The First Presbyterian Church of Throggs Neck stands on a commanding elevation on East Tremont Avenue, slightly east of Westchester Square in the Bronx. Organized in 1855, the congregation built their church on a hilltop noted for its association with a critical Revolutionary War battle—it’s the site where British troops retreated after being repulsed by American forces as they attempted to cross Westchester Creek in October 1776. First Presbyterian has a long history of community service, and was called “the Soup Church” during the Civil War because parishioners would meet soldiers at the local train station and offer them bowls of soup so that they would not be tempted to visit nearby taverns. Following an 1875 fire that destroyed their original wooden church building, in 1877 the congregation dedicated the brick edifice that stands at the site today. Designed in the High Victorian Gothic style, it boasts a distinctive steeple that can be seen from blocks away.
In the yard adjoining the First Presbyterian Church are two sections that were set aside soon after the church’s founding as burial grounds for members of the congregation. One of these burial places is in the northwest corner of the churchyard, overlooking East Tremont Avenue; the second burial spot is to the rear of the church building, in the southwest corner of the property. In 1915, genealogist Evelyn Briggs Baldwin visited these graveyards and recorded inscriptions for 38 individuals with dates of death ranging from 1860 to 1892. Surnames on the tombstones included Duncan, Belch, Hill, Bowden, Little, Maynard, McMillan, Holt, Meyer, Bigson, Setzer, Henderson, McGeorge, Renmeller, Morganroth, Mercer, Berrian, Sprung, Collison, Porsch, Sherwood, Corkey, and Armstrong. Six of the deceased were identified as natives of Scotland.
By the early 20th century, the church had stopped selling graves in their burial grounds and few interments were made thereafter; the last known burial was in 1947. Among the 20th century interments in the churchyard is Rev. Richard Bortle Mattice (1850-1922), who served as the church’s pastor for 32 years prior to his retirement in 1920. Under Rev. Mattice’s leadership, First Presbyterian attracted attention all over the country in 1903 when they created a successful cooperative grocery store to benefit the local community, a novel endeavor at that time. Rev. Mattice is laid to rest in the burial ground in back of the church.
Sources: Beers’ 1868 Atlas of New York and Vicinity, Pl. 16; History of Westchester County (Scharf 1886) Vol 1; The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910); Inscriptions at Westchester Village of the Presbyterian Church: Ft. Schuyler Road and Dudley Ave (Baldwin 1915); Throggs Neck & Pelham Bay (Twomey & McNamara 1998); Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “Other Fires,” New York Times, Oct 31, 1875; “Church Dedication at Throg’s Neck,” New York Times, Apr 20, 1877; “Westchester,” The Chronicle (Mount Vernon), Feb 1, 1878; “The Church Grocery,” The American Cooperator, 2(11), Aug 1903; “Value of Church Co-Operative Store,” New York Times, Aug 9, 1903; First Presbyterian Church of Throggs Neck document file, Bronx County Historical Society; “First Presbyterian Church of Throggs Neck” (Historic Districts Council)
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
The vibrant East Bronx neighborhood known as Westchester Square is one of the borough’s oldest settlements, founded in 1654 by a group of English colonists. Called Oostdorp (east village) by the Dutch, it was renamed West Chester after it transferred to the British in 1664. When the county of Westchester was formed in 1683, Westchester Village became the county seat and grew into a center of activity at the head of Westchester Creek.
At the outset of the village’s founding, a large tract of land was set aside at the heart of the settlement for common use by the community. It was on a portion of this common land, or village green, that the settlers established a community burial ground. The first Episcopal church structure was erected on the village green in 1700, on the same site as the present St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The Society of Friends built a meetinghouse in 1723 immediately south of St. Peter’s Church. Both the Friends meetinghouse and the Episcopal church were situated adjacent to the community burying ground.
That section of the historical village green that included the community burial ground, the Episcopalian church, and the Friends meeting house—an area now situated on the east side of Westchester Avenue between Seabury Avenue, Herschell Street, and Butler Place—is owned today by St. Peter’s Church. The cemetery adjoining the church includes the community burial ground that originated with the founding of Westchester Village, as well as plots used by St. Peter’s Church and the Friends meeting house. As such, it is the burial place of some of the earliest European settlers of the Bronx and is the borough’s oldest active cemetery.
