Pyrrhus Concer: An Adventurous Life

Pyrrhus Concer

A joint project between the

Pyrrhus Concer is one of the most important historical figures to Southampton. Through the study of his life and accomplishments we can learn so much about many different parts of our past. From slavery to the history of the whaling industry to international diplomacy in the 19th century to just the story of one local man's life. Both big and small, Pyrrhus' life story teaches us so much, and now you can see just how close his life was to the Village of Southampton.


Travel by foot, bike or car through the Village of Southampton and stop at various locations of historical importance to Pyrrhus' life story and learn all about him. At the end of this tour will be our Director of Education Connor Flanagan's talk about Pyrrhus where he will go into a bit more detail on some things. Also included will be a list of sources used to produce all of this work and we are doing our best to make as many of them available as possible digitally so everyone has free and easy access to them as needed.


The research into Pyrrhus' life and the compiling of all this information is a continual project and this page will be updated constantly with new information and material as they come to light. We want to extend big thank you to the following people for the work they have done, big and small, over the years to keep Pyrrhus' story alive.

  • The Pyrrhus Concer Action Committee

  • Brenda Simmons, Director of the Southampton African American Museum

  • Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Director of Eastville Community Historical Society

  • Sally Spanburgh

  • Lucius Ware, President of the Long Island Chapter of the NAACP

  • Tom Edmonds, Executive Director of the Southampton History Museum

  • Julie Greene, Southampton Town Historian

  • Gene Dombrowski, former Director of the Parks Department of Southampton Village

  • Arthur Davis, author of A Black Diamond in the Queens Tiara

While going on this self guided tour if you would like to claim a whale pin from our gift shop, make a post on any of your social media accounts with a picture of you at one of the sites. Then visit the Rogers Mansion on one of our open days (Wednesdays to Saturdays) and show our gift shop attendant the post to claim your pin.

One pin per social media post, offer stands while supplies last.


Pyrrhus Concer's Tombstone

located in the South West corner of the North End Cemetery in Southampton, NY


Parking Instructions: The best parking may be in the Stop n' Shop parking lot which is just South of the Cemetery.


Pyrrhus Concer’s story is one of perseverance, triumph, and hard work. Through exploring his life, we can learn many things about Southampton’s past and understand its present. He was remembered by many in his time as being a man of great character with Reverend Jesse Halsey writing that he was “good as gold” in a poem about Pyrrhus after his death. Probably the best illustration of how many in the Village thought of Pyrrhus is shown here, engraved on his tombstone. The quote was chosen by his neighbor and 38th U.S Secretary of State and 1912 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Elihu Root:


Though born a slave He possessed those virtues Without which Kings are but slaves


The North End Cemetery is one of the older Cemeteries in the area with many historically important people like Pyrrhus laid to rest here.

First Presbyterian Church

2 Main Street, Southampton, NY 1968

From The North End Cemetery to the First Presbyterian Church

  1. Head South on Main Street

  2. Make a left on Meeting House Lane

  3. Park in the parking lot behind the church


Before you is the First Presbyterian Church where Pyrrhus and his family were members. While there are no marriage records of Pyrrhus and his wife Rachel, there is a record of them being admitted to the church on March 6, 1847. Pyrrhus left behind a legacy of philanthropy. Upon his death he gave his entire estate of $5,000 to various charitable organizations. With the largest sum being left here as a Christian Education Fund.

The First Presbyterian Church of Southampton began meetings when the first European settlers arrived in Southampton in 1640. There were a few meeting places before this structure was built around 1843. Over the years it has been expanded and had additions added.

Former site of Pyrrhus Concer's Home

51 Pond Lane, Southampton, NY 11968


From the First Presbyterian Church to the Former site of Pyrrhus Concer's Home

  1. Make a left out of the church parking lot

  2. Continue West on Jobs Lane

  3. Make a left onto Pond Lane (also known as Concer's Way)

  4. The site is located just South of the Southampton Cultural Center

  5. Parking can be found in marked spots along Pond Lane


This is the former site of Pyrrhus Concer’s home that he shared with his family. Before Pyrrhus, his grandfather Gad owned a home here as early as possibly 1830. In the 1840 Federal Census there is 1 free person of color between the ages of 24 and 35 working in “navigation of the ocean” living in the home. At this time Pyrrhus would have already began his career as a whaleman and would have been 26. Pyrrhus would later inherit the home in 1843 after his grandfather’s passing. He lived here with his wife Rachel until her death on May 10, 1890 and his eventual death on August 23, 1897. They had two children, James and Charles, who would sadly die before reaching adulthood.


