My Black History Month begins with the celebration of life, respect, and honor of my people. Setauket, Long Island, is where my roots and ties to family begins. My family name is Sells. Our history in Setauket spans over centuries. Back in earlier years, according to the census, we were considered as “mulatto,” meaning mixed breed. The color of our skin was confusing to the census people. We weren’t Black in color and we weren’t white, and therefore came the term mulatto. We were Setalcotts, our Native American tribe, and some of us were mixed with African American bloodline.
Many stories have been handed down by our ancestors and historians. We had our own church, Bethel AME Church, The Irving Hart Legion Hall and Laurel Hill Cemetery, and the community was known as Chicken Hill, all on Christian Avenue in Setauket. My grandparents referred to the cemetery as Chicken Hill, where many of our family members are buried on this steep hill, which sits next to The Irving Hart Legion Hall. The history is full and rich, but many do not necessarily believe the stories. Many stories tell of Setauket being a gateway for slaves traveling through the Underground Railroad. It was revealed to us that our people made quilts with symbols giving slaves directions to travel North to freedom. The slaves who were free settled in Setauket and married Setalcotts. I consider myself as an Afro-Native American.
I remember as a child being driven down Christian Avenue to the Bethel AME Church on Sunday mornings for Sunday school and church service, or attending family events at The Legion Hall. One of the last times I was at The Irving Hart Legion Hall was for a Hart and Sells family reunion. We all gathered upstairs, shared a meal, and the elders told many stories. The family historian, Ted Green, had something that looked like a paper mural, which wrapped around the walls of the Legion Hall, and everyone’s name was on it. You could follow your lineage and you could clearly see how we were intertwined and connected.
The Three Village Historical Society had a Chicken Hill exhibit, which included a book signing of my aunt’s book, “The Bittersweet Taste of the American Dream,” reception and tour. We viewed memoirs, artifacts, and pictures of The Setauket Negro Baseball Team, which included a photo of my Grandfather Sells. The Three Village Historical Society still has The Chicken Hill exhibit. Our history portrays our people as entrepreneurs and hardworking people, who owned homes and land.
Our ancestors from Setauket triumphed through adversity, and the elders continue to fight to make Chicken Hill historical and The Setalcotts being federally recognized as a Native American tribe. Chicken Hill is said to be a community that has lost its social and cultural status. Some know our history and we are trying to preserve it, as our forefathers and foremothers are getting up in age, and we need to absorb every detail of our Black and Native American history to pass on to our future generations.