A Hamptons Property Fight Over a Black Whaler’s Homestead
The same year, Mr. Concer sailed from Sag Harbor on the Manhattan, a whaling ship that traveled the world, captained by Mercator Cooper, who came from a prominent Southampton family. Mr. Cooper’s sailing log and other documents list Mr. Concer as boat steerer, an important position.
As the ship neared islands off the coast of Japan, it encountered two groups of shipwrecked Japanese sailors, whom the crew rescued and returned to the vicinity of Tokyo Harbor — a risky endeavor at a time when Japan was closed to most foreigners. (The crew of the Manhattan wasn’t permitted onshore.) Japanese artworks from that time documented the Manhattan’s arrival, including portraits that appear to depict Mr. Cooper and Mr. Concer.
After an unsuccessful voyage to California in 1849 to seek gold, Mr. Concer returned to Southampton. The 1850 federal census lists him as a head of household living in the vicinity of 51 Pond Lane, and land records, photographic evidence and contemporary maps suggest that he, along with his wife, Rachel, moved into his grandparents’ home shortly thereafter, and remained there for decades.
It is this structure, the records indicate, that — with substantial alteration — would survive at the site.
Mr. Concer’s wife and their two children predeceased him. For years, he worked on Agawam Lake running the ferry, invested in property in the area, worshiped at the First Presbyterian Church and spent time on philanthropic efforts. Upon his death in 1897, Mr. Concer left the majority of his savings to charitable causes including funds to support and educate children at his church.
Elihu Root, a neighbor, bought the property at 51 Pond Lane from the executor of Mr. Concer’s estate. Mr. Root would go on to serve as President Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of state and to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. He also wrote the epitaph engraved on Mr. Concer’s tombstone in the village’s North End Graveyard: “Though born a slave, he possessed those virtues, without which kings are but slaves.”