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Jul 15, 2015 10:36 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Pyrrhus Concer Was Born A Servant, Not A Slave

Pyrrhus Concer.
Jul 15, 2015 11:26 AM

The inscription on the stone at the Pyrrhus Concer memorial near Lake Agawam in Southampton Village starts off with a simple statement: “Born a slave in 1814.”As it turns out, that is at least technically incorrect.

The idea that he was born a slave has long been a key part of Mr. Concer’s story, but local historians have come to the conclusion in recent years that he was not a slave, but free—though the truth, rooted in 19th century life, is a bit more complicated.

On March 29, 1799, the New York State Legislature approved the Gradual Abolition Act, which stated that any child born to a enslaved woman after July 4 of that year would be free. Mr. Concer was born to Violet Williams, who was a slave owned by Nathan Cooper of Southampton, on March 17, 1814—which made him, by law, an indentured servant to Mr. Cooper, rather than a slave.

The law further stated that all males would remain servants until their 28th birthday, and that females would remain servants until they turned 25, although later laws changed the age to 21 for both genders.

Even though Mr. Concer was born free, he was sold for $25 to the Charles Pelletreau family at the young age of 5, leading historians and researchers to believe that his life as an indentured servant was not so different from a slave.

“Technically, by law, he was not a slave, he was an indentured servant. But he was treated like a slave, sold like a slave, felt like a slave,” said Sally Spanburgh, chair of Southampton Town’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board.

Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, executive director of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor, noted that the records say he was a slave because, despite the State Legislature’s action, enforcement of the new law was inconsistent. “Because there was a lack of enforcement of the law,” she said, “he was still treated as if he was a slave.”

Mr. Concer was freed from servitude on his 21st birthday—contrary to what his memorial says, that he was freed at the age of 18. He was freed eight years after slavery had been abolished in New York, as Mr. Pelletreau had continued to hold Mr. Concer to the conditions set under the Gradual Abolition Act.

Josh Belury, manager of the Agawam Ferry, which was launched last year in honor of Mr. Concer’s 200th birthday, said that fact alone shows that Mr. Concer received poor treatment—although his own mother was freed from slavery when the state abolished it, Mr. Concer had to remain a servant for nearly another decade. “So, in some ways, he had more of a burden,” Mr. Belury said.

Many acknowledged that Mr. Concer has been referred to as a slave instead of a servant because it made his story sound more significant—and, in truth, might have been a closer description of his actual circumstances.

While still a servant, he went from working as a farmhand to becoming a whaler, sailing out of Sag Harbor with some of the most prominent captains of that era. He was freed during that time in his life.

Later on, Mr. Concer married Rachel Williams, became a landowner, and started a business running a ferry service across Lake Agawam to the village beaches at 10 cents a ride. That prosperous chapter topped off the heartwarming tale of a man who had started off in servitude.

However, even though Mr. Concer wasn’t actually a slave, historians and researchers said the controversy surrounding his property on Pond Lane in Southampton Village, and all the events held in his memory, are still warranted, as he was a key figure in the African-American history of Southampton, and was known to be a gentleman and an all-around well-liked person who did great things for the community.

“I think he deserved all the accolades. He’s a stunning example of what people can do when they’re determined,” said Joysetta Pearse, a genealogist and the executive director of the African American Museum of Nassau County in Hempstead. Ms. Pearse penned a short book about Mr. Concer last year to accompany an exhibit that museum put on about his life.

“It’s very, very critical that this is being addressed,” said Brenda Simmons, executive director of the Southampton African-American Museum. “Our history has not been told correctly.”

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another $4.3 million of cpf money well-spent. do not be surprised to see mr.and mrs. hermer on courtney's donor list when she runs for congress next year.
By wmdwjr (76), east hampton on Jul 15, 15 1:46 PM
The status of indentured servitude is a very common scenario in New York State before the 14th amendment. New York actually abolished slavery in 1829.

Those who were indentured were treated very differently than a nominal slave. They had the opportunity to work elsewhere for a wage in their "free time",and were availed of the opportunities to earn their freedom. The circumstances of slavery were far different in the north than they were in the south.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 15, 15 2:33 PM
We're all servants to our boss or we have no income to survive.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 15, 15 11:06 PM
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