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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

3.22 of 5 stars 3.22  ·  rating details  ·  160 ratings  ·  50 reviews
In 1984, the landscape historian Mac Griswold was rowing along a Long Island creek when she came upon Sylvester Manor, a stately mansion guarded by hulking boxwoods. When Griswold went inside, she encountered a house full of revelations, including a letter from Thomas Jefferson and—most remarkable and disturbing—what the aged owner, Andrew Fiske, casually called the “slave...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Picador (first published June 18th 2013)
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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
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 archaeologi...more
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.
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.
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...more
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 few...more
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 Sylves...more
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
This nonfiction offering traces the history of an early – American home, on its own island near Long Island, that was a slave owning planation. History tends to create a thick line between the North and the South, but Griswold uncovers a more complicated past — one that the owners (and direct descendants) didn’t even know.

Some weeks later, Bob [Hefner] finished the first stage of his technical examination of the structure. Now he has prepared a preliminary report, which he hands to me as we stan...more
Bob4973 Wilson
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.
LOVE LI history! I miss the East End!
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. Personal...more
Margaret Sankey
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
One of my favorite books of the year. I stay on Shelter Island every summer and being able to see the homes and land Mac Griswold wrote about made it even better. It's definitely a heady read and for someone who knows their history (and doesn't mind a bit of dryness), but it's really full of excellent information and a great story. Definitely recommend.
Patrice Manhart
This promised to be right up my alley.I'm from Long Island and spent time on Shelter Island. I am lacking in knowledge of Northern slavery. I only was able to finish 2/3 of this book and skimmed the rest. The historical research for the book was well-done however the characters and setting never came alive for me.
This was so not my cup of tea. While the concept and topic were great, the book was dry and read like a school text book. I enjoyed looking up the topic on the internet better than reading the book. The worst, I had to facilitate this book for the library. Boy was a glad when that was over.
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 slav...more
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 g...more
John Hamilton
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 twen...more
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 chapt...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 s...more
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 thi...more
The gardens kept me reading.
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.
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Mansfield Public ...: The Manor Review by Julia Joseph 1 7 Jul 17, 2013 11:01AM  
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