Slavery at The Townsends’

Greenleaf’s New York Journal & Patriotic Register circa January 24, 1795

Slavery was an integral part of the economy of 18th century Europe and its colonies, resulting in the forced transportation of some 12 million people from the African continent to the Americas, nearly 300,000 of whom came to the thirteen colonies that would make up the United States by the time of the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War in 1783.

Typical of wealthy New York families, the Townsends of Raynham Hall held many enslaved people who labored to maintain the house and grounds, the livestock and the fields, as well as possibly working on the Townsends’ ships. Samuel Townsend’s business interests also were intertwined with the economics of slavery, including, as they did, trade in such products as logwood, sugar, rum and tobacco.

The earliest slave record concerning the Townsends is a receipt of the purchase of a man bought by Samuel in 1749 for 37 pounds. No name is listed on the receipt. A Bible in Raynham Hall Museum’s collection contains entries from 1769 to 1795 recording the names, births and deaths of seventeen people held enslaved by the Townsends, as well as a partial genealogy. The record lists first names only, including Hannah, Violet, Susannah, Jeffrey, Susan, Catherine, Lilly, Harry, Gabriel and Jane. When the oldest Townsend son, Solomon, married his cousin Anne in 1782, they were given two people, Gabriel and Jane, as wedding presents. Gabriel and Jane’s children, Nancy, Kate, Jim and Josh, also became enslaved to Solomon, as did several others not listed in the Bible, named Charles, Shadwick, Pricilla, and her unnamed son. Additionally, letters show Samuel also owned a young woman named Elizabeth, who escaped Oyster Bay with the British Queen’s Rangers when they decamped in 1779. Samuel’s daughter Audrey and her husband Capt. James Farley owned a woman named Rachel Parker, and Audrey’s sister Phebe’s husband Ebenezer Seeley held a man named Amos Burling as his property. Interestingly, Robert Townsend was a member of the New York Manumission Society, founded in 1785, which worked towards the abolition of slavery.

Other enslaved people from the Oyster Bay area are recorded as having come to the Townsends’ store to purchase goods for their masters or for themselves, and a ledger now in the collection of the New-York Historical Society, but kept back in the day by sons William and David, records many purchases made during the 1760s and 1770s. In 2015, Raynham Hall Museum’s historian Claire Bellerjeau discovered a document at the New-York Historical Society that was revealed to be the sixth known poem by Jupiter Hammond, the first published African-American author in America, also an enslaved person owned by the Lloyds of Lloyd Harbor.