Nathaniel Sylvester's signature, NYU Fales Library Special Collections

Birth Date
Birth Location
Death Date
Ancestor Notes

Nathaniel Sylvester was born in Amsterdam in 1620 to English born parents Giles Sylvester and Mary Arnold in Amsterdam around 1620. His parents had immigrated to Holland around 1613 for religious and business purposes, running a thriving merchant business for almost four decades. Following the death of his father in 1651, he emigrated to the British American Colonies during the English Civil War 1642-1651 and Anglo-Dutch War of 1652-1654. 

In June 1651, with his brother, Constant, and partners Thomas Middleton and Thomas Rouse, he purchased the whole of Shelter Island first from a non-resident Englishman and then again the following year from the Manhannsett Indians, whose sachem, or chief, was called "Youghco." Nathaniel was the only one of the partners who lived on Shelter Island; he eventually bought out his partners' shares.

 The Shelter Island enterprise involved raising horses and cows, farming wheat and peas and barrel-making, using the stands of local white oak for shipping the West Indies tobacco, sugar, molasses and rum back to England. The family enslaved Africans, along with employing Native Americans and others, to help run the plantation, the largest such operation in the north.  Along with barrels, the plantation also served to provision operations in Barbados and the ships that traded there. The 1680 Last Will of Nathaniel Sylvester lists 24 people held in bondage that he bequeathed to his wife Grizzell and their children. 

Nathaniel and his wife Grizzell lived at Sylvester Manor, and the house was home to many generations of the Sylvester family and many enslaved persons, employees,  and servants.   The 1680 Will of Nathaniel Sylvester lists  24 people held in bondage that he bequeaths to his wife Grizzell and their children.  

Additional research is ongoing at Sylvester Manor to help identify and document the lives of many generations of enslaved people who lived, worked, and died at Shelter Island.  The last enslaved person was manumitted in 1820.



Additional Reading:

See additional reading here courtesy of the Sylvester Manor :