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Southold woman pays tribute to slaves

Eleanor Lingo, 84, of Southold, visits the grave

Eleanor Lingo, 84, of Southold, visits the grave of a forgotten black slave identified as "Bloom" in a cemetery near First Presbyterian Church. (March 2, 2011) Credit: Lisa Finn

Eleanor Lingo, 84, a lifelong Southold resident, remembers walking home from school and noticing the headstones in the cemetery near First Presbyterian Church.

One, in particular, captured her heart.

By itself under a tree, Lingo remembers the words engraved on the faded slab, identifying a “Negro slave lady.”

No further identification – no name – marked the grave.

“She was there all by herself,” Lingo said. “I wanted her to be remembered.”

When her mother died in 1954, Lingo decided to make a holiday wreath for mother’s grave and another for the forgotten slave. Unable to find the original stone, she found one that read, “Bloom, Negro Woman, Died 1810,” and placed the wreath there.

Now, Lingo continues the tradition. She visits Bloom’s headstone and a slave burial ground in Orient several times a year in tribute to the forgotten.

“I decorated that grave for years and no one knew,” she said. “I did it from my heart.”

Local historians say “Bloom” was a young girl tossed to the beach by the British from a ship on the Long Island Sound during a raid of Abraham Mulford Jr.’s farm. The Mulfords then raised the abandoned child, who was deaf.

“They called her Bloom because that was all she could say,” Lingo said.

The small, faded grave is now weathered but historically significant, and should be a stop on walking tours of the cemetery, Lingo said.

Geoffrey K. Fleming, director of the Southold Historical Society, said it is rare to find any slave headstone at all. Slave graves sometimes had wooden markers that did not survive the passage of time.

“It is much more common to have an unmarked grave unless there was something exceptional about the African-American slave,” Fleming said.

Fleming said the site Lingo visits could be the only slave grave in Southold, where there was never a significant slave population.

“People tended to have one slave – and even that was a rarity,” said Fleming.

At the Old Slave Burial Ground on Narrow River Road in Orient, Lingo visits 20 boulders marking the graves of slaves. The remains of slave owners Dr. Seth H. Tuthill and his wife, Maria, are also buried at the site.

It was not uncommon, said Fleming, to find families and their slaves in the same burial ground, “especially if a close relationship existed between that particular slave and its owners.”

But they were never buried never side by side.

“There was still some kind of segregation,” said Fleming.

Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island NAACP, said the history books were long silent on slave graves.

“If history is going to be history at all, it must be all-inclusive,” Ware said. “Otherwise it’s not history.”

Lingo and her husband have no children; but her niece, Lizette Malone, has promised to carry on the tradition of visiting Bloom’s grave when Lingo is unable to do so.

“I just want people to remember her,” Lingo said. “This is my gift to her.”

Photo: Eleanor Lingo, 84, of Southold, visits the grave of a forgotten black slave identified as "Bloom" in a cemetery near First Presbyterian Church. (March 2, 2011)

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