Archaeological dig helps uncover Westchester’s lost African American history
In the mid-19th century, it was rare for African Americans to own property. But in Westchester County, a Black resident not only owned property, he also owned several businesses.
William Voris' early life is still a mystery.
He may have been born a slave in New Jersey, but by 1841, property records show he purchased a plot of land on Milton Road.
This was more than 20 years before slavery was officially abolished across the country.
"Voris, I just find it absolutely fascinating that he lived in this enclave with his neighbors who were not African Americans and he had a nice home," said archeologist Dr. Sara Mascia.
Mascia has been working with the Bird Homestead and Meeting House Conservancy to uncover more of Voris' story.
Over the summer, they conducted an archaeological dig on the land Voris once owned.
Volunteers helped scoop up dirt and sifted out the artifacts that haven't seen the surface for over 100 years.
The dig led to a new piece of the puzzle in Voris' life story.
Mascia originally hypothesized the building on the property was a saloon Voris owned, but after sifting through the artifacts Mascia has a new theory.
"Now I am sort of changing my mind quite a bit on what we found. We just didn’t find enough of the type of artifacts that you would expect to find at a saloon," she said.
Mascia now believes the building that once stood there was actually Voris' home and that his saloon was somewhere else in Rye.
She said uncovering more of Voris' story is vital to filling in the blanks of Westchester's lost Black history.
"Why it's important is... a lot of people who are African American or anybody can have pride in their history," she said.
The Bird Homestead and Meeting House Conservancy is already planning to conduct a second archeological dig at the site in either the spring or summer.