Saving the Historic Gravestones of the Berrians in Van Cortlandt Park

Home Forums The Colonial Era Saving the Historic Gravestones of the Berrians in Van Cortlandt Park

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    • #412

        Here’s the short version:

        Gravestones of the area’s earliest colonists are getting damaged in Van Cortlandt Park.  The Kingsbridge Historical Society is working to change that.

        Here’s the background:

        The early colonial settlers in the Kingsbridge area had a local cemetery to bury deceased family members located in today’s Van Cortlandt Park.  It was situated between the Van Cortlandt House and the the mill pond and is depicted in this map from Patrick Raftery’s incredibly well-researched book series, The Cemeteries of Westchester County.  The area labeled “A,” is the approximate location of the original cemetery and “C,” is the golf house.  The “B,” area represents the part that has a low fence around it.

        On Westchester In April of 1881, local historian Thomas Henry Edsall transcribed some of the inscriptions on the gravestones, including this entry:

        • On well preserved brown sand stone slabs standing side by side: “In memory of Dorcas Berrian who died February 20, 1794, aged 66 years, 3 months, and 22 days;” and, “In memory of Samuel Berrian, who died June 26, 1795, aged 75 years, 2 months and 4 days.”

        Check out this photo from 1910 (22 years after the creation of Van Cortlandt Park) showing the state of the cemetery.  The aforementioned Berrian graves are clear in the foreground.

        At some point these gravestones were moved to the grounds of the Van Cortlandt Mansion, where they were leaned up a against a fence for several decades–getting chipped away and battered by weather and careless treatment.  Hardly a dignified resting place…

        However, the treatment of the stones has recently reached a new low.  While work is being done to repair the Sugar House window, which is behind the gravestones in the above photo, the stones have been tossed aside in the back of the Van Cortlandt House–among construction materials, the old rusty fence, and trash:

        A secure and dignified resting place for these stone should have been secured a long time ago.  Instead they have been degrading over the years with treatment such as this.  The “well-preserved” stone that T. H. Edsall observed now looks like this:

        It has clearly been broken in multiple places–more damage than could have been caused by mere weathering.  Here’s another photo taken 4/7/18:

        The other stone looks even worse.

        So who were the Berrians?  They were among the earliest settlers in the area.  In fact, Spuyten Duyvil Hill was once known as “Berrian’s Neck.”  Samuel Berrian, whose stone is above, fought for the patriots during the American Revolution.  Samuel and his wife Dorcas even had their farm in Spuyten Duyvil confiscated by the British and handed over to local loyalists as punishment for his “rebellion.”  They were known as a generous and pious couple.  Their memorials deserve better treatment than this and the KHS is starting an effort to fix the situation.  I will post updates and news of this matter below.

      • #431
        Thomas Casey

          This is very shocking….I was not aware of the mis-management of these headstones.  I wonder if our local leaders are aware ?

          Burial grounds  showing two headstones

          I have posted a picture of the burial plot before the recent removal of the headstones

        • #432

            Did you take that photo in the cemetery area recently?  Those stones in your photo don’t appear to be the headstones that are by the mansion right now.  They are probably headstones for other individuals.  In the below photo from 1910 you can see just how many headstones there were in the cemetery.  The vast majority of them were not moved–just the Berrian ones it seems.

            Those two large headstones in the foreground appear to be the Dorcas and Samuel Berrian stones.  Peter Ostrander recalls that the Berrian headstones were removed from the cemetery long ago.  He says they have been on the grounds of the Van Cortlandt house (by the Sugar House window) for 20 years.  Only very recently were they moved again to the back of the Van Cortlandt House offices when they started doing repairs to the Sugar House window.

            Your photo does make me wonder just how many headstones are in the cemetery.  They are usually covered by leaves and not that easy to see.  It looks like you cleared some of that before taking your photo.  I would like to go and do a complete count.  Let me know if you want to join me.

          • #433
            Thomas Casey

              The photo was from 2004 but I have brushed the leaves around the area recently and found the same stones.  See article attached

            • #434
              Thomas Casey


              • #435
                Peter Ostrander

                  I conducted a survey 25 or more years ago with a few members of the KHS. We plotted on graph paper  where we found remnants of headstones. Believe we counter approx 35. Would need to find the chart to verify.  But when Woodlawn cemetery  was open in 1866 many families elected to move and re-bury their dead at Woodlawn.  But not all families did so. So besides the two larger Berrian headstones that were intact up to the early 1980s there are many other burials still at the Kingsbridge burial grounds including the Berrians.

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