April 13 marks the birth of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). He was a Founding Father, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the owner of Monticello, a southern plantation worked by slaves. There are, of course, many other aspects of his life that have made him a complex historical figure.
Up north, there was William Floyd (1734-1821). Like Jefferson, Floyd was also a Founding Father and a Declaration signer. His plantation in Mastic, New York, was also worked by slaves. But, unlike Jefferson, much of Floyd’s life remains shrouded in mystery.
During the Revolutionary War, the British commandeered the plantation while Floyd and his family sought refuge in Connecticut. As a result, his personal effects were destroyed leaving only the barest traces of Floyd’s history.
What is known, however, is that Jefferson visited Floyd at his plantation’s Old Mastic House. One can visit the house today, go on a tour, and step through the same rooms that both of these influential leaders walked in. Floyd was a general in the Revolutionary War and served under George Washington. Jefferson would go on to become the third president of the United States. James Madison succeeded Jefferson as the fourth president and he, too, visited Floyd at Old Mastic House.
By 1810, Floyd had five slaves remaining. Within six years of his death, slavery was outlawed in the state of New York. By the time of Jefferson’s death in 1826, his estate still had well over one hundred slaves. His home state of Virginia would not come to abolish slavery until 1865.
This image has been widely exhibited. A few of the venues it has appeared in include the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City, the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, and the U.S. Customs House in Philadelphia.
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