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Sandy Ground Ln

Sandy Ground is the oldest continuously inhabited free black settlement in the United States. Its records indicate that the first African American resident, John Jackson, purchased land here in 1828.

Sandy Ground, whose name referred to the soil quality of the area, was a place of well-maintained homes on large plots of land. A series of harsh and discriminatory laws surrounding oyster farming in Maryland, a slave state, prompted the migration of many free blacks to Staten Island in 1841.

New York City has always been a collection of diverse communities—and while many have since been paved over or transformed into new neighborhoods, in some places, visible remnants of the past remain. One such place is Staten Island’s Sandy Ground, which—along with Seneca Village, established in 1825 and located in Manhattan, and Weeksville, established in 1838 and located in present-day Crown Heights—was one of three prominent communities that free blacks called home in New York in the pre-Civil War era.

Located on the Staten Island’s south shore, Sandy Ground first appeared on records dating back to 1799, its name referring to the rich soil found throughout the area. Land ownership records show that the first African American residents purchased land in the area as early as 1828. The first documented owner, John Jackson, purchased 2.5 acres; he would later go ont to operate the Lewis Columbia, a ferry that provided service between Rossville and Manhattan—the only direct mode of transportation at that time.

Beginning in the 1840s, several African American families migrated to Sandy Ground from Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay area. Although a slave state, Maryland’s population did include free blacks, many of whom were involved in the area’s oyster trade. But laws passed in the 1830s imposed harsh restrictions that limited—and in some cases prohibited—their activities. As a result, they relocated to oyster-rich Staten Island.

One of the community’s greatest assets was the Rossville AME Zion Church, founded in 1850 and later housed in a “plain wooden structure” that erected in 1854 on Crabtree Avenue. It was one of several AME Zion Churches in the city at the time—members of its various congregations included Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth—and the Rossville AME had its share of notable members, including Reverend Thomas James, famed abolitionist and civil rights leader. It also, most famously, served as a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.