Between 1889 and 1902, Staten Island historian William T. Davis located 21 homestead graveyards across the borough. Today only two of these private family burial grounds are preserved. One of these, Merrell (or Merrill) Cemetery on the north side of Merrill Avenue west of Richmond Avenue in Bulls Head, is still owned by family heirs and was used into the late 20th century.
Merrell Cemetery is a remnant of the 250-acre plantation owned by John Iyon Merrell (1740-1818), which stretched from Bulls Head to the Arthur Kill. Iyon Merrell was a descendant of Richard and Sarah Merrell, who emigrated from Warwickshire, England, in 1675 and settled on Staten Island. Prominent and influential, the Merrell family held land in the area for many years and intermarried with the Decker and Braisted families, as well as with other local clans. Merrell family heirs formed an association to ensure continued care of their family burial ground and in July 1903 rededicated the site after a cleanup and beautification that included installation of a sign at the entrance bearing the words “MERRELL CEMETERY 1675—1903.”
In 1923, William Davis and his colleagues recorded about 30 marked graves in the half-acre Merrell Cemetery, the earliest dating to 1794.They speculated there likely were many more unmarked graves at the site, possibly dating to the late 1600s. The cemetery had a frontage of 78 feet along Merrill Avenue, extended 280 feet in a northerly direction, and was “well kept up with privet hedges along the sides of the long rectangular lot.”
Although Merrell Cemetery fell into periods of neglect over the decades, descendants were interred here throughout the 20th century. The last known burial occurred in 1996 when Ruth Merrell was laid to rest alongside her husband John. In recent years the cemetery has been in legal limbo as the family association that holds the deed for the property became defunct and the site was abandoned. Merrell Cemetery is now maintained by Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries of Staten Island. A number of the early gravestones first recorded by William Davis over a hundred years ago are still present at the site. Among them is the rough-hewn fieldstone marking the grave of Iyon Merrell, carved with the inscription “I.Y.M. D.1818.”
Sources: Bromley’s 1917 Atlas of the City of New York, Borough of Richmond, Staten Island, Pl 37;“Homestead Graves,” Proceedings of the Natural Science Association of Staten Island, Special No. 9, 1889; Staten Island Gravestone Inscriptions, Vol 1 (Davis et al 1924); Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910); The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); “Sarah Jane Braisted,” Richmond County Advance, Mar 28, 1903; “Merrell Cemetery,” Richmond County Advance, Jul 18, 1903; “Enthusiastic Meeting,” Richmond County Advance, Aug 08, 1903; “The Abandoned Graveyards of Staten Island,” Chronicles of Staten Island 1(9), 1987; “Debris and Inaccessibility to Graves a ‘Disgrace’ at Merrell Family Cemetery,” Staten Island Advance, Jan 4, 2012
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
These words—the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution—were written by Founding Father Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), who is buried in a nondescript tomb near a gritty main drag in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx. The land where he is interred is a remnant of the vast estate established by brothers Richard Morris (1616-1672) and Lewis Morris (1601-1691), English immigrants who in 1670 acquired property in the Bronx that was expanded to create the 2,000-acre Manor of Morrisania. The Morris family became part of the powerful colonial aristocracy, producing several generations of military, political, and social leaders.
Early Morris family members were interred in burial grounds near their manor house that stood by the Bronx Kill, west of the Mill Brook, at today’s 132nd Street near Brown Place. Gouverneur Morris broke with this tradition, choosing to be buried in a field on his property east of the Mill Brook. Following his 1816 death, his wife Ann Cary Randolph Morris constructed a vault here to receive his remains; she was interred nearby when she died in 1837.
Gouverneur Morris, Jr. (1813-1888)—the only child of Gouverneur and Ann Morris—built St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in 1841 as a public memorial to his mother, erecting it on the hallowed ground where his parents were laid to rest. Situated at what is now St. Ann’s Avenue and East 140th Street, the church was constructed of fieldstone, followed a simple Gothic Revival design, and featured burial vaults beneath the building and in the grassy yard along its east side. Morris, Jr. had his mother’s remains moved to one of the vaults beneath the church, leaving his father’s remains in the tomb outside the church.
