May 29, 2018 at 8:41 pm #470
Today’s New York Times featured an article, quoting Peter Ostrander and me, about the Kingsbridge Burial Ground in Van Cortlandt Park that you can check out here. For a little extra background, read on.
Where was the Kingsbridge Burial Ground? This graphic from Patrick Raftery’s excellent book, The Cemeteries of The Bronx, shows it best. The area marked “A” is is the location of the Burial Ground and the area marked “B” is a fenced off area containing stubs of headstones. The building marked “C” is the golf house. This map of Van Cortlandt Park also shows the location of the burial ground. The above-mentioned Patrick Raftery, librarian at the Westchester County Historical Society, was instrumental in finding documents related to this cemetery.
The Kingsbridge Burial ground is also indicated on this great map by the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy.
ARTICLES AND PHOTOS OF THE CEMETERY:
Cemetery in 1910.
Cemetery in 1936 (photo from Patrick Raftery’s The Cemeteries of The Bronx)
Cemetery in 1971.
Removed headstones from the above photos behind the office of the Van Cortlandt House Museum
ADJACENT BURIAL GROUND FOR ENSLAVED PEOPLE:
Local historians have long suspected that part of the Kingsbridge Burial Ground was used by enslaved people, who lived in the area in great numbers. The enslaved people were supposedly buried in the area marked “A” in the map from Patrick Raftery’s book. Slavery was prevalent in the area. The earliest recorded census (1698) of this part of The Bronx indicates more enslaved people living in the area than free people. I have been researching slavery in the area and writing about it here.
The following clipping from a 1905 issue of the Mt. Vernon Daily Argus seems to corroborate the oral history in the second paragraph:
The railroad they were building in the clipping became the rail trail popular with runners and bikers today. I would imagine that most of the cemetery was not disturbed in the construction of the railroad but I cannot be sure. I am trying to get a coalition of local people together who are interested in studying this area. According to an archeologist I spoke with, remote sensing technology could be used to find out if burials lie in the ground. If this site was used as a burial ground for enslaved Africans, it should be marked as such. If you are interested in getting involved please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
WHO OWNS THE BURIAL GROUND?
Before the Van Cortlandt family purchased the land adjacent to the cemetery, it belonged to one of the area’s first settlers, George Tippett. As the NYT article states, he declared the cemetery land to be a “Burying place for [his descendents’] use forever.” Below is a transcript of the declaration–Liber E 147 from the Westchester County Land Deeds.
In 1732, he sold all of his remaining land in the area to the Van Cortlandts except for the cemetery. That deed is in Liber G-30 in the Westchester County Land Deeds. So it would seem that the cemetery land should still belong to the descendants of the Tippett family. According to the NYT article, “The Parks Department disputes the claim, saying the city acquired the entire Van Cortlandt estate between 1888 and 1890 by condemning it. “When a parcel is acquired through condemnation,” a spokeswoman for the Parks Department said, “the acquiring party takes title to everything.” I had not seen any references to the land being condemned in any historical documentation and the article does not provide any historical documentation relating to a condemnation. If anyone comes across any records of this, please get in touch with us.
According to Christopher Ricciardi’s excellent thesis about Van Cortlandt Park, “the Van Cortlandt Family deeded their Mansion and sold their land to the City of New York.” He does not mention anything about a condemnation.June 6, 2018 at 1:19 pm #471
Peter Ostrander and I were interviewed for News 12 in The Bronx about the Berrian headstones. See the report here:June 15, 2018 at 1:13 pm #481
NY1 ran a story about the Kingsbridge Burial Ground yesterday that you can see here:
We are currently in the process of finalizing the draft of our proposals to the Parks Department (for restoring the burial ground, adding signage, etc). I met with several members of the park administration and they seem open to hearing our ideas. I will post their response and any updates here.June 28, 2018 at 12:23 pm #484
When I was discussing the issue of the burial ground with the NY Times reporter, I really wished that I had a map, historical or otherwise, that indicated the existence of the Kingsbridge burial ground–just to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it had been there. Well, it’s a little late but I did find such a map. It’s the USGS USA topo map:
Note the “Cem” indicating a cemetery at both the Kingsbridge Burial Ground to the east of the Van Cortlandt Mansion House and the Van Cortlandt burial vault to the north.
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