cover image The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island

The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island

Mac Griswold.. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-26629-5

Canoeing a creek off Shelter Island, N.Y., one summer's day in 1984, Griswold (The Golden Age of American Gardens) happened upon an old manor house obscured by enormous boxwoods. As a landscape historian, she knew by the size of the shrubs that they must've been hundreds of years old. Her curiosity piqued, Griswold briefly explored the grounds, returning later to meet the owners and gain access to the home's enormous stores of ephemera--including a letter from Thomas Jefferson and a treaty signed by a 17th-century Grand Sachem of Long Island. She begins to conduct her own historical and archaeological research into the site, uncovering the absorbing histories of the house--and those who lived in it or passed through its grounds: Native Americans, generation after generation of Sylvesters (the original owners), and--most surprisingly, considering that the Sylvesters were Quakers--the family's slaves. The parallel stories of the homeowners and their bondservants interweave to form a moving tale of life in the New World, and the author enriches her narrative with meticulous examinations of items unearthed at the manor, from porridge bowls to old cobblestone pathways. Griswold brings American history home in this fascinating volume. Agent: Jeff Posternak, Wylie Agency. (July 2)