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The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island
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The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island

3.17  ·  Rating Details ·  237 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
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 rowin
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published June 18th 2013)
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Feb 04, 2014 Elizabeth rated it liked it
I'm kind of torn about this book. It had a fascinating premise and was on my wish list for quite a while. Northern slavery has been ignored for so long and the notion that the biography of a "slave plantation" in the Northeast had been written really drew me in. But while this book touches on many interesting topics, the pages that actually mention the experience of the slaves on the Sylvester property are few and far between. What is this book about? Well, it's about Charles II, and it's about ...more
Aug 17, 2013 Janci rated it it was ok
I loved the history in this book but the author's self-righteous indignation was annoying. The family invited her in, opened their home, their land and their records and heirlooms to her. I thought she could have been a little more gracious and less judgmental. The facts speak for themselves. I wonder if her life could survive that kind of scrutiny.
Aug 09, 2013 Linda rated it liked it
What a dream come true--being rowed by a friend who knows of an overgrown Long Island inlet sheltering a mysterious old house, then persisting in contacting the owners until they invite you to visit. And since you're a recognized landscape historian, they give you a tour and allow you to look in the "vault" --a spacious closet filled with archives and momentoes going back to the ancestor's founding of the estate in 1652. Thirty years later, the friendship with those owners, work with ...more
Feb 05, 2014 Caitlynnbrown rated it did not like it
Too much conjecture and personal judgement went into Griswold's book and not enough solid academic research. Griswold continuously mentions her background as a landscape historian (which seems irrelevant to the type of history that she is trying to write) yet she has no qualms about bashing the study of archeology, calling archeologists "a skeptical lot" who "chafe under what they perceive to be the unfair primacy of history as a discipline." She posits herself as a champion for the untold story ...more
Michelle M. Young
I stopped reading this book about 25% through it as I couldn't follow it anymore. I lacked the patience required to read more about European history to get to the heart of the story which is somewhere in this book. It's a great book for history buffs but too cumbersome for mere mortals like myself.
Sep 17, 2016 Josie rated it liked it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I'm torn about this book. I appreciate that it brings light to northern slavery as this is a part of our past that has been hidden for quite some time.

However, it's just kinda dry. I read A LOT of non-fiction, and I am particularly interested in the history of slavery, but this one couldn't grab my attention in the ways some other ones could (like SLAVES IN THE FAMILY, for instance.)

Couldn't stay awake to finish it, although I appreciate the research.
Sep 02, 2013 Dereka rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book for persons interested in New England history, slavery in New England and elsewhere, archaeology, genealogy, architecture-- a skillfully researched and comprehensive story. Sometimes a bit too dense for me but there was so much beautiful writing and so much interest in the ongoing research that I kept on reading.

