A Writer's Journey

January 21, 2014

Sandy Ground

It’s funny when you look at your writing and look at what you had planned for it. What do I mean by that? Let’s look at The Conference House. I had a lot of plans for the novel. But I think that’s a problem historical fiction writers have: Trying to fit everything into our novel. Readers of historical fiction have probably heard the complaint about other stories before or made it themselves. With the release of the first Outlander miniseries trailer, a few comments on the Entertainment Weekly (EW) website did admit that Diana Gabaldon did get bogged down with details.

There was one detail I wanted to include in “The Conference House.” But the story went in another direction and it was forgotten. I recalled it the other day. But I had to discard it for now.

What was the idea? To include Sandy Ground and its residents in my novel. And why did I have to discard it (for now)? Well, I’ll cover that in “What is Sandy Ground?”

Sandy Ground was located in Rossville here in Staten Island, though at the time it would’ve been known as Westfield at the time, given how the Island was divided. It was founded in 1827 by Captain John Jackson after New York abolished slavery in the state, giving a place for freed African-Americans to settle. Freemen came from all over the US to live at Sandy Ground.

Also called “Little Africa,” the community became known for oystering. The waters off Staten Island used to be renown for their oyster beds and it was one of the island’s chief industries. Many believe it was also a stop on the Underground Railroad in the years leading up to the Civil War. I think this is probably true. I believe I touched upon this in another blog post, but we know of several houses on the island that were stops on the Underground Railroad, including a nearby house owned by the Korean church located only a few miles from where Sandy Ground was.

Over the course of the years, the waters off Staten Island became polluted. In 1916, the oyster beds were condemned and the industry died out. Residents of Sandy Ground found other work. Then in 1963, disaster struck. A brush fire swept through the Rossville section, destroying many homes—including those at Sandy Ground. Only a few remain.

(Thankfully my church, which was built in the 1840s, was not touched though parishioners did come out and stand guard with hoses to protect the building).

However, people organized and created the Sandy Ground Historical Society. Through it, they keep the history of the area alive.

In case you haven’t figured it out, the reason I had to discard Sandy Ground for “The Conference House” was because it didn’t exist in the 1770s! But I am planning on “The Conference House” being the first in a series called my “Pearl of the Atlantic” series. And I did want a novel to focus on the Underground Railroad on Staten Island. So I’m going to save Sandy Ground for that book.

Keep an eye out for it!

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