An opening reception, April 10, 6-9pm, kicks off the exhibition and celebrates the publication of two new books about the Manor

NYU’s Fales Library Presents an Exhibition: “Sylvester Manor: Land, Food and Power on a New York Plantation,” April 10, Openng Reception

New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library presents an opening reception for the exhibition “Sylvester Manor: Land, Food and Power on a New York Plantation,” curated by Jennifer Anderson, PhD., on Wednesday, April 10, 2013 from 6:00-9:00 p.m. in the Mamdouha Bobst Gallery, main floor, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, (at LaGuardia Place). [Subways A,C,E, B,D,M to West 4th Street; 6 line to Astor Place; R train to 8th Street.].

The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.  Please email


The evening will begin with Anderson, discussing the significance of the exhibition which explores three centuries of the politics of food and changing land uses in New York. Anderson will be followed by readings from new books by authors, Katherine Howlett Hayes, Slavery Before Race: Europeans, Africans, and Indians at Long Island’s Sylvester Manor Plantation, 1651-1884 and Mac Griswold, The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island.  Both authors made use of Fales Library’s extensive archive for researching the Manor.


“This exhibition will give New Yorkers a new appreciation for the fact that today’s locavore movement has some very important antecedents,” said Anderson.  “At Sylvester Manor, we see evidence of how European settlers, Indians, and enslaved Africans converged on one small island, living and working at close quarters. In many ways, it was a microcosm of early New York, which was similarly diverse and polyglot,” she said.


Founded in 1652 on Shelter Island (between Long Island's forks) by four English adventurers with Quaker sympathies, the Manor originated as a 17th-century plantation worked by Manhansett Indians, enslaved Africans, and European indentured servants to supply food to the West Indies as part of the colonial Triangle Trade.


In the 18th century, the site was transformed into a gentleman's farm that saw the blossoming of Enlightenment agriculture. After the Civil War, it became the country estate of E. N. Horsford, a scientist who revolutionized industrial food production; he experimented with chemical fertilizers while his daughters revived the colonial gardens. Through these transformations, this remarkable site has survived intact, even as it has been reinvented.


Today, Sylvester Manor is thriving as a learning center for organic agriculture and a working farm where New Yorkers can still partake of the bounty of its land. Its historic landscape includes 243 acres (from its original 8,000 acres), a circa 1735 Georgian house, 18th- and 19th-century outbuildings, including a rare 1810 Dominy windmill, and remnants of the formal garden. Bennett Konesni, founder and creative director of the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, represents the fifteenth generation in a long line of family that have stewarded the property.


The exhibition draws on the Sylvester Manor Archive, an archive of thousands of rare documents carefully preserved by Sylvester descendents that they recently donated to New York University's Fales Library and Special Collections. It also brings these unique documents together with historic objects from the Manor as well as archaeological materials excavated at the site, under the direction of Dr. Stephen Mrozowski, founding director of the Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research (University of Massachusetts Boston).


The exhibition includes such items as founder Nathaniel Sylvester's 1660s land deeds signed by Indian sachems including the Montauket leader Wyandanch, correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, and the Horsford daughters’ haunting Victorian photographs of the garden. Together these unique documents and artifacts offer a fresh perspective on this important but little-known historic site, reminding us that our urban lives are still enriched through deeper engagement with the land and its human heritage.


Its opening coincides with the publication of two significant new books about Sylvester Manor: Mac Griswold, The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, forthcoming 2013) and Katherine H. Hayes, Slavery before Race: Europeans, Africans, and Indians at Long Island's Sylvester Manor Plantation, 1651-1884 (NYU Press, forthcoming 2013) which are making the latest research available to the broader public.


The exhibition, which runs through July 15, 2013, is in the Mamdouha S. Bobst Gallery, Bobst Library (first floor), New York University. The exhibition is free and open to the public from 9:30am-6:00 pm, Monday through Saturday.


Jennifer Anderson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Stony Brook University (SUNY). Jennifer has a PhD in Atlantic History from New York University. She is the author of a new book entitled Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America (Harvard Univ. Press, 2012) about the social and environmental history of the tropical timber trade in the 18th century. She has received many awards and fellowships, including the Society of American Historians’ Nevins Prize for Best-Written Dissertation. She has a strong commitment to public history and worked as a consultant at over a dozen historic sites and museums in the tri-state area. She was part of the research team for the Emmy-nominated documentary, “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North,” about the Northern slave trade.


About Fales Library and Special Collections:

The Fales Library, comprising nearly 200,000 volumes, and over 8,000 linear feet of archive and manuscript materials, houses the Fales Collection of rare books and manuscripts in English and American literature, the Downtown Collection, the Food and Cookery Collection and the general Special Collections of the NYU Libraries. The Fales Collection was given to NYU in 1957 by DeCoursey Fales in memory of his father, Haliburton Fales. It is especially strong in English literature from the middle of the 18th century to the present, documenting developments in the novel. The Downtown Collection documents the downtown New York art, performance, and literary scenes from 1975 to the present and is extremely rich in archival holdings, including extensive film and video objects. The Food and Cookery Collection is a vast, and rapidly expanding collection of books and manuscripts documenting food and foodways with particular emphasis on New York City. Other strengths of the collection include the Berol Collection of Lewis Carroll Materials, the Robert Frost Library, the Kaplan and Rosenthal Collections of Judaica and Hebraica and the manuscript collections of Elizabeth Robins and Erich Maria Remarque.


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