When I handle original documents, perhaps two or three hundred years old, I am thrilled by the knowledge that I am reaching back through time-- touching what
Jay Hamiavatos
Jan 20, 2015 Jay Hamiavatos rated it did not like it
Could have been such an interesting book - a wasted opportunity. Author fills this book with their sanctimonious and historically color blind opinions where they have no place. Ascribes motives and thoughts to people whom a good author (and a good person) would have at the very least questioned her subject (or kept their opinions to themselves). Trashes historical figures even when the evidence shows they handled a situation in the exact opposite manner that she condemns (because she FEELS they ...more
Aug 29, 2013 Ben rated it it was ok
It has a good large section dealing with the colonial era, both historical stuff and bits of archaeology, but then later years are covered more quickly and unevenly... although it seems the family only lived there erratically, which is why the house survived as-is for all those decades. Also, despite the constant reminders of racial inequalities, we never hear anything from the various black and Indian people themselves. There are a few brief sections dealing with the historical records of a ...more
Jul 09, 2013 Valerie rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book, especially for me as Nathanial Sylvester was my 7th Great Grandfather. What a treasure for my family to have someone do all of this research! I would love to visit The Manor to see it and the land around it in person.
Jul 31, 2013 Ann rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! Very interesting that this home on Shelter Island, NY has been in the same family for so many years. Also, the fact that this was a Northern home that had slaves was fascinating.
Bob4973 Wilson
Jul 30, 2013 Bob4973 Wilson rated it really liked it
Amazing account of slavery in my own backyard. Equally amazing is that the manor on Shelter Island has been owned by the same family for 350 years.
Aug 06, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it
LOVE LI history! I miss the East End!
Feb 22, 2014 Laura rated it liked it
I enjoyed many things about this book. The author is clearly madly in love with everything connected with Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island and has had a blast researching every aspect of it: the family's lengthy and continuous history in that location, their origins in England and Amsterdam, the Puritans' persecution of the Quakers in the colonies, the family's role in the Atlantic slave, rum, and tobacco trade, their changing religious views, the archaeology and landscape history of the ...more
Dec 04, 2014 Caroline rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
The almost-intact survival of Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island off Long Island after three centuries is quite remarkable, for America, at least. 300 years in Britain would almost be considered modern. But it is not just the age of Sylvester Manor that marks it out, but the fact that is a rare example of a Northern slave plantation. So often the words 'slave plantation' conjure up images out of Gone with the Wind - the South, cotton fields, Southern belles - it is easy to forget that whilst ...more
May 07, 2014 Shae rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This was the Long Island Read this year, so I read it with every other library book club patron in our two counties. A few years ago the author, Mac Griswold, stumbled on a house on Shelter Island where a family had maintained ownership for THIRTEEN generations and had an entire vault dedicated to family history documentation. She built such a relationship with this family that she eventually brought archeologist to dig for artifacts from the Native Americans, early colonial settlers, and their ...more
Zangba Thomson
Jun 22, 2016 Zangba Thomson rated it really liked it
“The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island” by Mac Griswold is a pretty informative book that had me highlighting lots of interesting facts that I found to be valuable. I live on Long Island, so there were high moments where I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the book, and also, many low moments that didn’t interest me at all. The high moments, for me, were of course preference–based, as I found interest, only in things pertaining to slavery, the life and times of indigenous ...more
Margaret Sankey
Sep 15, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it
The popular-audience product of eight seasons of archival work and archaeological survey on the only northern plantation house still intact, this is an engaging narrative account of eleven generations of a family and their possession of Shelter Island. The book concentrates on the pieced-together world of the 17th and 18th century Atlantic, with the Sylvesters' Dutch, Royalist English, Barbadian and Quaker connections leading to many instances of it's not that simple, when George Fox and shelter ...more
Aug 09, 2016 Peggy rated it liked it
This book was both fascinating and frustrating; the author energetically attempts to reconstruct the history of an ancient (by US standards) mansion on Shelter Island, from its origins as the home of slave-owning Quakers, to the present. It's a wonderful story, and she has been exhaustive in her use of historical fragments, legal documents, archeology, garden history, and family accounts, to create a compelling account of the Silvester family, and their home. She also tries to gather much as she ...more
Carol Ann
Aug 26, 2016 Carol Ann rated it it was ok
