The manor was initially a point on the infamous triangle of trade, whose coordinates were in West Africa, the American colonies, and the Caribbean. In 1652, Nathaniel Sylvester bought Shelter Island to use for raising livestock to sell in the West Indies and harvesting trees for wooden barrels to be shipped to the islands and filled with rum. The estate ran on the labor of African slaves, Native Americans impressed into service, and indentured European servants. Some of the archive’s earliest documents are bills of sale from the Boston slave market.
By 1859, when the property passed to Eben Norton Horsford, a wealthy Boston chemist and the inventor of baking powder, the manor was used as a vacation home, welcoming the likes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Sarah Orne Jewett, whose handwritten poetry resides in the archive. Today, the most recent Sylvester relation has opened the estate to the public as an organic farm and food education center.
The "Sylvester Manor: Food and Power on a Northern Plantation" exhibition closes August 31.