2 October 1875
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

THE DEAD Brooklyn Graves that Have Been Opened. Some Account of Where Our Forefathers Were Buried - How Their Bodies Have Been Removed- Old Cemeteries Removed by Law- Quaint Epitaphs. _____________

Brooklyn, in common with all cities that have a growth of centuries, has grown and spread in direction, and in a manner that was not apparently expected by the first inhabitants, and many of the old landmarks established by them, have been, for scores of the years, things of the past. Swept away in the march of modern improvement, by a people who have no veneration for traditions and no patience with anything that is not modern, the buildings and institutions that in other countries would be jealously guarded are here entirely forgotten, and are only brought to mind now and then by some curious soul who pores over dusty parchments and moldy volumes containing Brooklyn's early history. This spirit of enterprise, so called, begrudges the dead the six feet or less of ground that falls to each man’s share, when it becomes valuable for building purposes, and the graves that hundreds of years ago were dug in sorrow, and for long afterward were tended with pious care, now hold the solid foundation stones of stately warehouses. Doubtless the necessities of sanitary law are sometimes valid excuses for such action ; but the thought of disturbing a dead body for the sake of the space it occupies is not a pleasant one. But in the history of Brooklyn there are several instances of the removal of a whole cemetery full of the dead, and the citizen of Brooklyn who to-day walks from Fulton Ferry to the beginning of DeKalb avenue is not apt to think that he passes by two formerly well known places, where within twenty years the dead lay buried. On the east side of Fulton street, opposite the corner of Clinton, was formerly a cemetery belonging to St. Ann’s Protestant Episcopal Church and where Wheeler’s new block of buildings stands, near Gallatin place, was the cemetery that was given to the city by the Governor and Provincial authorities early in the seventeenth Century, and which for about two hundred and fifty years was used as a burial ground. But even before this grant the dead of Brooklyn citizens had to be buried, and as the ground now occupied by the city was then divided into farms, on nearly every one of these farms was a burying ground. All traces of these family plots have disappeared and their location is forgotten, in most instances, although by careful research probably the most of them could be learned. One of these old burial grounds stood where the lecture room of the First Presbyterian Church now stands near the beginning of Clinton street. In many cases the occupants of these scattered graves were removed by those who afterward used the ground for building purposes, but it is probable that in some cases the original use of the ground was forgotten and the occupants of the neglected graves still sleep under our very streets or houses. There have been instances of human remains being found in digging for the foundations of houses. Of the cemeteries that have been formerly located within our city limits, the oldest one was that which formerly belonged to the First Reformed Dutch Church. This was located on the south side of Fulton street, east of Gallatin place, and was 120 by 200 feet in size. It was then said to be on the Brooklyn and Jamaica Turnpike road, and directly in front of it, in the middle of the road, stood the original building of the Reformed Dutch Church. About thirty years ago, Mr. John SKILLMAN, of Brooklyn, in searching the old Dutch records at Albany found this cemetery used to define the eastern boundary of a grant of land made in 1656. This is the earliest mention of the cemetery that is now known and from it is known that at that time it was a landmark. It had been given by the Governor and Provincial authorities to the Reformed Dutch Church for use as a burial place. In 1657 a grant was made to some one else of the land on the west side of the cemetery. In 1662 an inscription was made on the records of the church, of which the following is a translation : Ancke JANS made application to the consistory of the Dutch Reformed Church of Brooklyn for permission to inclose the grave of his deceased wife, Magdalen, with a fence, to prevent the swine from rooting up the grave. The application was referred to the Rev. Henry SELYNS and to the Deacon Jacob JORISON with instructions to have the burial ground fenced as soon as possible. Whereupon the Rev. Henry SELYNS and Jacob JORISON contracted with Ancke JANS to enclose the burial ground with a good clapboard fence, five feet high, and to make a good board gate and front piece for the entrance for which they were to pay him seventy guilders. Dated Oct. 25, 1661 [signed] Ancke JANS. In 1666 the church building referred to as standing in the middle of the road was erected. It stood just a hundred years, and was torn down and another was built on the same site. This stood until 1807 when the church