3. Sandy Ground, Staten Island

Blazing Star Cemetery
Blazing Star Cemetery is in Rossville, Staten Island nearby the Sandy Ground community

Sandy Ground was a community in Rossville, Staten Island founded by free African Americans around 1828. It was one of the largest free Black communities in New York City, founded after an African American man named Captain John Jackson purchased land in the area. Jackson captained a ship that traveled from Rossville to Manhattan, the only direct mode of transportation at that time. The land quickly became a center of oyster trading, and many residents would harvest and sell oysters at nearby Prince’s Bay. Harsher laws in the South led many residents involved in the oyster industry to move here from the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland.

Sandy Ground was not as large as Weeksville, but it contained over 50 homes, including the Reverend Isaac Coleman and Rebecca Gray Coleman House. The Baymen’s Cottages, another landmark, were built between 1887 and 1898 for oyster workers at the height of Sandy Ground. It was also an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Rossville AME Zion Church was perhaps the most significant structure within the community, erected in 1854 and led by notable abolitionist Reverend Thomas James. A newer church was built in 1897 and remains today with much of its original form. However, the decline of the oyster trading industry due to overfishing and pollution led to the area’s partial decline, paired with two major mid-20th century fires.

The settlement is also currently considered one of the oldest continuously settled free Black communities in the U.S. A church, a cemetery, and three homes from the settlement are today designated as New York City landmarks, Today, the Sandy Ground Historical Museum is home to the largest collection of documents detailing Staten Island’s African American culture, history, and freedom.