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The Mast-Head: East Hampton’s Enslavers

Wed, 02/09/2022 - 17:22

Black History Month has been busy here in recent years, since The Star and the East Hampton Library began looking into the history of slavery in earnest in the summer of 2017. From a starting point of two individuals, our research has found more than 700 enslaved people in records from the 1650s to the 1830s. This is just a start; we have really yet to begin the search in Southampton Town, among other places from the Colonial and early nation eras.

One of the things that has emerged is how ubiquitous slavery was on the East End of Long Island — and how far its economic tentacles reached. One way I describe it is that if someone had a street named after him (they were almost entirely men), then he was an enslaver.

Within a few minutes’ walk of the Star office, Buell, Dayton, Edwards, Osborne, James, Huntting, Fithian, and Sherrill all memorialize those who held other human beings in bondage. A bit farther on our imaginary tour, we can count Gardiner, Barnes, Parsons, Hand, Mulford, and many others in the same ignominious group. William Rysam, for whom a scholarship to this day is administered by the East Hampton Town Trustees, was not only an enslaver, but before settling in Sag Harbor he had been captain on at least one slave voyage, carrying captive Africans from Barbados to be sold in Virginia before the American Revolution.

Each of East Hampton’s first three church ministers were enslavers, not only of people of African descent, but in the case of the Rev. Thomas James, for whom James Lane was named, Indigenous people as well. Captives from the New England colonists’ wars with the original inhabitants of the region were sold to wherever a buyer could be found. In the records for 1677, we see, “one Indian Captive girle about Thirteene or foorteene yeeres of age Comonlie Called or known by ye name of Beck for him ye sd James Loper his heires or assignes or Either of them for to have hould posses and enjoy as his or their proper estate duringe her naturall life.” Loper owned several properties in East Hampton and was famous in local lore for being invited, in 1672, to lead a new whaling venture on Nantucket. A good number of Lopers still live here, and there is a Loper’s Path in the woods north of Sagaponack.


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