Remains from the earlier Morris family burial ground near the old manor house were moved to vaults under St. Ann’s in 1866. Morris family descendants and other members of the local community purchased the rest of the interior and outdoor vaults, and interments at St. Ann’s were made into the mid-20th century. Individuals of exceptional historical significance are interred here, including Judge Lewis Morris (1671-1746), first Governor of New Jersey, and Major General Lewis Morris (1726-1798), a member of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Today, St. Ann’s Church is the oldest surviving church building in the Bronx. It still serves as a parish church; its current congregation is predominantly Hispanic, as is the surrounding neighborhood. Gouverneur Morris’ half-sunken tomb is located outside the old church, next to the southeast corner of the building and surrounded by an iron fence. The most remarkable figure of his distinguished American family, Gouverneur Morris was revered by his peers—both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison deemed him a “genius”—and he emerged as one of the leading figures of the Constitutional Convention. In addition to writing the Preamble, Morris drafted the final version of the Constitution; the beautiful, powerful prose of that document is almost entirely his work.
Sources:Map of the Town of Morrisania (Beers 1860); St. Ann’s Church Property and Cemetery on St. Ann’s Ave (Greene 1866), Westchester County Clerk Map 538; A History of the County of Westchester (Bolton 1848) Vol 2; The History of the Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester (Bolton 1881); History of Westchester County (Scharf 1886) Vol 1; The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); National Portrait Gallery of Eminent Americans (Duyckinck 1862), Vol 1; “Colonial Days: How the Land of North New York was Conveyed,” New Rochelle Pioneer, Apr 26 1884;“Neglect of Gouverneur Morris’s Grave at Last Stirs Public,” The Sun and New York Herald Sunday Magazine, May 2 1920; Some Descendants of Richard Morris and Sarah Pole of Morrisania (Wilkinson 1966); National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form—St. Ann’s Church Complex, Oct 1979; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “St. Ann’s Church; A Son’s Homage, Hallowed by Time,” New York Times, Sept 20, 1987; “The Forgotten Founding Father,” City Journal, Spring 2002; “The Framer’s Intent: Gouverneur Morris, the Committee of Style and the Creation of the Federalist Constitution,” SCOTUSblog, Aug 5, 2019
Long before the name “Riker” was synonymous with the violence and despair of one of America’s most notorious penitentiaries, it was a mark of pedigree that brought to mind one of New York’s most prominent families. The story of this Dutch American dynasty begins with Abraham Rycken van Lent, who arrived in New Amsterdam in 1638 and in 1654 received a land grant near the shore of Bowery Bay in northwestern Queens. In 1664 he was granted the neighboring island on which the Rikers Island jail complex now stands. Abraham Rycken’s descendants occupied their mainland estate and offshore island for the next 200 years, most of them eventually adopting the anglicized surname Riker. An 1877 article in the Newtown Register proclaimed the Rikers “one of the most versatile, patriotic, and learned families” the area had produced, a prolific and distinguished folk that included a host of soldiers, lawyers, merchants, and physicians.
Adjoining Abraham Rycken’s homestead (which now lies under LaGuardia Airport) was that of Harck Siboutsen, who around 1650 settled the land immediately west of Rycken’s property. Rycken’s son Ryck-Abramsen—who used the surname Lent rather than Riker—married Siboutsen’s daughter Catrina. Their son Abraham Lent (1674-1746) inherited the Siboutsen homestead and ca.1729 erected a house there (likely incorporating an earlier structure) that still stands at 78-03 19th Road in East Elmhurst. Behind this house is Riker Cemetery, first recorded in Abraham Lent’s 1742 will. In that will he directed that his farm be sold to the highest bidder among his children, with the provision “except for the Burying place, which is to remain entire as it now lies for the use of the relations and friends, with free egress to the same.”
