TODAY'S PAPER
Overcast 51° Good Afternoon
Overcast 51° Good Afternoon
Long IslandSuffolk

Freed slave’s Southampton property searched for artifacts

A bottle stem recovered during an archaeological dig

A bottle stem recovered during an archaeological dig in Southampton is seen on June 4, 2016 at the site of a home owned by the freed slave Pyrrhus Concer. Local activists hope to build the Pyrrhus Concer Center on the property. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Two scraps of ceramic plate. An oxidized belt buckle. A hand-painted marble.

They could be clues from a life that stretched from the 19th-century farms of Southampton to the shores of Japan.

Archaeologists unearthed the artifacts Saturday as they sifted their way through the onetime property of Pyrrhus Concer, a freed slave who traveled the globe as a whaler and finished his life as a successful ferryman in his native Southampton Village.

Allison McGovern, an archaeologist who teaches at Farmingdale State College and has studied Long Island’s African-American and American Indian history, led a team of five researchers in the three-day dig, set to end Monday.

They were working with activists hoping to build a replica of the ferryman’s home using materials salvaged in its demolition two years ago. Activists said they plan to make the house an education center devoted to Concer and Long Island’s rich but overlooked African-American history.

“It’s very exciting,” said Brenda Simmons, a founder of the Southampton African American Museum and a member of the Pyrrhus Concer Action Committee. “We’re looking forward to proceeding with the next phase of this, which is to reconstruct the house itself.”

Historians and African-American leaders led a losing two-year battle to preserve Concer’s home in 2013 and 2014. Today, little remains except an overgrown .82-acre field on Pond Lane — and whatever archaeologists unearth from beneath it.

A Brooklyn couple bought the home, which had been altered since the ferryman lived there, for $2.75 million in 2013. They then demolished the house in 2014 and put the property on the market for $5 million.

Southampton Town officials last year agreed to preserve the property and bought it for $4.3 million.

“When the house came down, it was a blow to our hearts, but we still felt an obligation to tell his story,” said Georgette Grier-Key, a member of the committee and executive director of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor.

Concer was born an indentured servant in Southampton in 1814 and sold into slavery at age 5, Grier-Key said.

He was freed at age 21, joined a whaling crew and is believed to be the first African-American to travel to Japan. When he returned to Southampton, he ran a ferry across Lake Agawam.

Archaeologists dug numerous test holes Saturday, passing the dirt through a sifter. Among the other artifacts found: The neck of a glass medicine bottle, a chunk of coal, and shards of a flower pot.

“This is a piece of transfer print whiteware,” McGovern said, holding two shards of a checkered plate that fit together. “19th century ceramic.”

McGovern said anything uncovered in the dig would be sent to a lab and a report could be complete in two months. Activists said they would meet Monday to discuss how to pay for the home reconstruction.

Latest Long Island News

Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to Newsday is free for Optimum customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.

LOGIN SUBSCRIBE