lived before 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. There, 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.Katherine Howlett Hayesis 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2469-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Figures and Table
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. xvii-xviii)

    These days, as in the past, anyone who wishes to visit Shelter Island must travel by water, for there are no bridges spanning the passage. Sturdy ferries, carrying fifteen or so cars on a trip, make the crossing at the north and south ends of the island. Boat travel to me feels like a sidestep into another time, the gentle rolling motion unlike most modern forms of transportation, despite the fact that you can make the ferry trip while sitting in a car. The ferry ride serves as a temporal rupture, a sign perhaps that history here will not perform...

  6. 1 Tracing a Racialized History
    (pp. 1-16)

    When Nathaniel Sylvester and his young bride Grissell came to reside on Shelter Island sometime around 1652 or 1653, they might have spoken between themselves about how they had landed in a lonely place, feeling that the two of them had only one another in this unfamiliar land. Writing to his business colleague, Connecticut Colony Governor John Winthrop Jr., Nathaniel commented about his marriage, “I find my selfe very happie and I hope in God wee may be a Confort unto Each Other [sic].” Their comfort likely came from a shared background, shared values, and a shared understanding of their...

  7. 2 Convergence
    (pp. 17-56)

    Contrary to popular historical depictions, Europeans did not arrive to a find terra nullius in the New World; likewise, history did not begin with their arrival. To understand the relationships and interactions of European colonists and Native Americans in southern New England and coastal New York, we must first look to Native histories prior to European colonization. The social structures in place here played a significant role in the ability of English and Dutch to establish and expand colonial settlements.

    Southern New England and Long Island were ecologically rich and diverse environments that, by the Late Woodland period (one thousand...

  8. 3 Building and Destroying
    (pp. 57-85)

    Landscapes are not neutral spaces. They are the places of ongoing actions of humans on the environment and the environment on humans, a relationship so constant in its performance that it occurs at a level of bodily habituation. Landscape can include both built structures and natural features, each structuring our experience in such a way that we come to think of landscape as natural. Because of this continuous engagement, documents for historical posterity rarely comment upon historical environments, just as we would scarcely think to record the number of doors we passed through in the course of our day. Yet...

  9. 4 Objects of Interaction
    (pp. 86-120)

    Landscape might be the literal grounds for interaction, but very often the material world on a smaller scale—objects portable, intimate, handled, crafted, passed from hand to hand—provides the rationale and locus for people to come together. In chapter 3 I imagined seeing the early plantation core setting, arriving from the water, viewing the house, walking about the compact arrangement of buildings forming a compound, and gazing past the buildings to the more open lands. Recall a few of the historical actors in that scene--an Indian woman processing fish in the yard and an enslaved African man bringing firewood...

  10. 5 Forgetting to Remember, Remembering to Forget
    (pp. 121-162)

    The physical face of the plantation and its complex human geography were nowhere to be seen by the end of the eighteenth century. A new landscape, a succession of generations with new political concerns, and the dispersion of the descendants of the indigenous and the enslaved undercut the durable materiality and means of transmitting social memory. Yet today, Sylvester Manor and Shelter Island are places steeped in their own history, where residents pay particular attention to the time of settlement by the first generation of Sylvesters. How is the story of that time told? What parts are remembered, and what...

  11. 6 Unimagining Communities
    (pp. 163-180)

    Artifacts, unseen archives, and anecdotal histories thus act to introduce doubt, to disrupt the grand narratives of race. They await our willingness to see them and our ability to recognize them as ruptures. If we give attention to the haunting figures and conspicuous historical silences and juxtapose those silences with the reconstructed archaeological facts and the unremarked archival materials, then could we reassemble different stories? In my own narrative, I have tried to focus on the many elisions, failures to record or preserve, selective silences, outright destructions, and narrative erasures that have rendered us unable to gain a clear perspective...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 181-182)

    The Manor today is undergoing yet another radical transformation. Since Alice Fiske passed away, the descendant family has chosen not to keep the estate solely as private property. Recognizing the great historical value of the place—in all of its iterations—they have moved toward more public preservation and maintenance, in part by returning to some of the roots of the enterprise: food production. Now it is the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, a nonprofit community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, where the aesthetic of the formal ornamental garden is complemented by the beans, lettuce, strawberries, and eggs. As Bennett Konesni, a...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 183-186)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-214)
  15. Index
    (pp. 215-220)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 221-221)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 222-222)