Tag Archives: New Amsterdam

Hopper Family Burial Ground

The Hopper Family Burial Ground in 1884 (Mott 1908)

In 1879, a New York Times reporter described a small burial ground that stood at the corner of 9th Avenue and 50th Street in Manhattan:

On the line of the New-York Elevated Railroad is a station commonly known as the “Grave-yard Station.”  It is at the junction of Ninth-avenue and Fiftieth-street, and receives its name from a little grave-yard, about 50 feet square, that occupies the south-west corner of the intersecting streets.  It is some six feet above the level of the street, and is not much noticed by those on the side-walk, who see nothing but the heavy stone wall surrounding it; but from the platform of the station its handful of gray, crumbling tombstones can be plainly seen, and its forlorn and neglected condition noted.  It is bounded on two sides by the streets, on a third by the high blank wall of a store, and on the fourth by a wooden tenement-house, from which a door opens upon it, and to which it makes a convenient front yard.  Near this door some of the mounds have been leveled, and a patch of ground a few feet square has been dug up and raked over, so as to form a bit of a garden.  Dirty children tumble and play over the other graves, and among the tottering stones, and above all, lines of newly-washed garments are blown about in the wind.  No tender recollections appear to cling to the spot, and its appearance is pathetic.  As the passenger on the railroad, while waiting for his train, attempts to decipher the almost obliterated inscriptions on the monuments beneath him, and questions the employees of the road, who prove to know as little as himself, he wonders that a place so neglected should be retained for its present uses instead of having been built upon long since, as has every other available plot of ground in the vicinity.  He notices that on all of the stones upon which the inscriptions are legible the name is “Hopper” . . .

This burial ground was originally part of the Hopper farm, a large estate that extended from 6th Avenue to the Hudson River between 49th and 54th Streets.   Mattias Hopper, the son of Dutch settlers who came to New Amsterdam in 1652, acquired the land in 1714 in the district that was then known as Bloomingdale.  Mattias’ son, John Hopper, took possession of the farm around 1750.  When John Hopper died in 1778, his will ordered that the farm be divided into six equal portions among his heirs, who entered into an agreement that the family graveyard would be reserved as a burial ground forever.  The graveyard continued to be used until 1840, and members of the Hopper, Varian, Cozine, and Horn families were buried there.

In 1846, portions of the graveyard were cut off when 50th Street and 9th Avenue were laid out to the north and east of it and the remains of several individuals were relocated to another part of the cemetery.  Buildings rose on the other sides of the property, and the old cemetery was forgotten and neglected. The Hopper farm was famous for a number of 19th century legal battles concerning rights to the estate, including litigation that followed the removal of the burial ground in 1885.  Ellsworth L. Striker, a Hopper family descendant who claimed possession of the property, removed the graves and subsequently built an apartment house on the site.  Striker’s rights to the property were disputed, but the state Supreme Court eventually decided in his favor. Sources disagree as to whether the remains from the Hopper burial ground were reinterred at Trinity Cemetery in upper Manhattan or at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Surveys of the Hopper Family Burial Ground from 1820 (left) and 1857 (right) (Tuttle 1851 & Perris 1857)
Present-day view of the Hopper Family Burial Ground site.
Present-day view of the Hopper Family Burial Ground site (NYCityMap)

Sources: “Some Old Grave-yards,” New York Times, May 18, 1879; “The Hopper Burial Place,” New York Herald-Tribune, April 28, 1885, p. 1; Mott, Hopper, Striker (The Historical Co. 1898); The New York of Yesterday: A Descriptive Narrative of Old Bloomingdale (Mott 1908) ; Blackman v. Striker (The New York Supplement Vol 21 1893, 563-565); 1820 Map of Land Belong to the Estate of John Hopper (Abstracts of Farm Titles…Tuttle 1881); Perris’ 1857 Atlases of New York City, Pl. 101; NYCityMap.

First Shearith Israel Cemetery

This small graveyard, on St. James Place near Chatham Square in present-day Chinatown, is the oldest surviving Jewish burial ground in New York City.  It was used by Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation in North America.  Shearith Israel was formed in 1654 in New Amsterdam by Sephardic Jews from Brazil and was the only Jewish congregation in New York City until 1825.  The Chatham Square graveyard is known as Shearith Israel’s “first cemetery,” but was actually the second burial ground used by the congregation. In 1656, city authorities granted the Jewish community “a little hook of land situate outside of this city for a burial place.” The location of this original graveyard is unknown today.  The Chatham Square cemetery was founded in 1682 and was expanded in the 1700s so that it once extended from Chatham Square over what is now the upper part of Oliver Street down to Bancker Street (present-day Madison Street).

The Chatham Square cemetery in 1776, shown here as the “Jews Burying Ground” just north of Bankers Street (present-day Madison Street) (Ratzer 1776)
This 1861 lithograph depicts an 18th century view of the cemetery. The “Jews Burying Ground” is “D” at the rear right (Valentine 1861)

Several hundred individuals, including a number of veterans of the American Revolution, were buried at the Chatham Square cemetery before it closed in the early 19th century; the last recorded burial was in 1833.  Development encroached upon the cemetery so that only a small remnant exists today. In 1823, the congregation sold an unused portion of the cemetery frontage on Chatham Square to the Tradesmen’s Bank; additional unused portions on Oliver and Madison Streets were sold in 1829.  A section of the burial ground was taken by the city in 1855 when the New Bowery (today’s St. James Place) was cut through; 256 burials were removed from the graveyard at that time and reinterred in the congregation’s cemeteries on 21st Street and in Brooklyn.

The Chatham Square cemetery in 1855, before the St James Place was cut through the northern portion of the graveyard (Perris 1855)

About a hundred headstones and aboveground tombs can still be seen in what remains of the old graveyard, which lies above street level on the south side of St. James Place.  Congregation Shearith Israel continues to maintain the cemetery, and it also has an annual Memorial Day ceremony at the site in honor of the Revolutionary War veterans buried there.

A view of the Chatham Square cemetery in 1952 (Library of Congress).
Location of the Chatham Square cemetery today (NYCityMap)
Present-day view of the First Shearith Israel Graveyard (Chatham Square Cemetery) at St. James Place (Mary French)

View more photos of the First Shearith Israel Graveyard.

Sources:  Ratzer’s 1776 Plan of the City of New York; Perris’ 1855 Maps of the city of New York 1:Pl.12; 1861 Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (Valentine 1861):521; The Early History of the Jews in New York 75-76The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909 4:510, 514, 663; Portraits Etched in Stone (David de Sola Pool 1952); NYCityMap

The Old Graveyard of New Amsterdam

The Old Graveyard shown on the Castello Plan of New Amsterdam in 1660
The Old Graveyard shown on the Castello Plan of New Amsterdam in 1660 (Stokes 1915)

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 (above) 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.

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 (Stokes 1916)
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 (NYCityMap)

Sources: Records of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1674 (City of New York 1897) 2:24-25, 5:253Minutes of the Common Council of the city of New York, 1675-1776 (City of New York 1905) 1:47Manual for Corporation of the City of New York for 1856 (Valentine 1856) 444-447; The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909 (Stokes 1915-1916)1:Pl.10A2:221-222, Pl. 87; NYCityMap.