In 1919 the Queens Topographical Bureau surveyed the 88×78-foot Riker Cemetery, locating 132 gravestones. A number of these were rough-hewn fieldstones and tablets with no markings or inscribed only with initials (a brownstone marked “A.L.” might be that of Abraham Lent). The earliest identifiable graves were those of Johannis Riker (1721-1744) and Abraham Riker (1655-1746), the eighth son of Abraham Rycken and inheritor of the Riker homestead and Rikers Island.
The most illustrious occupant of Riker Cemetery is Dr. John Berrien Riker, a patriot of the American Revolution. Born on the Riker homestead in 1738, he was educated at Princeton University and subsequently practiced medicine in New Jersey. Historians credit Riker with saving the life of future U.S. President James Monroe during the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776, when he clamped a severed artery in a near-fatal gunshot wound to Monroe’s shoulder. After Trenton Riker remained with Washington’s army and was commissioned as a surgeon of the 4th Battalion of New Jersey troops in February of 1777. When peace was established in 1783, Riker returned to his native home in Queens where he died in 1794 at age 57.
Also here is the grave of Dr. William James MacNeven (1763-1841), a celebrated Irish physician, scientist, and member of the United Irishmen who was exiled from Ireland after the failed rebellion of 1798. Connected to the family by his 1810 marriage to Jane Margaret Riker, MacNeven’s burial site in Riker Cemetery has long been a place of pilgrimage for local Hibernian societies. MacNeven is likewise memorialized in a 35-foot-tall cenotaph in St. Paul’s Churchyard in Manhattan.
Riker family members continued to be buried in their ancestral burial ground at Bowery Bay into the 1930s and various occupants of the nearby Abraham Lent house looked after the cemetery throughout the years. For most of the 19th century the house was occupied by members of the Rapelye family, who were affiliated with the Rikers through intermarriage and are said to have guarded the cemetery with “jealous care.” In 1941 a branch of the Riker family re-acquired the property and installed an elderly Swiss caretaker, Rudolph Durheim, to look after the house and burial ground. Durheim was interred in the cemetery upon his death in 1944.
Since the 1970s the Abraham Lent home has been owned and occupied by Michael Smith and his wife Marion Duckworth Smith, who restored the home and preserved the Riker Cemetery. When Michael Smith died in 2010, he was interred in Riker Cemetery alongside several of Mrs. Smith’s family members. Today the house is the oldest building in New York City still used as a private residence; the adjacent burial ground is protected by a high brick wall with a wrought-iron gate emblazoned, “RIKER.”
Sources: Sidney’sMap of Twelve Miles around New-York, 1849; The Annals of Newtown (Riker 1852); Long Island Historic Homes, Ancient and Modern (Whittemore 1901); Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens (Powell & Meigs 1932); 300 Years of Long Island City (Seyfried 1984); The Rikers: Their Island, Homes, Cemetery and Early Genealogy (Nutt 2004); “Walks through Old Cemeteries—The Riker Family,” Newtown Register, Aug 23, 1877; “Residences Which Are Historical,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct 22, 1899; “Alonzo D. Riker,” Brooklyn Times Union, Aug 23, 1910; “Shrine of Irish Patriot Found at Old Riker Grave Yard on Bowery Bay Shore,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep 19, 1920; “J.J. Riker Rites Tomorrow,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug 5, 1932; “High Walls Protect Old Riker Cemetery,” Long Island Daily Press, Dec 16, 1935; “Pioneers and Irish Patriots Share Resting Place in Old Riker Cemetery,” Long Island Star Journal, Jun 18, 1940; “Died,”Greenleafs New York Journal, Sept 10, 1794; Revolutionary War Pension Applications—John Berrien Riker (Ancestry.com); “Doctor Riker’s Decision,” Hektoen International, Summer 2016; “Re-naming Rikers,” Pacific Standard, Jun 14, 2017
When city officials sought to create a large public park in Manhattan in the 1850s, they considered a beautiful woodland that stretched from 66th Street to 75th Street between Third Avenue and the East River as a possible site. Known in the 19th century as Jones’ Woods, this 160-acre expanse held a magnificent growth of hickory, chestnut, maple, tulip, and elm trees and featured rocky bluffs overlooking the East River shoreline. Named after the country seat of the Jones family, historically several wealthy families had summer homes here and at least two old family burial grounds were within Jones’ Woods—the Provoost Vault and the Hardenbrook Cemetery. City plans for Jones’ Woods were later abandoned in favor of the present Central Park, but this forested area and its river frontage remained popular as a pleasure ground for organized excursions, sporting events, picnics, socials, and festivals until development brought about its demise at the turn of the 20th century. As the trees fell to the axe, the old estates dissolved into city blocks and the Jones’ Woods burial grounds disappeared.
