William J. Rysam


William J. Rysam


Sag Harbor enslaver


David Rattray


William J. Rysam

Location or Address

Sag Harbor, New York


Walsh Virginia Database: Walsh, Lorena, Database of slave trading voyages to Virginia Westbury, 167: Westbury, Susan, “Colonial Virginia and the Atlantic Slave Trade,” diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1981.



Birth Date


Death Date


Biographical Notes

1772 Rysam captained a slaveship voyage from Barbados to Hampton, Virginia, aboard the Liberty. Embarked with 28 enslaved people and arrived on Nov. 6, 1772 with 27 survivors. The Liberty was owned by John Wilkins Jr., of Great Britain, built 1771 in Virginia, port unspecified.

1775 Rysam left Norfolk, Va., after the British burned the city. Lived in Newtown, part of Brooklyn today, until about 1785. He was a wealthy man by the time he settled in Sag Harbor. Rysam operated a rope walk and salt works. Many prominent Sag Harbor and East Hampton men had substantial mortgage debt to him at the time of his death. Among his holdings was a mahogany grove in Honduras.

1782-1783 Rysam (Risam) is the enslaver of Tom, Jack, and an unnamed woman. 1804 Rysam had brig Merchant built in Sag Harbor, 202 tons, owner with Cornelius Sleight and Moses Clark. This relatively large ship was almost certainly involved in the West Indies trade, suppling the sugar islands, where slavery was the basis of sugar production and the creation of wealth. (Work remains to be done locating shipping and/or customs records for the Merchant.) 1809 Rysam's estate inventory included two enslaved people, Dick and Petre (Peter?) both described as "negro boy."

His 1795 will directed that his estate income be given to his daughters, and the estate principal to his grandchildren. He also directed his executors to give £200 to the East Hampton Town Trustees to fund a scholarship for the children of parents who were not able to pay for their schooling.

Two of Rysam's grandchildren, William Rysam Mulford and William Rysam Sleight, "founded what became the great Sag Harbor whaling firm, Mulford and Sleight Between 1821 and 1850, Mulford and Sleight sent 11 ships on 68 voyages, first to the Brazil Banks, then to the South Atlantic, and eventually to the Pacific. It was an immensely profitable partnership." (Underhill)


David Rattray, “William J. Rysam,” Plain Sight Project, accessed July 18, 2024, https://plainsightproject.org/items/show/1853.