Wednesday, December 14, 2011

BHS Has a Cool New Digital Exhibit on an Old Brooklyn Family

A slave bill of sale (1818) from the Lefferts family collection


The Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) has just launched a new exhibit that you can visit from the comfort of your own home.

“An American Family Grows in Brooklyn: The Lefferts Family Papers at Brooklyn Historical Society” is a digital exhibit that tells the story of one of Brooklyn’s oldest families.

Items from the Lefferts collection span centuries of history, from when the Lefferts family first settled in Flatbush in 1660. The family came to own large tracts of property, not only in Brooklyn, but in Queens County, Staten Island and New Jersey as well.

Over the years, the clan included slave-owning farmers, Revolutionary War veterans, politicians, real estate developers, and one rather pioneering female historian, Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt, author of The Social History of Flatbush.

In addition to short, informative essays on topics such as “Slavery in Brooklyn,” “Marriage and Family,” “The Church” and “Farming Brooklyn,” the digital exhibit includes an image gallery of 77 different documents and pictures that have been scanned from the collection for our viewing enjoyment.

There are maps, newspaper clippings, a handwritten account of the Draft Riots in 1863, deeds, estate inventories, pictures of the Lefferts homestead (interior shots included), bills of sale for slaves and all sorts of other interesting material.

Says the exhibit’s curator, BHS’s Julie Golia, “The Lefferts family papers illustrate some of the most important themes of Brooklyn’s history: slavery and freedom, the development of Flatbush from farmland to suburb, the experiences of women in colonial Brooklyn, and many more.”

The collection was donated to BHS in 2010 by the Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park. The original Lefferts house was burned down during the American Revolution. The rebuilt house, dating to 1783, stood at 563 Flatbush Ave. and was moved to the park in 1918, where it holds public programs about Brooklyn’s Dutch history.

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