The enslaved community consisted of a group of men and women with specialized skills. Caesar, listed first on the probate inventory, was the provisioning plantation’s miller. With years of training and experience grinding wheat into flour, the Philipse family relied on Caesar to turn the water-powered gristmill into a profitable enterprise. Diamond was a riverboat pilot, sailing regularly to New York City with hundreds of barrels of wheat flour during the fall and early winter.
The enslaved women at Philipsburg were also contributing to the economic profitability of the Manor. With about a dozen milking cows on the property, Massy, Dina, Abigal, and Sue churned enormous amounts of cream into butter for sale in New York City. Those listed on the inventory as “men not fit for work” were most likely the elders of the community. Perhaps too old to be of value for the Philipse family, these men had the respect of the enslaved community and passed down their survival skills to the younger generation.
Enslaved children at Philipsburg were expected to work as soon as they were old enough to tend to livestock or the gardens. Children older than nine or ten were probably considered capable of performing an adult’s days’ work and would be listed as an adult on the inventory. Work was grueling, sun up to sun down, six days a week—seven during the busier harvest and grinding seasons.
Nevertheless, in spite of the hard work and the reality of being considered property rather than person, the enslaved community remained close knit. Naming patterns suggest that families were established and extended over several generations. The 1700 will of Frederick Philipse I bequeathed sixteen enslaved individuals to son Adolph Philipse. Of those sixteen, seven share the same names as those found on the 1750 inventory. The 1750 inventory also shares several names between men and children, suggesting that families were established and making it all the more difficult to learn that those families were split apart after the death of Adolph Philipse.
Early BaKongo African origins at Philipsburg Manor
In 1685, a group of eight captive Africans survived the horrific journey across the Atlantic Ocean, a journey that took them from their native country, the BaKongo Kingdom, first to Barbados and on to Rye, New York. These men and women, their names lost to history, formed the foundation of the enslaved African com-munity at Philipsburg Manor. They built the site as seen today— including the Manor House, Gristmill, Mill Dam, and Barn, as well as the Old Dutch Church across the street.
The twenty-four stopping stones at Philipsburg Manor are placed in recognition of the twenty-four enslaved men, women, and children who lived and labored at the site in 1750. Their names are arranged to form a traditional BaKongo cosmogram, honoring their ancestors who also lived at Philipsburg Manor some three generations earlier.