As our nation struggles to redefine itself amid massive protests in our streets, the stories of our museum may provide a compelling and useful mirror.
The Townsends of 1776 were committed revolutionaries — dreamers, perhaps — who risked everything for the right to self-determination. Nevertheless, those same Townsends also held about nineteen people as their personal property, denying them the right to keep their own children, let alone to cast a hopeful eye on the “unalienable rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness” proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.
The Townsends were far from alone in this. In 1703, 40 percent of New Yorkers held people in slavery. Records show that 16 percent of New Yorkers were enslaved African Americans. Every municipality including Oyster Bay was required by New York State law to employ a person whose job it was to whip slaves, and Oyster Bay’s town records list the names of several of those men. Raynham Hall holds in its collection a blacksmith’s ledger with an entry for the repair of the manacles on the town whipping post. Arguments that northern slave owners were more humane than their southern cousins are undermined by the apparent need for a whipping post, and by the hundreds of runaway slave ads in Long Island and New York City newspapers of the period.
These are historical facts. Many visitors to Raynham Hall, including teachers shepherding classes on field trips, are unaware of these facts. These visitors tell us that they are amazed by what they have learned, and by the very idea that they had not previously learned this history, which has only been hiding in plain sight.
Ultimately, we as educators believe that the unjustified use of force by some in law enforcement, more visible now with the incontrovertible evidence of video, is only the most urgent aspect of a system that must change before our nation can live up to its founding ambitions. For example, the Wall Street Journal last year reported that one public school in an affluent Long Island district spent $37,600 per child in 2016-17, while in the neighboring town, whose school population is largely black and brown, the public expenditure per child was only $24,500. Similar disparities in education, housing, health outcomes and every other measure of well-being reflect a social bias many people are unaware of and would deny exists.
From our nation’s founding as a refuge for rebels and opportunity-seekers in the 17th century, we have often been perceived as a beacon for freedom and democracy in the world. But how can we reconcile our identity as the nation that welcomes the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” with George Floyd’s and Eric Garner’s jarringly opposite, shocking, dying plea, “I can’t breathe”?
The demonstrations in communities throughout the nation, by people of all colors, despite the real dangers of gathering in the midst of a pandemic, give us hope that this time of reckoning will finally become the time when we can truly begin to live up to our founding, revolutionary, promise.
Raynham Hall Museum is committed to being an educational partner in our community, to faithfully work to uncover, re-discover and convey our true history, and in so doing to help forge a stronger nation for all our people, “with liberty and justice for all.”
Harriet Gerard Clark, Executive Director
Board of Trustees, Raynham Hall Museum
For the safety of our patrons and staff during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Raynham Hall Museum will be closed to the public and has cancelled all programs until further notice.
For at home activities and information on distance learning programs for schools, please click here.
Our last exhibit, “The Home Needle: Nineteenth-Century Textiles from the Raynham Hall Collection” is now online!
In an effort to support Oyster Bay businesses and the community during these uncertain times, please visit this page, http://www.visitoysterbay.com/community-resources-covid19.html, for available resources.
Home of George Washington’s intelligence operative Robert Townsend, Raynham Hall is a time capsule of Long Island life in the 18th and 19th centuries. Purchased by Robert’s father Samuel around 1740 and expanded from a two-over-two farmhouse into a four-over-four town house whose land extended down to the bay and for acres all around, the Townsend family homestead was named Raynham Hall by Samuel’s grandson, Solomon, when he renovated it according to the Victorian taste of his own time, in the mid-19th century. Having shed most of its surrounding property around the turn of the twentieth century, the house’s final transformation came in the 1940s with the removal of the Victorian elements from the front part of the house, which was then restored back to its original Colonial appearance, but retaining the Victorian rear addition.
Valentine's Annual Benefit
7:00 pm - 11:00 pmThe Muttontown Club, 5933 Northern Boulevard East Norwich, NY 11732
Annual Valentine’s Bal Rouge
The Friends and Trustees of Raynham Hall Museum warmly invite you to a Valentine’s Bal Rouge honoring Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine and Senator Carl L. Marcellino. We will have cocktails, dinner, entertainment, and live and silent auctions. Dinner tablescapes will be created by renowned designers!
Saturday, February 8, 2020 (Blizzard date: March 7, 2020)
The Muttontown Club, 5933 Northern Boulevard, East Norwich, NY
Festive attire in shades of red
Tickets: $300 per person or $150 for those 40 and under.
You can also support the Museum by purchasing journal ads. Our deadline is January 24, 2020, please contact us for further details.
1/4 Page Ad: $300, 1/2 Page Ad: $600, Full Page Ad: $1,200
To purchase tickets or journal ads online, please use the button below. For tickets and information about our Benefit, please contact Theresa Skvarla, Public Relations Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Museum at 516-922-6808.