Pyrrhus Concer was born on March 17, 1814 to an enslaved mother, Violet; following her status, he too became the property (whether technically a slave or an indentured servant) of his mother’s owner Captain Nathan Cooper in Southampton. Subsequently, Concer was sold to Mr. Elias Pelletreau II for the sum of $25.00. Five years old at the time of his sale, Concer had no choice regarding his transfer, leaving his mother behind when he was still a young child. Even after slavery ended in 1826, Pyrrhus Concer apparently remained in the Pelletreau household until he was about 26 years old.
After working as a farm hand, Concer shipped out on a whaling vessel, like many young Long Island men. He advanced from a green hand in 1832 to pilot, eleven years later, of the whaleship Manhattan. In 1845, he had his most notable maritime adventure when he and his shipmates rescued some shipwrecked Japanese sailors. The Manhattan, with Concer aboard, delivered the Japanese sailors back to their native land–then a closed society. By spending long periods working at sea, Concer was able to improve his economic situation back home. After inheriting his first two acres of property from his grandmother in 1843, he continued to increase his property holdings over time. By 1850, he was recorded in the census as a seaman and head of household in Southampton. Clearly, he held his property dear because in 1891 he pursued litigation to protect his homestead. Not only did he deeply value and carefully manage his real estate holdings, he ensured his personal sovereignty and full rightful status as a landowner.
Since the Reconstruction Era, the concept of “freed men and free land” have been closely linked in America. Although predominantly associated with the South, the connection between land ownership and political rights also resonated in the North. In 1821, New York chose to retain property restrictions on African American men seeking the right to vote. In response, for example, Weeksville, Brooklyn was founded as an autonomous African American community and sought to establish African American rights and support their social institutions. In Concer’s case, thanks to the initial inheritance from his grandmother, he was able to build on that foundation to expand his holdings. His subsequent purchases of land and his efforts to preserve clear title were certainly informed by relationships between land and rights including citizenship, which was still not granted to African Americans at this point.
Pyrrhus Concer was many things–a son, brother, husband, and, by all accounts, a great neighbor. He was also a devoted Christian and a member of the Southampton Presbyterian Church. His lasting legacy as a philanthropist has been cemented at his church where he started a lasting Christian education scholarship fund. He also bequeathed funds to the American Seaman’s Friend Society. Pyrrhus Concer died on August 23, 1897 and is interred in the old North End Burying in Southampton. Until recently, his home still survived on Pond Lane in Southampton. While a modest dwelling, it was a rare surviving example of Long Island vernacular architecture, similar to the few documented (mostly no longer extent) 19th century African American homes. Moreover, its provenance as the homestead of a prominent African American community member made it meaningful and significant to many residents of Southampton.