I appreciate the pain it took to put this exhaustive (and exhausting) historically researched book together, but I felt "The Manor" really needed some editing. The narrative is all over the place and not told in a chronological way that was helpful (at least to me). The twists, turns and detours the reader must take to embark on this journey, I found to be tiresome. There were some interesting facts and details, but the book I was expecting to read was about a slave plantation on Shelter Island. ...more
Rosemarie Watkins
Sep 01, 2014 Rosemarie Watkins rated it really liked it
Those looking for a history of northern slavery may well be disappointed. Yes, this manor owes its existence to slavery, both for its initial financing and continued success, but, either because it was taken for granted or its owners just didn't want to dwell on the fact,the slave part of this history has to be unearthed, teased out and extrapolated from clues left, for the most part. Well, that and the fact that slaves and their descendants didn't leave much of a written record vs. the current ...more
John Hamilton
Aug 28, 2013 John Hamilton rated it liked it
Shelves: history
The subject matter was fascinating and the author did some extraordinary research, but there seemed to be a continual tongue-in-cheek arrogance in the style and assumptions made that became a bit tiring. Though not malicious in any way, she kind of talks down to the historical figures and spotlights their human imperfections too much. Like we all don't have our limitations. Makes me wonder what a future writer a hundred years or so from now might say about this author and her "typical early ...more
Nov 04, 2013 Joelyn rated it liked it
The Manor is a non-friction story of a Manor on an island in New York State. Mac Griswold presents the story of the family of Nathaniel Slyvester that lived in the house from 1700's to 2006. Nathaniel was the owner of ships that provided the south with slave and also took the South's crops to Europe. Mac Griswold is a historical landscaper - during her study of the Manor's history she was able to have archaeologist also study the land to find where the different building were located. Some ...more
Jan 20, 2014 Joe rated it liked it
This book documents the history of a New York manor house that has been continuously inhabited by the same family since since it was build in the 1600s. Although we don't usually associate a northern city like New York with slavery, there was a period when slavery was common in all of the British colonies. The author flips back and forth between her thoroughly-researched history of the resident family to present-day experiences she had exploring the property and talking with the family. ...more
Henderson County Public Library
Sylvester Manor has stood on Long Island, NY for nearly 350 years. Griswold, a landscape historian who came across this former slave plantation while rowing in a creek that passes through the property, knew that this stately house would have a fascinating story to tell. After 20 years of archeological digs, archival research, and travels to Europe and Africa, Griswold shares a complex story of the house that has been home to the descendants of Nathaniel Sylvester for eleven generations and has ...more
Aug 30, 2013 Ang rated it really liked it
The first half of this was so very interesting, it pains me to say that the second half wasn't. It seems that the people who founded Sylvester Manor were just more interesting than the subsequent generations of people who owned it. This is definitely a HISTORY book, so if you're not interested in reading history, it's not for you. I will say that the slight difference provided by the fact that Griswold is a garden/plant historian made this more botanically historical than any other book like ...more
May 11, 2014 Rachel rated it really liked it
Well-written, engaging history, although not as much about slavery as one would expect from the title. I learned more about European history and colonial American history in general than I did about slavery. This book was of special interest to me because the book is largely about the Sylvester family of Shelter Island, who I recently discovered were my ancestors. Being from New England families, I'd never considered the possibility of having slave owners in our past. Now I know. Sobering. I'm ...more
Jan 12, 2014 Naomi rated it liked it
This is a wonderfully researched book about a manor house on Shetler Island near Long Island which was built in the 1600's. The family that lived in the house had slaves which is not generally thought of as being in the northern part of the USA but more in the south. They along with the Indian population worked on the acreage which was the source of wealth for the family. The work of the author covers the more than three and a half centuries of the house and family existence and the work of ...more
Aug 20, 2014 Diane rated it really liked it
I like page turner books. For me, this was an interesting read, but a slower page turner. I like archaeology. I first encountered the book by hearing the author give a talk at a televised book conference, and she really got me interested in the archaeological aspects. Plantations in the North? Apparently so. There is a lot of religious research about the family which is necessary to the story, but slowed down the book for me. Overall it is a good book. I would read more by this author.
Carmaleeta Newchurch

I was excited to learn of a family that had a slave plantation and slaves for three centuries. However, this book talked about slaves in one chapter of the book while the entire rest of the book were about English, Quaker, Puritan History. As an history buff I enjoyed learning historical information but I thought this book would bring highlights of slavery in the North and specifically on Shelter Island. I was real disappointed in this book.
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Mansfield Public ...: The Manor Review by Julia Joseph 1 7 Jul 17, 2013 07:01PM  
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