Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island
By Mac Griswold
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374266295, 480pp.)
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Mac Griswold’s The Manor is the biography of a uniquely American place that has endured through wars great and small, through fortunes won and lost, through histories bright and sinister—and of the family that has lived there since its founding as a Colonial New England slave plantation three and a half centuries ago.
In 1984, the landscape historian Mac Griswold was rowing along a Long Island creek when she came upon a stately yellow house and a garden guarded by looming boxwoods. She instantly knew that boxwoods that large—twelve feet tall, fifteen feet wide—had to be hundreds of years old. So, as it happened, was the house: Sylvester Manor had been held in the same family for eleven generations.
Formerly encompassing all of Shelter Island, New York, a pearl of 8,000 acres caught between the North and South Forks of Long Island, the manor had dwindled to 243 acres. Still, its hidden vault proved to be full of revelations and treasures, including the 1666 charter for the land, and correspondence from Thomas Jefferson. Most notable was the short and steep flight of steps the family had called the “slave staircase,” which would provide clues to the extensive but little-known story of Northern slavery. Alongside a team of archaeologists, Griswold began a dig that would uncover a landscape bursting with stories.
Based on years of archival and field research, as well as voyages to Africa, the West Indies, and Europe, The Manor is at once an investigation into forgotten lives and a sweeping drama that captures our history in all its richness and suffering. It is a monumental achievement.
Mac Griswold is a cultural landscape historian and the author of Washington’s 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.
“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
“Extraordinary...This 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 home.”—Jamaica Kincaid
“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