In 2010, the Lefferts historic house donated a rich collection of Lefferts family papers to Brooklyn Historical Society. Included were genealogies, bibles, recipe books, financial papers, personal recollections, and many other documents that offer an intimate glimpse into the lives and labors of one Brooklyn family over four centuries. Thanks to a generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, BHS spent much of 2010 and 2011 conserving, organizing, and processing these materials. The goal: to make these unique artifacts available to researchers, students, and museumgoers, and to preserve their historical lessons for generations to come.
When I began my work as BHS’s public historian in early 2011, I could not wait to dive into the institution’s rich archival materials. Very quickly, the Lefferts family papers became one of my favorite collections. Because it spans almost four centuries – from the arrival of the first Leffertses in 1660 through the present – the Lefferts family papers illustrate some of the most important themes of Brooklyn’s history: slavery and freedom, the development of Flatbush from farmland to suburb, the experiences of women in colonial Brooklyn, and many more. We at BHS wanted to make these evocative materials available to as many eyes as possible.
That’s why BHS is proud to launch “An American Family Grows in Brooklyn: The Lefferts Family Papers at Brooklyn Historical Society.” This new digital exhibit examines Brooklyn’s complex history through the eyes of one family. The site also includes an image gallery showcasing high-resolution reproductions of seventy-seven items from the Lefferts family papers.
“An American Family Grows in Brooklyn” chronicles the family’s arrival in frontier Flatbush, their role in building Kings County’s booming agricultural economy, their use of enslaved laborers up until New York’s Emancipation Day in 1827, and their relationships with other Dutch families in the region. Items like a nineteenth century cookbook or a list of expenses from a 1791 funeral reveal the material conditions that shaped the everyday lives of members of the Lefferts clan. Other documents, like the dozens of slave indentures held in the collection, offer glimpses into the experiences of a less-chronicled but equally important group of Brooklynites: enslaved African Americans.
We hope that researchers, history buffs, students, and other Brooklyn enthusiasts around the globe take advantage of the rich resources available in “An American Family Grows in Brooklyn.“