moved to their present site on Joralemon street in the rear of the city hall. The old burial ground was, however, still retained, and the records of the church show that from time to time interments were made there, and appropriations were made and committees were appointed to keep it in order. It was used for a burial ground until April 23, 1849, when a city ordinance was passed prohibiting further burials within the city limits and in accordance with this ordinance the interments in this cemetery, as in the others in the city, ceased perforce. It seems to have generally understood that this action on the part of the city would be followed in time by a removal of the bodies in these places, for when the church issued a notice that all persons who wished to have their friends’ remains removed from these grounds to other cemeteries, many persons acted on it and had the bodies of their friends removed to Greenwood and other cemeteries. In 1865 it was deemed best to remove all the bodies lying in this burial ground, to Greenwood, the church having purchased a quantity of grounds in that cemetery, and a petition was thereupon addressed to the Legislature for authority to effect this removal. In response to this petition the following act was passed : Chapter 722 [Passed April 20, 1866] SECTION 1. The Reformed Dutch Church of the Town of Brooklyn are hereby authorized to remove or cause to be removed from their burial ground on Fulton street in the City of Brooklyn, the remains of all bodies buried and now remaining therein, and all head stones and monuments therein to some suitable piece of ground in some regularly laid out and organized cemetery in or adjoining the City of Brooklyn. And in making such removal in all cases where any such headstone or monument shall designate the particular place of deposit of the remains of any person by name, such remains shall be so buried in, and such headstone or monument shall be so erected or placed in the cemetery or burial ground wherein such remains shall be deposited as to designate the particular place where such remains shall be deposited. Sec. 2. This act shall take effect immediately. The necessary arrangements were made and a notice was sent to the consistory of the church in February, 1866, which read as follows : Reformed Dutch Church of the Town of Brooklyn February ---, 186? Dear ____ : The consistory of this church desire to give an opportunity to those having relations or friends buried in the grounds of this church on Fulton street, between Gallatin place and Hoyt street, to remove the remains by the 10th of April next, to such place as they may designate, or to the plot belonging to the church in Greenwood Cemetery, known as Cedar Dell. An act of the Legislature with reference to removing the remains of all persons buried in said grounds will be found below. For further information, please apply to the clerk of consistory, or to John BAISLEY, undertaker, No. Court street. A. J. BEEKMAN, Clerk. Only three responses were received to this, and of the three replying only one person determined to make the removal himself, all others being satisfied with the arrangements made by the church, and the ground was shortly thereafter sold to its present owner. The Wallabout Cemetery The possession of the Dutch Reformed denomination of that part of Greenwood across from the sale of another burying ground in which they owned a portion, and the history of this, the Wallabout Cemetery is interesting in itself. During the Winter of 1856-7, a petition to the Justice of the Supreme Court of New York was circulated by the Rev. Evan M. JOHNSON to relation to the removal of this Cemetery, and in this petition the history of the ground is related. It is as follows; On June 16, 1824, the inhabitants of Brooklyn assembled to a town meeting, and appointed and authorized certain powers to set as a committee to purchase for the town a certain tract of land, then belonging to Leffert LEFFERTS, located near Fort Greene, or speaking more particularly, near the corner of Canton street and Park avenue. This ground was desired partly for the purpose of a cemetery. The money for the purchase was raised by a loan on the town credit, the purchase was made and the deed conveying the land to the supervisor of the town and his successors in office was recorded in the Registers, (then the clerk’s) office, being dated November 1, 1824. On the 29th of July, 1824 at another town meeting, another committee was appointed who should locate on the ground thus purchased, a suitable site for a burial ground, and should report a plan for the establishment of the same, certain questions having arisen as to the rights of the different religious denominations then represented in the town. The work of this committee was quickly done, for on the 19th of August of the same year they reported that they had fixed on a site for a cemetery, and in regard to this plan, recommended that the selected portion be divided into nine allotments or parcels as burial grounds for the different religious denominations. This plan was adopted, and