The Old Graveyard of New Amsterdam

The earliest known cemetery of colonial Manhattan was located on the west side of Broadway, around present-day Morris Street.  It is unclear when it was first established as a burial ground, but by 1656 it apparently had been in use for many years as it was referred to in Dutch records at that time as “The Old Graveyard, which is wholly in ruins.”  The Castello Plan of New Amsterdam in 1660 (below) shows the cemetery’s location along the west side of the main highway that later became known as Broadway.  The dilapidated condition of the Old Graveyard was cause for concern again in 1665, when city officials described it as “open and unfenced, so that hogs root in the same.”  In 1676, the city ordered that the cemetery be broken into lots and sold at auction.

The Old Graveyard shown on the Castello Plan of New Amsterdam in 1660.

What happened to the burials in the Old Graveyard after it was disposed of by the city is unknown.  It is possible that the graves were moved to the new burial place that had been established further north along Broadway at what is now the northern end of Trinity churchyard.  A more likely scenario (and one that is seen repeatedly for the city’s later public cemeteries) is that the graves were left in place and the area filled in before the land was reused.  Evidence of the Old Graveyard was discovered in the mid-1800s when workmen uncovered human remains while excavating cellars in the area.  Today, the high-rise office buildings that cover the site have obliterated all signs of this early colonial graveyard.

The Old Graveyard (here called “The Old Churchyard”) shown in relation to present-day Morris street on Stokes’ Map of Dutch Grants.

Approximate location of The Old Graveyard site in present day lower Manhattan.

Approximate location of former site of The Old Graveyard in present-day lower Manhattan.

Sources: Records of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1674 2:24-25, 5:253Minutes of the Common Council of the city of New York, 1675-1776 1:47Manual for Corporation of the City of New York for 1856 444-447; The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909 2:221-222, Pl. 87; NYCityMap.

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One Response to The Old Graveyard of New Amsterdam

  1. Pingback: The New Burial Place Without the Gate of the City | New York City Cemetery Project

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