For Black History month 2019, PortSide NewYork will run a digital program about African American Maritime Heritage (#AfAmMH ) sharing content from our resource webpage and information around the web. We will share info on our social media and update this blogpost over the month. We hope to make it a conversation; it’s called social media for a reason!
We are unable to run public physical programs this month because there are no interior spaces on our ship MARY A. WHALEN big enough, and it is too cold on deck. We are still waiting to hear about the possibility of building space alongside our ship.
If you have suggestions for #AfAmMH topics or links to share, please post them in the comments below. Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and share and comment on our posts. Thanks!
Download our AfAm Maritime MiniHistory on Robert Smalls. This prints 2 per 8 1/2 by 11” page. Print 6 double-sided pages to make 2 copies of a 12 page book. More about him on our African American Maritime Heritage webpage.
Sandy Ground, Staten Island
Chesapeake watermen came to NYC in the early 1800s – pushed out by racism in the Chesapeake - and made history. Their resulting settlement on the south shore of Staten Island, first called Harrisville then Little Africa and finally Sandy Ground, is the oldest continuously-settled, free black community in the United States. In its honor, a new Staten Island ferry, now under construction, will be named "Sandy Ground," a tribute to a story of African American Maritime Heritage. The Sandy Ground Historical Society memorializes and interprets this history.
The first documented land purchase there by an African American, Captain John Jackson, dates to 1828, soon after the abolition of slavery in New York State. “Captain Jackson “operated the Lewis Columbia ferry between Rossville and New York. With their own private school and two churches, an 1860 census showed 60% of the community to be literate—an unusually high proportion for any community at the time.” Source
Oysters were seeded along the south shore of Staten Island by sailing them from the Chesapeake, according to this Flickr post citing the 2011 Landmarks Preservation Commission report: “Such tiny oysters were first brought for planting from the Chesapeake Bay in 1820. A schooner with a captain and four-man crew could travel from Prince’s Bay in Staten Island to the lower Chesapeake, load 2,500 to 3,500 bushels of seed oysters onto their boat and return in less than six days. Upon his return to Staten Island the captain would hire an additional 12 men to shovel the seed oysters overboard onto a specified area that was leased from the state for this purpose. Staten Island oystermen soon developed special wooden trays or “flats” for the oysters to adhere to while other locals developed the skill of making the wood splint baskets that became the standard unit of measure for the oyster trade. In this way, the oyster trade employed many people and by the 1830s was the most important economic activity on Staten Island.”
As of 2008, "Ten families who trace their roots to the original settlers still live in Sandy Ground. Ms. Lewis and her mother moved from Sandy Ground to the North Shore after a 1963 fire on the South Shore destroyed their home and 14 others in Sandy Ground." from the New York Times
Foodie angle! There is a Secret Sauce!
Sandy Ground is included in a 2013 study “Education on the Underground Railroad: A Case Study of Three Communities in New York State (1820-1870)”
Recent studies reveal their graveyard to be much larger than originally thought with 500 unmarked graves discovered. Note the African American burial practices of the 19th century .
Here is Councilwoman Debi Rose's petition that helped have the new Staten Island ferry be named Sandy Ground.
2/2/19 2:30-4:30pm Here is the video link to Skip Finley's talk about his upcoming book “Whaling Captains of Color-America’s First Meritocracy.” https://www.facebook.com/lee.blake.7906/videos/10212860576174003/, an event at the New Bedford Historical Society (NBHS). Background in an article he wrote about the topic. Skip Finley is a media executive, author, historian and speaker. More about the NBHS here