a map of the land thus divided was made and placed on file. It was then determined to assign the parcels by lot among the eight denominations and the town. One person for each was appointed to draw the lots, and the ground was divided among: Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed Dutch, Universalist, Baptist, Quaker, and Unitarian sects and in the town. The nine persons chosen appear to have acted thereafter as a committee to care for the cemetery. They continue from year to year to act in that capacity, and the expenses incurred by them in improving and keeping in order the cemetery, were audited and paid as one of the contingent expenses of the town. On April 1, 1828, the Committee was authorized to apply to the Legislature of the State, for the passage of an act to vest in the several religious congregation, societies, and churches of the town, the titles to the portions assigned to them by the town in the drawing of lots. In conformity with this petition, the Legislature, on April 21, 1828, passed an act entitled "An Act relative to the public burial ground in the Town of Brooklyn," which provided that the title to the grounds in question should vest in the several congregations, etc., agreeably to the map above referred to. By virtue of this act, the Dutch Reformed Church, like the others, came into legal possession of their portion of the public ground, and up to April 23, 1849, when the City of Brooklyn passed an ordinance prohibiting further burials within the city limits, they used this plot for their interments. In consequence of the city ordinance, the land became useless for that purchase, and the petition from which these facts are obtained was addressed to the Justice of the Supreme Court for authority to sell the plot which was designated in the town records as "No. 1, drawn by Jeremiah JOHNSTON for the Dutch Church"; and the petition further asks that an order be given by the Court directing the money proceeding from such sale to be invested in the purchase of another burial ground for the church, in order that the intent of the granter of the land (the town of Brooklyn) should continue to be carried into effect. This petition was granted, and the sale of the old ground and the purchase of the new resulted in the possession by the church of their present cemetery in Greenwood, known as Cedar Dell. At the same time, the other denominations were provided with burial grounds in the same manner, which were purchased in different places, the Legislature having passed a law on February 7, 1857, under which the above petition was granted. By this act nine Commissioners were appointed, to see that the law was carried into effect. The Commissioners were : Major of the city (then S. S. POWELL) Samuel E. JOHNSTON, of the Episcopal denomination Crawford C. SMITH, of the Methodist George S. HOWLAND, of the Presbyterian Abraham J. BEEKMAN, of the Reformed Dutch William H. PECK, of the Universalist Elijah LEWIS, of the Baptist Richard FIELD, of the Society of Friends and Morris REYNOLDS, for the Unitarian denominations. The history of St. Ann’s Church yard is almost identical with that just related of the Dutch Reformed Church, and need not be repeated in detail. Some general facts will, however, be interesting. "The Episcopal Church" was the name first chosen by the body now known as St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, there being no other church of the same denomination in the town when this was founded. The original church building was located in Fulton street, to the north of the ground occupied by the row of stores known as the St. Ann block, nearly opposite the head of Clinton street. The remainder of the ground was used as a church and, in accordance with the custom of the time, a burying ground. The parsonage was located across the street, nearly on the same spot now occupied by the firm of OVINGTON Bros. with their store. In course of time the members of the church, deciding that this location was too far out of town, moved to the corner of Sands and Washington streets, where they occupied the building still standing on that corner. The ground on Fulton street, however, continued to be used for many years for interments. After the city ordinance was adopted which prohibited internments within the city limits, the graveyard of course lay idle, and being then in the center of town, it was impossible to keep it in proper order. Refuse of all kinds was thrown over the fence and from the adjoining houses at night, and burials of stillborn infants were accomplished there by stealth. But when the question of moving the remains began to be discussed there was no small opposition to it. A great many citizens had relatives and friends buried there, and objected strenuously to the proposal. Major HUNTER was one of the most prominent persons in the faction which opposed it, while Mr. Thomas MESSINGER was looked upon as a sort of leader of those in favor of the plan. Feelings ran high, and at one time a riot was imminent, but fortunately no branch of the peace occurred. This removal was