The Sandy Ground Historical Society Museum pays tribute to a little known part of African-American history on the southwest shore of Staten Island.
Our passionate guide was Sylvia, whose fierce devotion to the museum has made it possible to keep the past alive.
Sandy Ground is the oldest community in the country settled by free African-American families. In 1828, when slavery was abolished in New York, some settled in Sandy Ground, hoping to make it farmland. The soil was too sandy for every crop but one: strawberries!
They were later joined by free Maryland oyster fishermen, and by 1855, Sandy Ground became the center of economic and social life for African-Americans on the eastern seaboard, with 180 families living there. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t last.
In 1900, factories were built along the waterfront, and in 1916, someone died from eating an oyster. The NYC government shut down the oyster industry. Without jobs, people began to leave. In 1963, a major brushfire destroyed 100 homes. Today, just 25 houses and ten families remain.
The museum is testament to the once-thriving community, and what a colorful testament it is! The walls are decorated with exuberant quilts that tell the history of Sandy Ground. These quilts show everything from strawberry picking and oystermen fishing to a How Far We’ve Come quilt featuring President Obama. The museum was founded by freed African-Americans in the early 19th century.
One entire room is devoted to Faces of the Underground Railroad. The Railroad was a collection of people, places and things that helped slaves escape to freedom. Among many historical pieces were pictures of Harriet Tubman, “The Moses of our People,” Josiah Hensen, a man who created a community for freed slaves in Canada, and a map showing the route to freedom.
Sylvia encouraged us (and everyone we know) to come to the Museum’s Free Annual Festival on June 18th: with all-day long entertainment, and arts and crafts for kids. Many people are lured by the smell of barbecue sauce, a secret recipe only held by two tight-lipped men.