St. Peter’s Church Cemetery
In 1795 the trustees of the town of Westchester released to the Church of St. Peter’s the parcel of ground on which the church was erected “and also the Burying Ground adjoining the said church, as it is now enclosed and fenced, and which has heretofore been used for a Burial Place by the inhabitants of the Township, containing about one acre.” This burial ground had been used by the community since the founding of the village in the 17th century. Though belonging to the town, the burial ground overlapped with St. Peter’s churchyard and had been utilized by the church throughout the 18th century for its deceased members. The 1795 release of the property contained a stipulation that the Town of Westchester would be permitted to continue to bury its inhabitants, without any fee, in vacant parts of the burial ground, so that the community would “always be permitted to bury their dead near to and adjoining their families who have heretofore been buried in the said Burial Ground.”
In 1909, James Minor Lincoln collected inscriptions from 1,024 monuments in St. Peter’s Church Cemetery, the earliest dating to 1702. In his manuscript, Lincoln noted: “It is estimated that this cemetery has been filled two or three times, no grave can be dug anywhere without turning up bones and old gravestones that have been buried.” St. Peter’s interred 30-40 bodies a year in their overcrowded cemetery in the early 1900s; to expand the burial ground, in 1925 the church acquired the adjoining lot where the Friends meetinghouse had stood. Some of this property, which included a Friends burial ground (see below), was incorporated into St. Peter’s Church Cemetery and subsequently used for new burials. Interments are still made in St. Peter’s Church Cemetery, though they’ve been infrequent since the mid-20th century.
St. Peter’s Church and Cemetery complex was designated a city landmark in 1976 and was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1983. The cemetery wraps around the Gothic Revival church building (erected in 1855) with the largest section of the burial ground extending on the building’s south side. A smaller, 19th-century Gothic-style building, formerly used as a mortuary chapel and Sunday school, is located in the southwest corner of the cemetery. Tree-lined paths wind through an assortment of ancient and modern tombstones, family plots, vaults, and mausoleums memorializing three centuries of Westchester Square’s inhabitants.
The Society of Friends, a dominant presence in the early years of Westchester Village, had a graveyard behind the meetinghouse they erected in 1723 neighboring St. Peter’s Church on Westchester Avenue. When James Minor Lincoln collected inscriptions from St. Peter’s Church Cemetery in 1909 he also inventoried the adjoining Quaker burial ground, which was separated from the St. Peter’s property by a fence. Lincoln found 88 crude fieldstones and modest marble tombstones marking the Quaker graves, the earliest dated 1754.
After the meetinghouse was destroyed by fire in 1892, the Quaker property was vacant except for the Friends Cemetery that abutted St. Peter’s Church Cemetery. As part of the 1925 acquisition of the Friends lot by St. Peter’s, the church agreed that the Quaker burial ground would remain exclusively for interment of members of the Society of Friends and descendants of those interred there, and that it would be maintained with the same “reverent care” as the church’s cemetery. The last known interment in the Friends Cemetery was in 1927.
Today the Friends Cemetery is located at the southern end of St. Peter’s Church Cemetery, where the Quaker graves are found in two concentrations. The larger of the two is clearly defined by four stone markers, one containing a “Friends Burial Place” plaque. The second, smaller concentration is situated at the southeast corner of St. Peter’s Cemetery, bordering Butler Place, and its boundaries are not clearly designated. Further south of the Friends Cemetery is an open field that was part of the land St. Peter’s acquired with the Friends meetinghouse property. This vacant lot, never utilized by St. Peter’s for burials, is currently slated for development into an affordable housing complex. Community members familiar with the history of the site have raised concerns that the field might contain unmarked Quaker burials, but archaeological test excavations conducted in 2019 and 2020 found no evidence of graves and/or human remains in this parcel of land.
