Descendants of first free black settlers in NYC keeping memory alive with quilts

Posted: 7:06 AM, Feb 27, 2017
Updated: 2017-02-28 05:09:55-05

ROSEVILLE, Staten Island – Take a walk back in time and experience the living history that is Sandy Ground, Staten Island, the country’s oldest free black settlement

Sylvia D'Alessandro is PIX11's tour guide today.  D'Alessandro is also one of the descendants of the original settlers of this Roseville neighborhood.  She starts by going back to the beginning.

"Slavery was made illegal in 1827; this community was founded in 1828," she said.

Founded by two brothers, the first to buy land as free black men.  Intent on making a living from the land and the sea, they started out wanting to farm.

D'Alessandro points to squares of a quilt done by her vibrant and active quilting circle.

"They did some research and found out what grew well in the Sandy soil in this section of staten island and it was strawberries," she said.

This story and many more are told in a collection of quilts on display at the Sandy Ground Museum, port of the society’s permanant collection.

Oystering was also a huge industry in all the New York waters.  D'Alessandro explains, "New York supplied the world with oysters."

And generations of families lived here, and still do today.  Another quilt maps the town, some of the buildings have now earned landmark status to cement their place in history, along with their church.  It was a way station on the Underground Railroad.  Today the museum hosts more than 1500 schoolchildren every year eager to explore the artifacts and history in their own neighborhood.

More recent events have been included in the museum's exhibits.  Another quilt memorializes the black fire fighters and fire officers lost in the attacks of 9-11.

Cousins Syliva and Lucille Herringare, both are descendants of one of the early settlers actively keeping family history alive through community quilting.

Julie Moody Lewis, daughter of Sylvia, today share a passion for their heritage, and shared history, as do the many who still call Sandy Ground home.

Lucille brings me to her quilt that spans generations.  One of the more unique aspects is transferring photographs to fabric, and incorporating them into the quilt it self. She traces back the notable members and their initial journey from North Carolina that brought them north to Staten Island, putting down roots hundreds of years ago that still bear fruit today.

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