eventually effected in peace and the former occupants of this cemetery are now resting under the sod in St. Ann’s plot in Greenwood, which was purchased under the provisions of the same law under which the Reformed Dutch Church purchased Cedar Dell. Some thirty-five years the Cannon street Baptist Church, of New York, bought a portion of a tract of land known as the old CONSELYEA farm, in what was the Town of Bushwick. The farm was afterward cut into blocks by streets, and the portion bought by the church was then situated on Withers, Frost and Humboldt streets. When it was bought, however, it was a tract of farm land, and was designed by the church for use as a cemetery. The price paid for it is said to have been about $400, although the precise sum is not known to this writer. As a burial ground it became a favorite place with the poorer classes, especially, although a number of persons of comparative wealth had plots there and erected over the graves of their friends and relatives some very handsome monuments. In the part set aside for the poor, however, the ground was more then filled up in thirty years it was in use for burial purposes, in some instances a single grave being opened seven or eight times for the internment of as many bodies. The city ordinance prohibiting internments within the limits of the city, applied to this graveyard equally with the others, after the incorporation of Williamsburgh with Brooklyn and the owners of ground in the cemetery could no longer make it available as a resting place for their dead. In this way the cemetery ceased to be used and was soon allowed to fall into decay. The fences were broken down. Children made it a play ground and defaced the tombstones and trampled the graves. The animals and fowls kept in great numbers by the German neighbors, and allowed to roam at large, found the cemetery a pleasant resort, and hogs rooted in the ground while cows and goats browsed at will, and gradually the place assumed the look of the most desolate place on earth--a neglected graveyard. The Society had sold all, or nearly all, the ground in plots, but only a few instances had the purchasers recorded the deeds they had acquired, so that legally the Society owned nearly the whole property. They neglected, however, to pay the taxes on it, and it was repeatedly sold for taxes, the purchasers (said to be members of the church society) acquiring a claim on the land, but not a title to it. After the claims had accumulated to a considerable amount and the value of the land had risen to a figure far above what had been paid for it, the Society determined to remove the bodies buried there and sell the ground. After having obtained legislative sanction for the removal, and contracted with the Cypress Hills Cemetery Office Company to remove the bodies for $9,000 and inter them in the Cypress Hills Cemetery for $4,000 more, the work was done, and the Society was in possession of ground worth $35,000, which was certainly a fair return for the original investment in 1810. In the latter part of last November the work of removal was begun, and for some reason the owners of graves in the cemetery were not notified of the change by the Society. It was alleged that the object of the secrecy was to avoid opposition, but whether that was true or not, it is certain that the first notification received by many of the grave owners of the removal of their dead was through the report that they had been removed. The consequence was an opposition similar to that which almost invariably attends the removal of a cemetery, but far more intense then usual, on account of the reasons stated. At one time a riot was imminent. An owner of one plot had taken the precaution to have his deed recorded, and hearing of the removal that was in progress hastened to the spot and found the laborers in the act of opening the grave of his brother, Captain J. E. TURNER. He ordered them to stop, which at first refused to do, and he was obligated to resort to threats which were effectual, as a crowd had gathered and were ready to aid Mr. TURNER in maintaining his rights. This difficulty and all others were in time adjusted, and the removal was effected, In addition to the cemeteries mentioned above, there have ben various smaller ones scattered over the city, some of which have been removed and a few of which are still visible, and it is more then likely that the marks by which some were known have been obliterated and that the ground has been used without a thought of the dead who lay in it. In a manuscript volume compiled by Royal PAINE, Esq., and Henry R. STILES, M. D., and now in possession of the Long Island Historical Society, are many items of information in regard to the dead who are buried in out of the way places in Kings County. The book is entitled "Inscriptions in the Cemeteries and Graveyards in Kings County, L. I.," and is valuable to the student of this kind of antiquarian knowledge being the only compilation known to the writer from such knowledge can be obtained. The first inscription copied in the book is the following :

