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Long IslandHistory

African-American, Montaukett Indian community of Freetown back on history's radar

Freetown, the East End community where African-Americans and Montaukett Indians lived side by side beginning in the 1800s, remains something of a mystery to historians -- but it's one they are trying to unravel.

The East Hampton neighborhood, located north of East Hampton Village between Springs-Fireplace Road and Accabonac Road, has gained attention as officials studied the Fowler House, a historic Montaukett home that is the last known dwelling of the tribe.

"We're still trying to learn the whole background story to Freetown," said Richard Martin, director of the Suffolk County Division of Historic Services. "This site hopefully will start people inquiring and researching what the history of Freetown is."

Allison McGovern, a researcher for the Division of Historic Services, said Freetown was home to former Long Island slaves who were freed during a period of gradual emancipation in the early 19th century. But details of its settlement remain obscure.

Records show John Gardiner, a member of Long Island's famed Gardiner family, bought land in Freetown for his laborers in the early 1800s, said McGovern.

When developer Arthur Benson removed Montauketts from Indian Fields, in the late 1800s, they settled in Freetown, historians said.

East Hampton Town's planned preservation of the Fowler House is a victory for the Montauketts and Freetown, said historian Georgette Grier-Key, who has fought for greater protection of African-American and American Indian historic sites on Long Island.

"This is a lesson to other towns and villages that this is how you preserve history and not overlook it," said Grier-Key, director of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor. "There's this unequal balance of preservation on Long Island and it's very blatant."


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