Much of the area known as Jones’ Woods in the 19th century was formerly the 90-acre Louvre Farm acquired by David Provoost in 1742. The son of the 24th Mayor of New York City, David Provoost was a prominent merchant and smuggler; given the sobriquet “Ready-Money Provoost,” he was noted for outwitting the government and eluding the custom house in his battle against what he considered unjust and oppressive tariffs. Provoost built a burial vault in a rocky hillside near the river at the request of his wife Johanna, who wished to be buried on their country estate. Both Johanna (d.1749) and David Provoost (d.1781) were interred in the vault, which was surmounted with a thick marble slab chiseled with their epitaphs (see illustration at top of this post). When David Provoost’s heirs sold the Louvre Farm to John Jones in 1796, they reserved “their right and interest of, in and to the family vault built on the aforesaid premises by the said David Provoost, in which the remains of the said David Provoost are deposited, with free liberty of egress and regress to and from the said vault by such way or passage, leading from the same, as he, the said John Jones, shall direct and appoint.”
The Provoost vault was partially destroyed in 1857 when 71st Street was cut through Jones’ Woods. The remains of several coffins were found when the tomb was opened, as were bones identified as “those of a child, and those of an adult female.” There is no record of what happened to the remains of those interred in vault after it was opened. For decades thereafter, the vault was left empty and ruinous at the foot of 71st Street where it was frequently seen by picnickers exploring Jones’ Woods. Artist Eliza Greatorex and her sister Matilda Despard visited the ruins of the “smuggler’s tomb” in October 1875 and provided a drawing (shown below) and lengthy description of the site in their book Old New York, from the Battery to Bloomingdale.
At the southern end of Jones’ Woods was another large estate; owned by the Schermerhorn family in the 19th century, it previously was the Hardenbrook farm. John Bass acquired this property in the early 1700s and it later transferred to his daughter and son-in-law, Ann and John Hardenbrook. The Hardenbrooks had a small family burial ground on the northern boundary of their farm, in line with today’s 66th Street, near the East River. After Ann Hardenbrook’s death, Peter Schermerhorn, Jr., purchased the farm with the exception of “the burying ground which is on the said land, together with a free passage and right of way to and from the same, for the use of all the heirs and descendants of the said Ann Hardenbrook, deceased, forever.”
In 1886, the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society published inscriptions collected by their members during an autumn ramble along the East River, wherein they encountered the “little cluster of graves” on the former Hardenbrook farm. Seven tombstones were found at that time, including those of John Bass (d.1767), John Hardenbrook (d.1803), and Ann Hardenbrook (d.1817). The most recent tombstone was that of Ann Hardenbrook’s niece Mary Adams, who died in 1822. In addition to the seven legible tombstones there were “numerous broken stones, indicating that they had formerly marked other now forgotten and neglected graves.”
In 1903, the Schermerhorn family sold their East River estate—including the former Hardenbrook farm—to John D. Rockefeller, who bought the property to build the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University). Rockefeller and his advisors knew when they purchased the estate that Ann Hardenbrook’s heirs and descendants retained rights to the half-acre burial ground and that the site could not be removed or developed. Since the cemetery was near what would become the campus’ main entrance off 66th Street, their solution was to remove the remaining tombstone fragments, cover the site with fill, and incorporate it into the landscaping around the main driveway, where no buildings were to be constructed and where the Hardenbrook Cemetery is still buried today.