Seeing the empty lot of today it may be hard to imagine so much life taking place here. But that is because in 2013 after a long and hard fight by many concerned local citizens and the formation of the Pyrrhus Concer Action Committee to try and save his historic home, it was demolished by the new owners of the property only to then sell the land. Thankfully prior to its destruction an inventory was done in the building of any historic objects and after its destruction, important structural elements were salvaged and preserved. Later the land was purchased by the Southampton Town Community Preservation Fund and there are plans in place to eventually rebuild his home as a museum for the public to learn about his life.


On October 1, 2013 the Pyrrhus Concer Action Committee (PCAC) was formed with core members consisting of the Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Brenda Simmons, Tom Edmonds, Lucius Ware, and Sally Spanburgh. Their mission was to save Pyrrhus' home but after it was demolished, their mission became to get his home rebuilt and his memory kept alive.

More info here


Cooper Hall

on the grounds of the Rogers Memorial Library 91 Coopers Farm Road, Southampton, NY 11968

From the Former site of Pyrrhus Concer's Home to Cooper Hall

  1. Head north on Pond Lane

  2. Continue forward through the intersection onto what is now Windmill Lane

  3. Make a left onto Coopers Farm Road

  4. Turn right into the Rogers Memorial Library parking lot


The story of Pyrrhus Concer starts here, but as we know, doesn’t end here at Cooper Hall. This is the place where Pyrrhus began his life on March 17, 1814 being born to Violet William who was enslaved to prominent Southampton Merchant, Nathan Cooper. His father was a man by the name of Shadrach Concer, who was also enslaved, but not to Cooper. At the start of the century Nathan Cooper had 4 slaves. Gad and Esther Williams and their two young daughters Rachel and Violet. Gad would earn his and Esther’s freedom by going on a whaling journey in 1803 and using the money earned to buy their freedom. However his two daughters remained enslaved. Gad and Esther would continue to live on the property having two more children, Millicent in 1801 and Prince in 1806.


An important note is that Pyrrhus was born after the passing of New York State’s “an act for the gradual abolition of slavery” on March 29, 1799, which meant that any child born to an enslaved mother after July 4, 1799 would now be an indentured servant until the age of 28 for males and 25 for females. Because of this Pyrrhus was considered an indentured servant to the Cooper family, not a slave. But what really is the difference between an enslaved person and someone who is forced into being an indentured servant at birth simply because of the color of their skin?

Cooper Hall is the building to the South of the Rogers Memorial Library and is currently used as both office and event space by the library. 

Pelletreau Silver Shop

a property of the Southampton History Museum 80 Main Street, Southampton, NY 11968

From Cooper Hall to the Pelletreau Silver Shop

  1. Turn left out of the library parking lot

  2. Head east on Nugent Street

  3. Make a right onto Main Street

  4. The shop will be on your left, you may park on Main Street or in any of the surrounding public parking areas


Oral history tells us that Pyrrhus Concer was sold at the age of 5 for $25 to the Pelletreau Family. His sale was most likely due to Nathan Cooper’s death on December 4, 1817 and his late wife Olive liquidating some assets. It is unclear if it was John Pelletreau, silversmith and son of famous Patriot and silversmith Elias Pelletreau, or his son Charles that purchased Pyrrhus in 1819, however John died in 1822 with Charles inheriting his home on South Main Street and much of his property, including a now 8 year old Pyrrhus.

This is the Pelletreau Silver Shop, formerly run by Elias Pelletreau who was a Patriot and acclaimed silversmith. Presently, it is operated by Eric Messin and houses his jewelry store where you can still get custom silver pieces. It is the oldest continually open trade shop in the Americas. Elias’ son John Pelletreau was running this shop at the time of Pyrrhus’ birth in 1814.