G. M. (I or J.)

This was copied by Gabriel FURMAN, Esq., from a red monumental stone which he saw in a walk along the Gowanus road. The stone was apparently very old, and about 18 inches high and 8 inches wide, with a round top. No mark other then the three letters above was on the stone, and if any had been cut in it, the wear of years had defaced it. The stone was under a tree to the east of John C. HAM’S house. Doubtless some early inhabitant of Long Island, whose memory has entirely faded away, has moldered slowly away under the little red stone. When Fort Greene was garrisoned in 1815, a burying ground was set aside in the ground belonging to the Government, and twenty-six persons, five or six of whom were children, were here buried. The same observer, in 1821, on August 14, noted on one of the stones, a small bit of red freestone, the following inscription :

"In memory of Thomas, son of Captain Thomas and Mrs. Abigail COON, who died February 21, 1815, in the 21st year of his age."

On a small board over the grave apparently of a child was the inscription "P. F." At the head and foot of another grave, of an adult, were two boards, on one of which were the letters "J. F." At the head and foot of the other twenty-three graves were rough sticks and stones, with no inscriptions. In the Catholic Cemetery in Flatbush are a number of curious epitaphs, of which the following, among others, have been copied :

"Sleep on my dear And take your rest With your baby At your breast We will meet Again no more To part Beloved object Of my heart."

Another reads as follows :

"Farewell dear wife I bid adue Sorrow am I To part with you."

Still another is :

When my daughter she grows up And comes to see my grave, To weep for me I am sure she will, For I will do the same.

Another verse more ambitious in its construction is placed on the gravestone over the remains of a young mother. It reads :

Ann LIME. Aged 21 Twenty years I was a maid, Nine months I was a wife, Five days I was a mother, And then was deprived of life, Farewell dear father and mother, May our souls rest in peace. Amen. All you people that does pass by way, The Lord have mercy on my child and I.

On a marble slab in the rear of the Sands street M. E. Church, is this inscription :

Sacred to the memory of the Rev. John SUMMERFIELD, A. M., ae. 27 ; a preacher of the Methodist connection, born in England--born again in Ireland ; by the first a child of genius, by the second a child of God : called to Preach the gospel at the age of nineteen, in England, Ireland and America, himself the spiritual father of a Numerous and happy family. At this tomb genius, Eloquence and religion mingle their tears. Holy in Life, ardent in love and incessant in labor, he was to The church a pattern, to sinful man an angel of mercy, To the world a blessing. In him were rarely combined Gentleness and energy, by the one attracting universal Love, by the other diffusing happiness around him. Singular sweetness and simplicity of manners, inimit- Able eloquence in the pulpit, natural graceful and for- Vent, rendered him the charm of the social circle and The idol of the popular assembly. Upon the lips that Moulder beneath this marble thousands hung in silent Wonder. His element was not the breath of fame, but the communion and favor of God. He closed a scene of Patient suffering, and slept in Jesus, in the City of New York, on the 13th of June, 1825. By faith he lived on Earth, in hope he died, by love he lives in heaven.

In the same book which contains the foregoing epitaphs are the following which were inscribed over the graves in the old Dutch Reformed Churchyard, the history of which is given above;

Sacred To the Memory Of Mss. Frances BEST Wife of Capt. J. BEST, Of the City of Waterford, Ireland, Who fell a victim to the yellow fever On the 28th day of August. Aged 37 years. "If firmest friendship, pure charity, unbounded generosity and maternal affection claim a tear for her loss Who so greatly possessed these virtues, stop, stranger, And bestow it here." But let resignation calm the troubled heart, Being well assured what God appoints is best. Memento Mort. Here lieth The body of Robert ADAMS, A native of Ireland, who departed this life, 11th October, 1803. Aged 30 years.

In the cemetery attached to the United States Naval Hospital, among the Navy officers and sailors buried there, lies the body of Vendon, the chief of one of the Fiji Islands, who was brought to this country on the United States ship Vincennce, of the exploring Expedition, and died in the Naval Hospital on June 11th, 1842. All the facts, and no more, are set forth in the inscription over his grave. A number of the survivors of KANE’S Aortic Expedition lie buried in this yard among other sailors. One of the few inscriptions, which are no more than a bare record of the name and date of birth and death, is the following on the tombstone of Teunis DECKER, one of the crew of the frigate Fulton;

"Faithful below he hid his duty, But now he has gone aloft. Erected by his shipmates."

Where Raymond street Jail now stands was formerly a cemetery, given by the Town of Brooklyn to the various church denominations. The only inscription preserved that was in this cemetery is the following, which was over the grave of a colored person :

In Memory Of Pender SWAN, Woman of No Children, Wife of Benjamin SWAN, In the Land of the Living. Died May 30, 183?

Near the present site of the Court House there was formerly a public burying ground, which was used for the interment of the remains of the victims of yellow fever in 1803, where was also the tomb of one Apollo NICCOLIS, who achieved notoriety as a "rainwater doctor," and was one of the first of the school of water cure physicians. In 1840 the site of this cemetery was occupied by a market and a slaughter house, which in time were removed, and the ground was afterward occupied as at present. Back to CEMETERY INDEX Back to CEMETERY INDEX Back to BROOKLYN Page Main