On View Now

Ships, Sales, Steel and State:  The Life of Solomon Townsend
October 1, 2017-September 3, 2018

Meet Solomon Townsend, the patriarch of the Townsend family. Raynham Hall is kicking off an exhibition featuring an 1808 portrait of Solomon Townsend, generously donated to the museum by the Cryan family. Explore the exciting life of a man who was first drawn to the sea, as Captain of merchant vessels which crossed the Atlantic, until the Revolutionary War forced him to choose sides. Sworn to the Patriotic cause by none other than Benjamin Franklin, Solomon went from mariner and merchant to manufacturer. Owner of two iron forges and a Manhattan anchor shop, he married his distant cousin Anne, 20 years his junior, who bore eleven children, three of whom died in infancy.  Following in a long tradition of Townsends, he entered politics, and was elected as a New York State Assemblyman for five terms. He was serving in Albany at the Statehouse when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died in 1811 at age 65. His son Peter, who wrote avidly of family history, described Solomon as “a man of strong mind, excellent common sense & spotless honor – of moral bravery & resolution surpassed by no man. Proud he was and passionate – but generous & hospitable to a fault.”


Slavery in the Townsend Homestead

Over a decade of research has resulted in the identification of seventeen enslaved persons who, between the years 1755 and 1812, lived and labored in the house now known as Raynham Hall Museum.

There has yet to be discovered documentation to prove where the Townsends’ slaves resided, but smaller rooms and attics were typically used as quarters for slaves who were responsible for household tasks in northern states such as New York.  This February, for the first time, an upstairs bedroom at Raynham Hall will be interpreted as slave quarters, acknowledging the lives and legacy of these occupants of the house, whose numbers far outnumbered those of the Townsends themselves, but whose existence, until now, has been invisible to the visiting public.

The exhibit will include historical documents that shed light on the lives of these residents, as well as other local Oyster Bay slaves who regularly visited the house to make purchases on behalf of their owners. While so much is unknown about the details of their everyday lives, their struggles, and whether they eventually gained their freedom, by making a place for them within the house, Raynham Hall Museum strives to inform the public and honor the lives of these members of our historic community whose stories have remained untold for too long.