Former Charles Pelletreau Property

Slightly south of the corner of Toylsome Lane and South Main Street in Southampton, NY

From the Pelletreau Silver Shop to the Former Charles Pelletreau Property

  1. Head south on Main Street

  2. Obey posted signage and park on the side of the road once you reach the corner of Toylsome Lane and South Main Street


While the home of Charles Pelletreau no longer stands today, it was here on the East side of South Main Street near the intersection with Toylesome Lane. It was here that Pyrrhus would have spent the most formative years of his life. Charles was primarily a farmer so Pyrrhus would have grown up completing any and all tasks that a young able-bodied boy might have been able to do as well as perhaps being loaned out to neighbors and friends to assist in other projects. According to the 1830 federal census Charles had 1 free person of color under 24 years old living with him, Pyrrhus would have been 16 at the time. Charles’ father and grandfather were remembered as being deeply religious men who were active members in the local Presbyterian Church and were noted for their benevolence towards those less favored by fortune. Upon examining later census records, Charles seemed to always have a new group of people living with him. While never marrying or having kids of his own, he seemed to provide a place to live for those who may have been less fortunate. Pyrrhus would spend the majority of his childhood here working for Charles Pelletreau, but soon would earn his freedom.

Captain Edward D. Sayre's Home

95 South Main Street, Southampton, NY 1968

From the Former Charles Pelletreau Property to Captain Edward D. Sayre's Home

  1. Head north on South Main Street

  2. The home will be on your left

  3. Obey posted signage and park on the side of the road


Pyrrhus gained his freedom sometime between 1832 and 1835, when he was between the ages of 18 and 21 years old. While his obituary says he was given his freedom by the Pelletreau Family at 21, oral history says he earned it at the age of 18. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle. What is known for sure is that Pyrrhus went on his first whaling trip when he was 18 aboard a whaling vessel named “Boston” captained by Southampton Village resident, Edward D. Sayre. They left from New London, CT in July 1832 for the South Atlantic and returned in February 1833. This is the former home of Captain Edward D. Sayre built c. 1790 which is now privately owned. The luck of living so close to so many whaling captains as the industry began to boom, gave Pyrrhus the chance to change his life forever. His second trip came soon after, leaving on the “Columbia” with Captain Jeremiah William Hedges out of Sag Harbor in June 1833 and returning in May 1834. He continued to go on whaling voyages in the coming years gaining more and more experience. Pyrrhus may have gained his freedom from the kindness of Charles Pelletreau, or more likely by using the money earned from his whaling voyages to purchase his own freedom early.

Anchor Monument

located in the South West Corner of Agawam Park, Southampton, NY

From Captain Edward D. Sayre's Home to the Anchor Monument

  1. Go north on South Main Street

  2. Make a left at the light onto Jobs lane

  3. You can make a left into the parking lot South of Jobs lane and then walk across Agawam Park to the monument or

  4. Continue on Jobs Lane, making a left onto Pond Lane

  5. Here park in one of the designated parking spots on Pond Lane like when you previously visited Pyrrhus' former home site


Pyrrhus began his whaling career just like anyone else at the bottom of the barrel, but through hardwork and perseverance he became one of the most skilled and well known whalers in the area. His most famous whaling journey began on Wednesday, November 8, 1843 sailing out of Sag Harbor aboard the “Manhattan” which was Captained by Mercator Cooper, son of Nathan Cooper who had previously enslaved Pyrrhus’ family. For this journey Pyrrhus was hired as a boat steerer, one of the higher ranking positions on a whaleship. While sailing in the Pacific they landed on the island of Tori-shima to look for food and fresh water and came across 11 shipwrecked Japanese sailors. Then on their journey to bring them home to Japan they came across a sinking ship with another 11 Japanese fishermen.