Sources: Map of the Louvre Farm (Holmes 1868); Map of New-York North of 50th St(Dripps 1851); Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (Valentine 1858); Old New York, from the Battery to Bloomingdale (Greatorex & Despard 1875); Abstracts of Farm Titles in the City of New York between 39th and 75th Streets, East of the Common Lands, with Maps (Tuttle 1877);A Tour Around New York and My Summer Acre (Mines 1893); “Died, Daily Advertiser, Aug 6, 1803; “Improvements Up Town. Jones’ Woods Dissolving into City Lots,” New York Times, Apr 11, 1857; “Jones Woods. Last Days of a Noted Pleasure Ground,”Evening Post,Sep 4, 1873; “Ancient New York Tombstones,” NYG&B Record 17(1), Jan 1886; “Notes and Queries, NYG&B Record 25 (3), Jul 1894, “Jones’s Wood Swept Away,” New York Times, May 17, 1894; “The Jones’s Wood Cemetery,” New York Times May 22, 1894; “Last of an Ancient Landmark,” New York Sun, Oct 18, 1903; “Remarkable Contrasts on East Side Seen in Passing of Ancient Schermerhorn Farm,” New York Times, Jul 9, 1911; “Rockefeller Purchase Recalls Early East River Rural Days,” New York Times Oct 22, 1922; Encyclopedia of New York City, 2nd ed. (Jackson et al 2010); Phase 1A Archaeological Documentary Study, Rockefeller University Campus(AKRF 2012); “Prepare for Death and Follow Me:”An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City(Meade 2020)
In the early 1800sat least a dozen small burial grounds speckled the landscape of farms and estates across the six historical townships that came to form the modern borough of Brooklyn. These graveyards were set aside on homesteads of families that settled the area during the Dutch colonial period and later, and their owners tried to preserve them for descendants with covenants in wills and deeds that exempted them from property transfers. But as urban development encroached over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries and estates were broken up and sold off, most of these families—once prominent in local events and public life—disappeared from the area, as did their ancestral burial grounds. Today only one of these homestead burial grounds survives in Brooklyn—the tiny Barkeloo Cemetery in Bay Ridge.
The Barkeloo family home stood on the Shore Road overlooking the Narrows and New York Bay, in the Yellow Hook section of the historic Town of New Utrecht. To the rear of the residence was the family burial plot, situated at what is now the corner of Narrows Avenue and MacKay Place. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Jaques Barkeloo (1747-1813) occupied the farm with his first wife Catharine Suydam (1753-1788), his second wife Maria Bogert (1768-1841), and offspring from both marriages. Jaques Barkeloo was a prominent figure in New Utrecht, serving as Town Supervisor for several years.
In 1834, the old Barkeloo homestead transferred out of the family when Jaques’ widow Maria sold the property. The graveyard was excluded from the deed and the family continued to make burials there until 1848. For many years thereafter, the burial ground was reportedly well cared for, surrounded by a high picket fence that was regularly given a fresh coat of white paint, and the branches of the family contributed annually to a fund for upkeep of the site. But by the end of the 19th century few Barkeloo descendants remained in Bay Ridge and their ancestral burial ground was neglected. In July 1897, the New York World reported that the spot was “unkept,” “surrounded by a dilapidated wooden fence,” and threatened by road construction. Though the site may have contained more than 30 graves, only three tombstones were standing at that time—those of Jaques Barkeloo, his first wife Catharine, and his widow Maria.
