Places that Matter

Sandy Ground

Community founded by free-blacks in the early 1800s
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Place Matters Profile

Sandy Ground, on the South Shore of Staten Island, is the first known community of free African Americans in North America. Former slaves migrated here from Manhatan, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware to form a farming community in the 1830s. Originally named Harrisville, then Little Africa, it settled on name Sandy Ground for the poor quality of the local soil. Although the community began primarily as a farming community, after a substantial migration of former slaves form Maryland and Delaware, the primary industry became oystering. It was a thriving oystering community for more than a century. However, when the over working of oyster beds and pollution from nearby factories brought an end to oystering, the dominant industry shifted to digging, metalworking and blacksmithing.

In the mid 1850s, Sandy Ground was also part of the Underground Railroad. Several abolitionists lived in the area, and there are various houses and sites that have been identified as likely stops along the Underground Railroad. In the late 19th century, the community had two churches, two schools and 1150 families.

Sandy Ground prides itself for having several residents who are direct descendants of the original settlers. Several historic sites from the 17th century, such as a school and a blacksmith shop, still stand today. A collection of original letters, photographs, film, art, books, quilts and various artifacts can be found at the Sandy Ground Historical Society.