Plain Sight Series Sheds Light on History of East End Slavery

Pictured Above: The cover of Jeffrey Colvin’s novel “Africaville.”

Historians focusing on African American history on the East End are teaming up with the East Hampton Star newspaper for a project they’re hoping will give names and dignity to people who had historically been enslaved here.

The Arts Center at Duck Creek in Springs is sponsoring the Plain Sight Lecture Series, three talks throughout the month of August, presented by David Rattray and Donnamarie Barnes of the Plain Sight Project, along with a staged reading at Guild Hall. The lectures will be held outdoors for free, but seats are limited (no rain dates) and RSVP is required at duckcreekarts@gmail.com.

Along with many northern communities, East Hampton is disconnected from its slave-owning past. By compiling a comprehensive, public list of enslaved persons from the Colonial period to the last recorded enslaved person in East Hampton in 1830, the Plain Sight Project is designed to reconcile with this forgotten history, while taking a step to place these people and their stories back into our nation’s founding narrative with in-class outreach to public and private schools.

The series kicks off on Saturday Aug. 1, 5 p.m. with Plain Sight Project Overview, an hour-long talk with Sylvester Manor curator Donnamarie Barnes and East Hampton Star publisher David Rattray about the history of slavery in Colonial North America, sharing their research data and individual stories of enslaved people on the East End in the mid-17th century. They will also reveal their personal relationships to the subject of enslaved people on the East End and how their combined archives became a catalyst for the Plain Sight Project.

On Saturday, August 15, at 5 p.m., Ms. Barnes and Mr. Rattray will be joined by author Jeffrey Colvin to discuss his recent novel “Africaville,” which tells the story of three generations of a family in a small Nova Scotia town settled in the 1800s by the freed slaves from the Caribbean and United States. They will relate to the stories in his book to those of enslaved people on the East End of Long Island, and share their thoughts on how both his Out of the Loop installation at Duck Creek and the Plain Sight Project seek to support our “national will to do better.” The Out of the Loop installation on the grounds at Duck Creek will be on view Saturday & Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. 

Also on Aug. 15, at 8 p.m., Guild Hall in East Hampton will present a staged reading of Mr. Colvin’s novel, directed by Shinnecock native Andrina Smith.

The series at Duck Creek concludes on Saturday, Aug. 29, at 5 p.m. with “The Future of the Plain Sight Project.”

Ms. Barnes and Mr. Rattray will discuss the end of slavery in the North, and their goal to make the Plain Sight Project a template for groups and individuals in the Upper Mid-Atlantic, New York State, and New England regions who want to develop their own archives of enslaved persons. 

They hope this project will create a granular national database that can be used to understand the relative presence and location of enslaved persons in the region through time, and that the names of the enslaved will be honored and their stories inserted back into our shared history.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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