The Barkeloo family cemetery continued in a state of disrepair until 1923, when a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution rehabilitated the site, clearing it of rubbish, covering it with new soil, and surrounded it with a hedge. By this time, Jaques Barkeloo’s tombstone had disappeared, but his wives’ tombstones remained, and another—that of Margetta Barkeloo Wardell (1798-1834)—was found buried four and a half feet under dirt during the landscaping work. As part of their efforts to revitalize the site, the DAR touted it as a Revolutionary War cemetery by installing a monument in honor of Harmanus Barkeloo (1745-1788), who in March 1776 was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the New Utrecht Company of the Kings County Militia. Harmanus survived the war but was felled by smallpox when traveling in New Jersey in 1788; sources disagree as to whether he is interred in the Barkeloo Cemetery or at the Old Parsonage Burying Ground in Somerville, New Jersey.
The DAR also installed a monument for Simon Cortelyou (1746-1828), who married Jaques Barkeloo’s widow, Maria, and is believed to be buried next to her in the Barkeloo cemetery. Cortelyou was “one of the many Tories who infested Long Island,” as one local history puts it; a well-known British loyalist, Cortelyou was imprisoned and fined for mistreatment of American prisoners during the Revolution. Given Cortelyou’s history, it’s curious that the DAR chose to memorialize him; however, when dedicating the rehabilitated cemetery, they claimed they had found records (possibly these) showing that Cortelyou gave “vast sums of money for Washington’s army” and that he had been in constant communication with Governor George Clinton during the war. Whatever the case may be regarding Cortelyou’s loyalties during the Revolution, he was a leading community figure in New Utrecht during the early Republic era and seems to have been forgiven any anti-patriotic sins of his past. His obituary, which ran in the New York Spectator on August 15, 1828, reads simply: “Died—On Friday night at the Narrows, L.I., Simon Cortelyou, Esq., an old and respectable inhabitant of that place.”
Now tucked behind Xaverian High School, which has occupied the former Barkeloo homestead since the 1950s, the Barkeloo Cemetery links the past of old New Utrecht and the American Revolution with the present Bay Ridge and the modern city that has been built around it. It endures through the efforts of various civic groups and neighborhood caretakers, who’ve protected the site with a wrought-iron fence and keep the grounds nicely maintained with pretty flowers and trimmed shrubbery. A large granite marker installed at the site in 1984 by the Trust of Emma J. Barkuloo and Bay Ridge Historical Society lists 21 people thought to be interred here.
Sources: Eddy’s 1811 Map of the Country Thirty Miles Round the City of New York; Robinson’s 1890 Atlas of Kings Co.Pl 8; The Bergen Family or the Descendants of Hans Hansen Bergen (Bergen 1876), 375; History of Kings Co. (Stiles 1884), 263-266; Reminiscences of Old New Utrecht and Gowanus (Bangs 1912); Cemeteries in Kings and Queens Counties (Eardeley 1916), 1:47-48; Twenty-third Annual Report of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, 1918, 285-286; “Wanted,”The Diary, May 22, 1793; “Died,” Long Island Star, Apr 14, 1813; “Sheriff’s Sale,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 13, 1880; “An Old Cemetery to Go,” New York World, Jan 7, 1897; “Ancient Gravestones in Old Bay Ridge,” Brooklyn Standard Union, Jul 6, 1919; “Historic Old Burying Ground,” Brooklyn Standard Union, Nov 21, 1922; “DAR Will Restore Old Burial Plot,” Brooklyn Standard Union, Feb 4, 1923; “Honor Memory of Revolution Heroes Buried in Bay Ridge,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 4, 1923; “Rescuing Brooklyn’s Tiniest Graveyard,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 16, 1923; “Two Revolutionary War Heroes Made V.F.W. Members,” Brooklyn Times Union, Jul 23, 1926; “Shaft to Be Dedicated at Barkeloo Cemetery,” New York Daily News, May 1, 1935; “New Fence for Barkaloo Cemetery,” Home Reporter & Sunset News, Feb 8, 1980; “Cemetery Revamp,” Brooklyn Graphic, Mar 16, 2010; “How an Ancient Cemetery Survived in Bay Ridge,” Hey Ridge, Jun 4, 2018; The Smallest Cemetery in Brooklyn Has a Story,Brooklyn Ink, Oct 24, 2019