Slaves Burying Ground

 


 

 

Dear Friends:

 

As you may be aware, there has been a good deal of dialogue and public commentary about how Oysterponds Historical Society (OHS) handled the removal of the sign at what is known as the Slaves Burying Ground on Narrow River Road in Orient.  The OHS board wants to provide you with some background information, describe what led to the removal of the sign, and update you about our plans for the site and additional historical research.

 

OHS has been working to share the historical wealth of Oysterponds for over 75 years.  Many of the families with deep roots in this community were the original contributors and leaders of this organization.  Over the years, many residents of East Marion and Orient have joined the first families as members, volunteers, and contributors, and have served on the Board. Whether someone’s roots go back three centuries or three years, we welcome everyone’s active support in fulfilling our mission.

 

OHS also strives to bring our community together through the many exhibits and events we put on which are local highlights each year. Heritage Day celebrates America and our place in it, North Fork Fresh highlights our local bounty, while our summer benefit showcases local artists, who have been generous in their support.  Recently, due to the pandemic, OHS served the community coping with stay-at-home orders by launching a series of lectures and lessons online to hundreds of eager recipients and by hosting a virtual Heritage Day.

 

Among our important responsibilities is taking care of our historic buildings and sites. One of these is the Slaves Burying Ground.  The Society placed a historic marker at that site in the 1950s.  About two years ago, a project to investigate the history of the site was undertaken, but was delayed for technical reasons.  Concerns about the accuracy of, and language on this sign had been voiced by an historian, and a number of residents and Trustees over several years.

 

To address those and more recent concerns, about a month ago, OHS’ Executive Director authorized the removal of the sign. This was done with the best of intentions, but we want to acknowledge, as our Executive Director has, that this could have been handled differently. The sign was a very public feature in our community, and the concerns expressed about the language of the sign deal with sensitive issues of community concern.

 

Immediately following the removal, the Board consulted with numerous members of the community and subsequently met to discuss this.  The Board unanimously came to the decision that the sign should remain down, and also decided to erect a temporary sign, as we research the site and determine how best to explain its significance, as well as the broader histories of slavery, indentured servitude, and labor camps in our community.  A temporary sign (below) has been erected which includes a photograph of the original sign and references our historical inquiry.  A new permanent sign will be erected when we complete our research and can more accurately describe the site.  OHS will safeguard the original Slaves Burying Ground sign as part of its collection.

 

 

The Board has formed a Working Group to guide this research.  The Group has already begun working to gather information and consult experts, so we can better understand these histories. We are grateful to have members of the Tuthill family, as well as other community members, participating in that group. We welcome input from all members of the community, as well as those who grew up but may no longer live here.  We will also be in touch with other historical societies on eastern Long Island conducting related inquiries and report all the activities of the Working Group on our website going forward.

 

If we could go back in time, all agree we would have had a more deliberative process to address the removal of the sign.  Alas, we cannot go backwards.  What we can do is to go forward together, the Board, our Executive Director, the Working Group, our staff, and the entire community, openly seeking historical evidence so we can understand and interpret history, in ways that reflect our values as a community and our collective love for this very special place.

 

Sincerely,

Oysterponds Historical Society

 

Click HERE for recent media coverage of this topic.

 

 

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