Pictured Above: A small family cemetery on Narrow River Road in Orient, in which several enslaved people were buried with the Tuthill family that owned them, is one of the few well-known reminders of slavery’s presence on the North Fork.
Although not as well established as in the South, the institution of slavery was common on the North Fork from the mid-1600s until it was abolished by New York State in 1828. During that 178-year period, an estimated 550 enslaved lived and labored here.
The North Fork Project team has assembled a database with over 1,700 records pertaining to the enslaved, free, and people of color — including the Indigenous peoples — who have lived on the North Fork.
The team will present its findings in a special presentation at the Jamesport Meeting House on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. There is no charge, but donations will support the project.
Steve Wick, the executive editor of the Times Review Media Group, started the project two-and-a half years ago when he asked Richard Wines, president of the Meeting House board, and Southold Town historian Amy Folk to provide a list of names of enslaved individuals who lived on the North Fork.
At the time, each was only able to name a few dozen enslaved. The soon brought in Sandi Brewster Walker, a specialist in African American history and genealogy and the region’s Indigenous past and who is a member of the Montaukett Nation.
Jackie Dinan, who is researching a book about former Southold Town historian Wayland Jefferson, contributed some of her deep research on the subject. With funding from a local foundation, the team has also added Jaclynkelli Kronemberg as an intern to help with the databases.
The 1731 Jamesport Meeting House itself has numerous connections to slavery in the area. At least eight of the builders of the meeting house came from enslaver families, so it is likely that at least a few enslaved people helped in its construction.
Over the ensuing years, a significant portion of its members were enslavers, and enslaved people likely worshipped in the narrow balconies that originally lined the east, north and south walls of the structure.
Records of slave baptisms, marriages and deaths show up in the parish records, which were jointly shared with the Mattituck meeting house for much of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.
Even the ministers of the combined parish were often slaveholders. For instance, Rev. Benjamin Goldsmith, an 1760 Yale graduate and man of “sound mind … and unfeigned piety,” owned two people, according to the 1790 census and in 1809 the death of “Peg, my black girl” (i.e., his own slave) was recorded in the parish records.
His successor, the Rev. Abraham Luce, Jr. who later donated the property for the first Sound Avenue church (now a Buddhist temple), was not only the son of an enslaver, but himself owned one person in 1810 and two in 1820 while serving the combined parish.
This project is similar to the Plain Sight Project, which was started on the South Fork by East Hampton Star publisher David Rattray. The organizers plan to merge the databases of both projects to make them accessible through the Plain Sight web portal.