Sag Harbor, NY: There is Rich Native and African American History Here
This weekend I am taking a respite from the grit and grim of New York City politics to spend time with friends in the Eastville area of Sag Harbor, on Long Island, New York.
There is rich cultural and economic history in Sag Harbor.
The Hampton’s are associated with the vacation spot for the rich and famous. That is true. But what is not so well-known, or repeatedly told, is the history of Native (first inhabitors) and African Americans (freed slaves) in this community. European ‘settlers’ or ‘invaders’ (distinction depends on perspective) did not arrive in Sag Harbor until the 1700s.
Lynda Day, a professor of African American studies at Brooklyn College explains our history, which dates as far back to the early 1800s. African American history, more specifically, did not begin in Sag Harbor, in the mid-20th century.The short video is worth watching.
Eastville Community (Sag Harbor, NY) via Hoftra University:
Eastville, like many early free African American communities on Long Island, was multiethnic. African Americans arrived in Sag Harbor, New York seeking employment in the profitable whaling business sometime prior to 1840. They joined Native Americans, Montauk, and Shinnecock people, who were skilled whalers and lived in the area. A few families of European descent also moved to the community settling along Hempstead Street and Liberty Streets, the earliest roads in the small settlement. Many attended services at the Methodist Church in downtown Sag Harbor, where African Americans and Native Americans were segregated to the balconies and areas to the rear of the Church.
Around 1840, Lewis Cuffee, Charles Plato, and William Prime organized the St. David AME Zion Church, which served as a unifying force for the Eastville community. They, along with David Hempstead, all outstanding members of Sag Harbor’s black and Indian communities, were instrumental in constructing the Church building on Eastville Avenue. David Hempstead, respected for his kindness, generosity, and faith, became a leader in the Church and was buried in Eastville’s cemetery.
After 1840, the whaling industry began to decline and men of Eastville sought income in other seafaring ways. Many took to clamming, while women continued as domestic workers in the homes of wealthy white people who lived in downtown Sag Harbor. As early as 1847 a shift to factory work occurred. A second wave of economically advantaged African Americans arrived beginning in the late 19th century and rented summer homes in Eastville. Many became full-time residents.
Today, some Eastville residents are descendants of these early families and many original houses are still standing, occupied by private residents.
For more about The Eastville community of Sag Harbor, visit Mapping the African American Past.
Sharon Toomer reporting from the Eastville community of Sag Harbor.