Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Visit to Shelter Island


In the fall of 1658 my 9 x great grandparents, Quakers Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick, were banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  They sought refuge at the little Quaker settlement of Shelter Island, off of Long Island.  They both died there of deprivation and exposure in May 1659.  You can read the story of their persecution and punishment in this blog post: http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2012/03/surname-saturday-southwick-of-salem.html

In my mind’s eye, I saw Shelter Island as a barren, deserted island.  The sad story of the Southwicks loomed in my imagination, and I wished to explore it and see their final resting spot.  Even though Long Island is close to New England, I had never been there. 

The Quaker Monument in the middle of
the Quaker Cemetery, at the Sylvester Manor
on Shelter Island, off Long Island, New York

Suddenly we had a chance to visit Long Island, and the first place on my list of “things to see” was Shelter Island.  We visited on the first day of our trip.  It was a long drive from New Hampshire, and three ferries later, and we were on a beautiful, green, quiet little resort island. It was nothing like I had imagined. 

We found the Quaker Cemetery after driving right past it a few times.  It is on a dirt road barely visible from the main road, but there is a white sign hanging there that says “Society of Friends”.  The land is private owned by the Sylvester Estate, and the Quakers hold an outdoor Sunday meeting there in the summer months next to the small burying ground.  You must drive down the road carefully to see both.

The Quaker burial ground has less than a dozen gravestones, and a large monument erected by the Sylvester family.  The Sylvesters themselves were removed from the burial ground to another cemetery years ago.  Most of the Quaker graves are unmarked. The large monument is dedicated to the Sylvester family on top, and the steps tell the story of the Quaker settlement.  However it is entirely illegible due to weather and wear.

The Quaker Meeting area is simple, with board benches placed in a circle in a wooded area next to the burial ground.  I imagine this is how the first Quakers held their meetings on Shelter Island.  It was beautiful on the day we visited, with the sunlight coming in through the leaves and branches.  On the way out of the site I wrote down the phone number on the sign by the road.  We called right away.  A very nice woman answered the phone, and told me that she had a sheet of paper with a transcription of the monument’s inscription.  We met her at her home in Shelter Island Heights and had a nice conversation about the Quaker history of the island. She told me that many Southwick descendants have come to the Quaker Meetings on Shelter Island in the summers! If we had been staying longer, it would have been nice to attend the meeting.

This simple Quaker Meeting place is next to the cemetery

This sign and phone number led us to the cemetery

You can see our red convertible in the trees, and this road is
easy to miss if you are unfamiliar with the area.  Look for the white
Quaker Meeting sign or this blue marker to Nathaniel Sylvester

I’ll post the inscription tomorrow, with a biography of each of the names listed on the monument.  Stay tuned, because you will be surprised by some of the names listed!
For more information:


Shelter Island Historical Society: http://shelterislandhistory.org/


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Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

2 comments:

  1. Looking forward to the next postings on this unique and historical setting.

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  2. Beautiful photos, Heather. How lovely to see this site and the cemetery from so many years ago. Thanks for posting - I'll be looking for more!

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