Historic references to the Civil War in Long Island's Suffolk County are multi-faceted and include possible stops along the Underground Railroad and an early environment of progressiveness and protection for freedom seekers; along with a regiment of soldiers that volunteered early on in the Civil War.
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New York was a gateway to liberation for freedom-seekers, with access to Canada and major water routes, according to NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Freedom-seekers knew they would be protected in New York's many black communities as well as Quaker and other progressive white and mixed race communities. Anti-slavery organizations were abundant in New York State - more than any other state due to reform politics and a progressive nature that gave rise to many active anti-slavery organizations, according to NY State Parks. Many nationally-known and locally influential black and white abolitionists chose to make their homes in New York. Among them were: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, Henry Ward Beecher, Sojourner Truth and John Brown.
Long Island, because of its widespread Quaker network and its nearness to New York City abolitionist strongholds, may have also served as a way station for escaped slaves seeking freedom, according to the New York State Heritage Commission.
A local initiative to document Underground Railroad sites and the local Quaker Abolitionist Movement is being undertaken by the State University of New York. Of particular interest are the identification of “safe houses” provided along these routes, and the individual efforts behind these ventures. Many sites are known only through local folklore because of the secretive nature of the movement, according to the Heritage Commission. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 enslaved escaped to freedom between the American Revolution and the Civil War. According to initial research, Long Island may have been involved early on in planting the seeds for the movement, with evidence of freed slaves on Long Island dating back to 1775, and later references to residents hiding people from slave catchers.
Company K of the 67th New York Volunteer Infantry, was also known as the First Long Island Volunteers, and was formed following the attack on Fort Sumter. The call for seventy five thousand volunteers went out and some of the first to answer the call came from Long Island. While no battles took place on Long Island, the history of these brave Long Islanders is reenacted at many events across the Island by the Sayville-based Civil War ‘Living Historians’ who emulate the original soldiers that comprised Company K of the 67th New York Volunteer Infantry.
The Suffolk County Historical Society Museum in Riverhead contains a military exhibit that includes examples of eighteenth-century flintlocks, a variety of handguns from the nineteenth century, and Civil War weapons and memorabilia.
Joseph Lloyd Manor House in Lloyd Harbor where a privileged slave, Jupiter Hammon, lived can be toured by visitors to Long Island. Educated by the family he lived with, he became the first published black poet in the U.S. He also wrote “An Address to the Negroes of New York State” in 1787, seeking freedom for fellow slaves. Nearby is the Henry Lloyd House, where he was born. Visit Suffolk County's many heritage sites
Several historically significant churches can also be visited. The Bethel AME Church of Setauket is one of the oldest African-American churches on the Island and in Sag Harbor, the St. David AME Zion Church may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Other historic sites include slave cemeteries on the grounds of the William Floyd Estate, an historic site and home to an original signer of the Declaration of Independence, open to the public in Mastic Beach.Also the Tuthill slave cemetery in Orient.
To honor Black History Month, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Preservation typically celebrates with special exhibits designed to educate visitors about the rich African American culture. Exhibits are typically on display in the month of February at Montauk Downs State Park, Montauk; Connetquot River State Park in Oakdale and Long Island State Parks headquarters in North Babylon.
There are also several events that take place on Long Island in the month of February to commemorate Black History Month. Check the Calendar of Events