On April 11, 1892, the remains of 25 women were exhumed from a property along Westchester Avenue in East Morrisania and transported about five miles north for reburial in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx. In life, the women were members of a sisterhood rooted in 16th century Italy where Angela Merici founded the Ursuline Order, the first Roman Catholic institute dedicated to the education and spiritual development of young women. Extending their presence throughout Europe and into North America, the Ursulines established a strong identity as educators and founded communities and schools for the education of girls wherever they went. The Ursuline Convent and Academy at East Morrisania, established in 1855, was the first successful Ursuline community in New York—a previous attempt to establish an Ursuline convent in Manhattan in 1812 attracted no postulants, and disbanded in 1815.
The Ursulines thrived at East Morrisania, which was, in the mid-19th century, a rural suburb about nine miles north of the city. The Ursuline Convent and Academy was a picturesque locale, as described by a visitor who attended commencement exercises at the institution in 1862:
[The] Convent stands on an eminence which slopes gently down to a grassy plain and spacious grounds stretch around it on every side, allowing ample room for the pupils to exercise and recreate themselves in. On account of its elevated position it is visible for miles, forming quite a feature in the landscape, and imparting an air of antiquity and Catholicity to the scene.
By the 1870s, the Ursuline community at East Morrisania included about 40 professed nuns and 20 novices and postulants, and their girls’ academy attracted 70 pupils a year. Half of the community’s nuns taught at the academy, while the other sisters handled the convent’s domestic and administrative affairs. Nuns who died at the convent were interred in a burial ground on the community’s 8.5-acre property, situated on the north side of present-day Westchester Avenue between Jackson Street and St. Ann’s Avenue. It is not known exactly where within the property the burial ground was located.
Among those interred at the Ursuline burial ground at East Morrisania were Sister Agnes Boyce, native of Ireland, who died at the convent in 1874, aged 39; Sister Teresa Fuekenbusch, native of Prussia, died 1873, aged 35; Sister Florian Gilooly, from Wisconsin, died 1883, aged 28; and Sister Clotilda Lowenkamp, from Maryland, who died in 1890 at 30 years old. Tuberculosis was the most common cause of death among the young nuns laid to rest in the community’s burial ground.
As the area surrounding the Ursuline Convent at East Morrisania became more populated and industrialized, the community planned a move to a less-developed part of the Bronx. The Ursulines purchased a 10-acre property in the Bedford Park neighborhood in 1887 and moved the school and convent there in 1892. The East Morrisania property was subdivided and sold off to developers and burials exhumed from the site were reinterred in designated grounds at the Bedford Park location. By 1906, however, all burials from the Ursuline property at Bedford Park were transferred to a plot the order acquired at St. Raymond’s Cemetery. Although the Academy of Mount St. Ursula continues to operate today at Bedford Park, the convent there closed in 2007 and most of its members relocated to the Ursuline convent at New Rochelle.
Sources: Robinson’s 1887 Atlas of the City of New York, Vol 5, Pl 7; Sanborn’s 1900 Insurance Maps of the City of New York, Vol 13, Pl 38; Bodies in Transit Register X:1881-1894, Municipal Archives, City of New York; United States Census, 1870 & 1880, FamilySearch; Sadliers’ Catholic directories, 1873-1896; “Religious Reception,” Metropolitan Record, Feb 2, 1861; “St Joseph’s Ursuline Academy,” Metropolitan Record, July 26, 1862; “Academy of Mount St. Ursula” [Advertisement], Eastern State Journal (White Plains), Aug 27, 1892; St. Angela Merici and the Ursulines (O’Reilly 1880), 389-390; “What Lies Beneath: Cemeteries of the Bronx,” Bronx County Historical Society exhibit, Oct 2017; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016), 256-257; Ursulines of the Eastern Province
African Americans have been a part of the heritage of the Bronx since 1670, when slaves were brought from Barbados to live and work on the estate of the wealthy and aristocratic Morris family. Free and enslaved blacks were integral to the borough’s development, constituting between 10 and 15 percent of the area’s population during the colonial period. Before the end of slavery in New York in 1827, most blacks in the Bronx were buried in plots set aside for them on the estates of slave-holding families. In 1849, a group of black men formed the first African American church in the Bronx and, alongside it, the only independent African burial ground known to have existed in the borough.
