African Burial Ground, Chrystie Street (St. Philip’s Cemetery)

The “Negro’s Burying Ground” situated on the west side of Christie Street (then First Street) in 1797 (Taylor Robert Plan)

In 1795, after the closure in 1794 of the African Burial Ground near Duane Street and Broadway, the African Society asked the City of New York for, and was granted, property on the west side of Chrystie Street between Stanton and Rivington for use as a new burial ground. The African Society, a group composed of about 30 free black Episcopalians, established the “Grounds as a Burial place to Bury Black persons of Every denomination and Description whatever in this City whether Bond or Free.” Trinity Church, the City, and various individuals aided the Society with money to purchase the 50-foot x 200-foot property situated at today’s 195-197 Chrystie Street.

In 1827, ownership of the “burial ground for blacks in this City” was transferred to the trustees of St. Philip’s Church, which was founded in 1809 as the first African American Episcopal parish in New York City. The cemetery continued to serve as a burial ground for the City’s black community, and, although the actual number of burials is unknown, it is estimated that 5,000 individuals were interred there. In any case, in 1835 the Rector of St. Philip’s Church reported, “Our cemetery, which has been in use forty years, is now so full, that we cannot inter our dead as deep as the law requires, and for a violation of this law our sexton has recently been heavily fined.”

The Chrystie Street African Burial Ground in 1852 (Dripps 1852)

In 1852 St. Philip’s sold the cemetery at Chrystie Street and, in 1853, purchased a parcel in the northwest corner of Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, where the remains were reinterred. The former cemetery parcel on Chrystie Street was soon redeveloped, and a nine-story brick building now covers the site. In 2006, human bone fragments were found at the west end of the 195-197 Chrystie Street property during excavations for the foundations of the New Museum of Contemporary Art that abuts the site. Cemetery removals, which were common in 19th century Manhattan, were not a thorough process and inevitably some remains were left behind; the fragments found at the site during the 2006 excavations are believed to be from the Chrystie Street African Burial Ground. The nearby M’Finda Kalunga Garden in Sara D. Roosevelt Park is named in memory of the burial ground.

1853 newspaper notice of the removals of the Chrystie Street African Burial Ground to Cypress Hills Cemetery
Location of the St. Philip’s burial ground at Cypress Hills Cemetery, where the remains from Chrystie street were reportedly reinterred
The Chrystie Street African Burial Ground site today (NYCityMap)

Sources: Taylor-Roberts 1797 New and Accurate Plan of the City of New York; Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; Minutes of the Common Council of the city of New York, 1784-1831 (City of New York 1917), 2:158-159; 16:266-267; St. Philip’s Episcopal Church Cemetery Intensive Documentary Study, Chrystie Street … (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 2003); 235 Bowery Street, Block 426/Lot 12, Manhattan Archaeological Field Investigation (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 2006); Three Score and Ten: The Story of St. Philips’ Church, New York City (De Costa 1889); “Notice,” New-York Daily Tribune, March 23, 1853, p1; “Unearthing Our Past” (Trinity News, February 14, 2004); The Cypress Hills Cemetery, 1858 [catalog & list of lot holders]; Cypress Hills Cemetery Map, May 2014; NYCityMap

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