The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island

Mac Griswold




Trade Paperback

480 Pages



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In 1984, the landscape historian Mac Griswold was rowing along a Long Island creek when she came upon Sylvester Manor, a stately mansion guarded by hulking boxwoods. When Griswold went inside, she encountered a house full of revelations, including a letter from Thomas Jefferson and—most remarkable and disturbing—what the aged owner, Andrew Fiske, casually called the “slave staircase.”

This staircase would reveal the extensive but little-known story of Northern slavery, and in 1997 Griswold returned with a team of archaeologists, uncovering a landscape filled with stories. Based on years of research—and voyages that took her as far as West Africa—Griswold has given us both the biography of a place that has witnessed war and reversals in fortune, and the riveting story of the family that has occupied it for three centuries. A fine-grained account and a sweeping drama, The Manor captures American history in all its richness and contradictions.


Praise for The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island

“Griswold’s deft unpacking of the Sylvester Manor mystery reveals the uncomfortable, complicated history they left behind . . . [A] precise, beautiful book . . . Haunting.”—The Boston Globe

"Meticulous . . . An impressive chronicle."—Chicago Tribune

"After reading Griswold's haunting new study, The Manor: Three CentuTies at a Slave Plantation on Long Island, it is difficult not to see theghosts of seventeenth-century colonists, native Manhansetts, and enslaved Africans mingling with the summer crowds . . . Long Islanders curious about the history of the land we now occupy will be moved by her layered account."—Newsday

"Astonishing . . . The layers of history uncovered at Sylvester Manor show that slavery in the North was not just a passing phenomenon. A step toward restoring these once-forgotten souls to a place in our shared history."—The Daily Beast

The Manor is an extraordinary account of a house in all its domestic splendor and squalor. Its physical presence is beautiful to behold, but the people in it—victim and victor alike—are evidence of all that has gone wrong since that fateful day in 1492. And in focusing our attention on this part of the Northeast, Mac Griswold reminds us how our understanding of the United States of America must be deeply and widely intertwined with the presence of the African. Ihis is an important book, for it is not just about a house. It is about the world and the destruction we have caused in it, all for the sake of making that place called homeor, in other words: the Manor."—Jamaica Kincaid, author of See Now Then

“History buffs will love The Manor, and it tells a story that needs to be told . . . [The house is] a remarkable relic of American history.”—The Washington Post

“Griswold skillfully weaves a historical tapestry of considerable complexity.”—Women’s Wear Daily

“A lively history of early American settlement . . . Like that Pulitzer Prize-winning work [The Hemingses of Monticello], The Manor is American history tightly compressed.”—The Atlantic Wire

"A work of enormous importance and energy, erudition, and humanity."—David Margolick, contributing editor to Vanity Fair and author of Strange Fruit: Biography of a Song 

"Griswold's flawlessly researched book presents a startling and comprelensive account of colonial interracial relationships and the way that people ot widely distinct cultures held ties to the same land. The Manor is a superbly written and important book for readers of American history."—Maryalice Huggins, author of Aesop's Mirror

"One ot the most detailed examinations of the culture of slavery and slave-owning and its deep influence on the development ot the American colonies . . . A deeply researched, painstakingly detailed story of a forDtten chapter ot our nation's history. Highly recommended."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"So much history is trampled ground, but this is both tresh and urgent material."—Library Journal
"Absorbing . . . The parallel stories of the homeowners and their bondservants interweave to form a moving tale of life in the New World, and the author enriches her narrative with meticulous examinations ot items unearthed at the manor, from porridge bowls to old cobblestone pathways. Griswold brings American history home in this fascinating volume."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

In the Press

Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island Returns to Its Roots -
In the hands of a new generation, Sylvester Manor, the 17th-century estate on Shelter Island, has returned to its roots as a working farm, but in a 21st-century sort of way.
Summer Reading Guide - The Atlantic Wire
The Atlantic Wire covers news, opinion and aggregates content on business, politics, entertainment, technology, global and national on the official site of The Atlantic Wire
The House on Shelter Island: The Story of a Northern Slave Plantation - The Daily Beast
Mac Griswold tells Jane Ciabattari about an estate near the Hamptons that used to be one of the largest slave-owning plantations in the North.
Island Profile: Mac Griswold, telling the tale of the Manor | Shelter Island Reporter
Profile of writer Mac Griswold
The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past. | National Review Online
The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past. -
Slaveholders' Estate, Hiding in Plain Sight -
Books about a slaveholders' estate on Long Island, the origins and continuing restoration of Prospect Park and a voyage through New York City's food universe.
The secret history of the Hampton's Sylvester Manor - Hamptons Cottages & Gardens - July 1 2013 - Hamptons
Landscape historian Mac Griswold unveils the truth behind a Shelter Island slave plantation in her new book <i>The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island.<i>
- The Washington Post
In “The Manor,” gardening historian Mac Griswold traces three centuries of a Long Island slave plantation

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


It has taken us about twenty minutes to get into Gardiners Creek from a mooring in the town harbor of Shelter Island, set snugly between two peninsulas, the North and South Forks of Long Island, New York, whose tips stretch out to touch the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean, where the Gulf Stream runs close to the continent as it flows north and east toward Europe.
The tide is full as we ease the dinghy through a big pipe that supports a bridge, a bridge so low to the water that we have to flatten ourselves on the thwarts to get through
Read the full excerpt


  • Mac Griswold

  • Mac Griswold is a cultural landscape historian and the author of Washingtons Gardens at Mount Vernon and The Golden Age of American Gardens. She has won a Guggenheim Fellowship and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Travel + Leisure. She lives in Sag Harbor, New York.

  • Mac Griswold Sigrid Estrada