Women's History in the Collections

The Prince site excavations
Click on image to read more about this archeological site.

The Betsey Prince Site

Sometimes the collections contain only fragmentary material evidence of a person's life, obtained from archeological research. The story of Betsey Prince is based on New York State Museum investigations in the Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County, during 1989 and 1993.

Betsey Prince belonged to a small minority of free blacks who established independent households in Brookhaven township soon after the Revolution. Freedman Jonah Miller pioneered black settlement on an unpopulated stretch of North Country Road, west of Rocky Point, prior to 1790. Betsey Prince, Benjamin Davis, Mineus Lyman, and other blacks joined him in the ensuing years, as they became free under New York's gradual manumission laws.

Betsey Prince spent much of her life here. Arriving as a young woman, she helped build the families of "Prince a Negro," and Rice Jessup. She headed her own family in the 1810's, and before 1824, gained ownership of the Prince estate. She remained with another woman and two children until the 1830's, either abandoning the property, or succumbing to death by 1840.

teacup fragmentsBetsey Prince lived in modest circumstances. Her two-room frame dwelling, 11 by 13 feet with a small wing, and possibly a loft, provided a crowded home for twelve or more people in the early years, and later, a more comfortable abode for a family of four. Her routine probably included farming, milking, clam harvesting, food preparation, walks to town to purchase household goods, clothing, and personal items (Artifact photos), Sunday church and social calls. Though not an easy life, the independence it allowed helped balance the restrictions she faced in the larger society due to race, gender and class.

Read more about this project at http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/arccrspprince.html.

Contributed by: Mark LoRusso, Staff Archeologist

For questions or comments about this entry, contact Mark Lorusso at mlorusso@mail.nysed.gov
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