Nathaniel Sylvester

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Nathaniel Sylvester
Born 1610
Died 1680
Occupation Sugar planter, merchant
Spouse(s) Grisell Brinley
Relatives Thomas Brinley (father-in-law)
William Coddington (brother-in-law)
Brinley Sylvester (grandson)

Nathaniel Sylvester (1610-1680) was an Anglo-Dutch sugar merchant and the first European settler of Shelter Island.

Early life[edit]

Nathaniel Sylvester was born in 1610 in England.[1]


Sylvester and his brother Constant owned two plantations in Barbados and over 200 African slaves.[1]

In June 1651, with his brother and two other men, he purchased the whole of Shelter Island from the Manhanset Indians, whose sachem, or chief, was called "Yoki." The Shelter Island enterprise involved barrel-making, using the stands of white oak for shipping the West Indies tobacco, sugar, molasses and rum back to England. Sylvester used both local Native Americans and enslaved Africans from Barbados in his operation.

Personal life[edit]

Between 6 July (date of marriage jointure) and 8 August 1653 (date of letter mentioning his changed condition because of marriage), he married Grisell Brinley, daughter of Thomas Brinley, one of the Auditors General of the Revenues for Charles I, and later for Charles II. Grisell was a younger sister of Anne Brinley, who in England had married William Coddington of Rhode Island in January 1650. When the Coddingtons returned to Rhode Island in mid-1651, Grizzell came along as a ward of Coddington. The Sylvesters were friends with Quaker founder George Fox, whom he entertained on at least one occasion on Shelter Island. They offered a place of refuge for several of the persecuted early Quakers in New England.


He died in 1680.[1]


His grandson, Brinley Sylvester, built Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island in 1737.[2]

Shelter Island families descended from Sylvester include Dering, Sprague, L'Hommedieu, Havens and Hudson.

A contemporary archaeological dig, the Sylvester Manor Project, a project overseen by the University of Massachusetts Boston, seeks to shed light on the Sylvester estate as it existed in the 17th and 18th centuries.


  1. ^ a b c Jennifer Schuessler, Confronting Slavery at Long Island’s Oldest Estates, The New York Times, August 12, 2015
  2. ^ Anne Raver, Life on the Plantation: Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island Returns to Its Roots, The New York Times, April 10, 2013

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