Staten Island African American history spans from the arrival of the Dutch and the first enslaved Africans during the Colonial Era through present day. African Americans struggled through enslavement, quests for freedom via the Underground Railroad, and attempts of forced African colonization. They survived the Civil War Draft Riots, Reconstruction, all the modern wars, the Civil Rights Movement --- to land here where we find ourselves today.
New York abolished slavery in 1827. Upon emancipation newly freed African Americans returned to the homes of former slaveholders to labor on their previous farms and oyster vessels after emancipation, some as freedmen, others to finish their debt of indenture. A small number became heads of households by the 1830 census. African Americans established two principal communities in Richmond County: the Sandy Ground settlement and what would later become known as the McKeon Street neighborhood.
The first community, Sandy Ground, was originally settled immediately following emancipation by free families of color from the New York metropolitan area and joined later by free people of color from the Delmarva Peninsula and the Tidewater area of Virginia. The residents established a small farming community and participated in New York’s bustling oyster industry as expert oystermen.
Although not as well-known today as the Sandy Ground community, the second community called the McKeon Street neighborhood grew up around the Quarantine Station, a checkpoint and hospital facility for those traveling to New York Harbor by sea, and North Shore shipping industry. The neighborhood was situated just a few miles east of the Staten Island ferry and west of the Quarantine with the Union African Methodist Episcopal Church (U.A.M.E) at its center. The majority of nineteenth century Richmond County African Americans were residents of this neighborhood.
In this tour you can learn about over a hundred individuals and/or places that highlight the extraordinary depth and breadth of Staten Island's African American heritage. Spanning more the two centuries of history many of these people and places have often been forgotten or overlooked. We hope you enjoy discovering Staten Island's African American history.