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The Mast-Head: A Welcome Airing

Wed, 02/03/2021 - 18:14

This has been an extremely gratifying week for a team of us doing work to learn about the history of slavery on the East End and share our research with others.

NBC 4 News in New York City broadcast a well-reported piece on our Plain Sight Project on Tuesday. It was the first in a monthlong series of stories for Black History Month, and prominently featured the project’s first and most important partner, the East Hampton Library. NBC has made the spot available online, and a link to it can be found on and its Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Back in 2017, the project began with my niece Bryley Williams, then a summer intern at The Star, copying the names of what we at the time thought might be enslaved people from church records. Quickly she put together a list of about 330 individuals about whom we wanted to know more. Documents in the library’s Long Island Collection filled in a lot of the mystery. Wills confirmed that many of the names were those of the enslaved, as did household inventories and even shoemakers’ account books.

Donnamarie Barnes, the curator at Sylvester Manor, came on board the project the following summer, and has been a key force in getting us to think regionally. We have recently begun sharing work with North Fork researchers, and there is the prospect of encouraging students in Southampton to scour the old records there. The East Hampton Village Preservation Society offered an unsolicited research grant.

Slavery was a fundamental part of the development of the Northern colonies and a key piece of the early American story. The more we know about the past, the better we will be able to understand the present.

If you have questions or would like to help, please get in touch with me at 631-324-0002.

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