The reason this is such a historic journey is because at this time Japan was a closed country and did not allow foregin ships to enter their ports. They risked their lives trying to return these men but upon arrival were actually allowed to dock and return the fishermen home. The Americans were not allowed to leave the ship but they were thanked by the Emperor and given many gifts then sent on their way and warned to never return. They returned to Sag Harbor on October 14, 1846. This venture led to Pyrrhus being one of the first African Americans to ever go to Japan. There are many stories of the Japanese locals being fascinated by the dark complexion of Pyrrhus and the other African Americans and Native Americans on the ship. With one account mentioning how they even tried to rub the black off of Pyrrhus’ skin not understanding he could be so dark.


This was not Pyrrhus’ last adventure as he would leave for the Gold Rush on February 8, 1848 as part of the Southampton and California Mining and Trading Company. However, the company was not successful and Pyrrhus would return home in 1850. After these adventures Pyrrhus began to settle down and lived out the rest of his life here in the Village. He began a ferry business right here on Lake Agawam where he would take people across the lake to the beach for a few cents. He also rented out row boats for 10c an hour or 25c for a half day.

Pyrrhus Concer's Legacy

The Rogers Mansion, a property of the Southampton History Museum 17 Meeting House Lane Street, Southampton, NY 11968

From the Anchor Monument to the Rogers Mansion

  1. Head east on Jobs Lane through the intersection when it becomes Meeting House Lane

  2. make a right into the First Presbyterian Church's parking lot

  3. the Rogers Mansion is across the street


Pyrrhus Concer rose from being born into an unjust life, to become one of the most respected and well liked men in Southampton Village. He nor anyone in his family asked to become indentured servants, he was simply forced to be one due to the color of his skin and the time and place in which he was born. But through hard work and perseverance, he earned his freedom and in a time when thousands were trying to make a name for themselves in the whaling industry, he made his name stand out.

Audio Recordings provided by:

  • Brenda Simmons, Director of the Southampton African American Museum

  • Connor Flanagan, Director of Education at the Southampton History Museum

For a more in-depth look at Pyrrhus' life you can watch our Director of Education Connor Flanagan's virtual lecture about his research into Pyrrhus' life below!

Sources


All information found here is thanks in part to the sources below. All sources listed as part of the SHM archives can be viewed in person upon request. As more information and sources come to light, this list will be added to.


U.S. Federal and NYS Census Records from 1810 – 1880

  • Need to digitize the 1800 and 1890 records

  • Secured from Ancestry.com

Southampton Town Clerk’s Records – 1816

  • Thank you to the Town of Southampton

Mercator Cooper’s Whaling log – 1843 to 1846

Other Mercator Cooper Documents

  • Thank you to the New Bedford Whaling Museum

The Friend (Hawaiian Newspaper) Vol. IV No. III – Feb. 2, 1846

The poem “Pyrrhus Concer” by Jesse Halsey – c early 1900s

  • From the archives of the Southampton History Museum

The Southampton Magazine Vol. I No. I – 1912 - SHM archives

  • From the archives of the Southampton History Museum

Record of Pelletreau Family by William S. Pelletreau, A. M. – 1913

  • From the archives of the Southampton History Museum

History of the American Whale Fisher by Alexander Starbuck – 1964 - SHM archives

A Black Diamond in the Queens Tiara by Arthur Davis – 1974

  • From the archives of the Southampton History Museum

  • Will hopefully be reprinted and for sale again soon!

Cooper Hall Historic Structure Report by Robert J. Hefner – 2000

  • From the archives of the Southampton History Museum

Pyrrhus Consor, Born Free by Joysetta Marsh Pearse – 2014

The newspaper articles below are all thanks to nyhistoricnewspapers.org


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Hours of Operation
COVID-19 UPDATE
All tours of the Rogers Mansion and Thomas Halsey Homestead must now be booked in advance of arrival. Please call 631-283-2494 to book your tour!
Rogers Mansion - March to December, Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm, $5 for adults, free for children under 17 and members
Thomas Halsey Homestead - July to October, Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm, $5 for adults, free for children under 17 and members
Pelletreau Silver Shop - Open year round, Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm, Free admission
Conscience Point - Open year round, Sunrise to Sunset, Free admission
 
All subject to closure during Holidays
17 Meeting House Lane / PO Box 303, Southampton, NY 11968
(631) 283-2494