In the 1840 census, 187 African Americans were among the 4,154 residents of the Town of Westchester (now part of the East Bronx). Blacks worshipped, were baptized, married and buried at the town’s St. Peter’s Episcopal Church or elsewhere, but they had no place in the town where they could serve in leadership roles or have their own burial grounds. To remedy this, the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Westchester formed in 1849 and a year later acquired a 1.25-acre parcel on what is now Unionport Road.
The congregation built their church, known as Bethel A.M.E., at the southeast corner of the parcel, and used the land behind the building as a cemetery. The church and adjacent cemetery were situated at a provincial commercial center convenient to a good number of African-American laborers, skilled craftsmen, and service professionals who worked on the estates of the East Bronx or in area businesses. But by the late 1800s, Bethel A.M.E. struggled to survive—althoughthe congregation reincorporated as Centreville African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1888, in 1894 they sold the property and disbanded. Chang Li Supermarket occupies the site today.
At least 58 individuals were interred in the Bethel A.M.E. church cemetery between 1850 and 1894.Prior to disposing of the church property, the trustees had the remains in the cemetery exhumed and reinterred in a plot they acquired at Mount Hope Cemetery in Westchester County. The Bethel A.M.E. plot at Mount Hope is marked with a large monument commemorating the congregation’s history. The memorial is inscribed: “Bethel A.M.E. Church of Westchester, New York. Founded by Rev. Stephen Amos, dedicated Mar 11, 1849. Elders Rev. Ely N. Hall, Rev. Jas. M. Williams. Trustees Uriah Copeland, Thos. Chapman, Jno. G. Mickens, Benj. States, Hy. Jackson, Jno. Francis, Eppenetis Treadwell.”
Among those buried in the Bethel A.M.E. cemetery were several members of the Mickens family of West Farms. John Mickens, a church trustee, was a laborer originally from Maryland who, with his wife Charlotte, purchased a parcel of land in the Town of West Farms in 1850. John’s son, also named John, was a waiter who lived in separate household in West Farms with his wife Julia, a dressmaker, and their children. The younger John Mickens was interred at Bethel A.M.E. cemetery in 1867; his headstone, standing in the church’s plot at Mount Hope Cemetery, is one of the few intact markers surviving from the original cemetery.
Some of the earliest burials in the Bethel A.M.E. cemetery were eight children of Uriah and Zilpah Copeland, interred there between 1849 and 1852. Uriah Copeland, a Virginia native who lived with his family in the Town of Westchester in the 1840s and 1850s, was a founding trustee of Bethel A.M.E. He also is notable as an associate of David Ruggles, the leading African American abolitionist of antebellum New York City. Copeland’s name appears alongside Ruggles’ in notices published in several national anti-slavery newspapers. They were among the men who announced the “National Reform Convention of the Colored Inhabitants of the United States of America” to be held in New Haven, Connecticut, in September 1840 to form “a bond of union the will secure simultaneous action for reform in the hallowed cause of human freedom.” Later that same year, Copeland was on the committee “introducing to favorable notice” the Mirror of Liberty, an African-American magazine edited and published by Ruggles.
Uriah Copeland made his living as a farmer and carpenter and in the late 1850s he managed the Benjamin S. Collins estate in the Town of Pelham. In the 1860s, Uriah and Zilpah Copeland relocated to Providence, Rhode Island, with their surviving children. Broken tombstones marking the gravesites of the children they lost when they lived in the Bronx remain in the Bethel A.M.E. plot at Mount Hope Cemetery. These poignant relics mark short lives and convey loss, but also serve as reminders of the family’s role in local history and provide links to the early African American church and cemetery that they helped establish.
Sources: Beers’ 1868 Atlas of New York and Vicinity, Pl. 16; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016), 24-27; Blacks in the Colonial Bronx (Ultan 2012); “Plants and People, Remembering the Bronx River’s African-American Heritage,” Bronx River Sankofa, March 6, 2014; “National Reform Convention of the Colored Inhabitants of the United States of America,” The Liberator, Jul 10, 1840, 2; “The Mirror of Liberty,” National Anti-Slavery Standard, Nov 5, 1840, 87; “Country Seat to Let or For Sale” New York Times, Apr 15, 1858; Ancestry.com