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  • Erin Salthouse

Historic House takes on Tough topics

Philipsburg Manor

I recently went to Sleepy Hallow, NY to visit Philipsburg Manor. It is an historic merchant house and mill which belonged to the Philipses who were Dutch Settlers. When the British took over the colony they Anglicized (Philipses- to Philipsburg) and continued to prosper.

How did they prosper? They owned slaves and rented land to tenant farmers, who grew wheat. Apparently the rents were paid in wheat and the Philipsburg manor was the only accessible trading post. So for other necessities, tenant farmers had to pay also in wheat, at any price which was demanded. One thing I loved about the narrative of the Manor tour was how much it focused on the enslaved people who did all the work. The tour started in the lower dairy and kitchen and the guide explained the work that the enslaved women would have to do, passing around a yoke and bukets to help emphasize the difficulty of the labor. It was a good balance of detail and general historic context without sensationalizing or minimizing slavery. I wish more historic sites took on this topic in this fact-based way.

As we moved up through the manor, the guide continued to describe the enslaved individuals and thier relationship to the owner and his clerk, who would be responsible for day to day enforcement of rules while the owner was in New York City. I did not feel as though the narrative of the Philipsburg family was diminished, but rather the history was enhanced by the fuller context of the stories of the people whose labor made them profit.

After the tour, we were guided to 3 costumed interpreters who explained what specific jobs would have been like back in the day. The interpreters were in the third person, which means they were not pretending to be characters, but did speak about real people they represented. We learned about the master Miller, the Apothecary/ pharmacy, and the wheat thresher.  I loved being able to touch a hard tack cake, smell old remedies, and even try my hand at threshing. All the guides were very engaging and answered questions, it was all very interactive. I know there is a summer camp they run and I am curious how they gear programs more specifically toward children. Can’t wait to learn more. 

Is there a historic house you have visited you enjoy? What is your goal in visiting?

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© 2017 by Erin Salthouse

 Last updated  June 2020.