Tag Archives: New York City Cemeteries

Prison Ship Martyrs Tombs

Map of Wallabout Bay from 1776 to 1783 illustrating British prison ships and three areas along the shore where prisoner graves were purported to be found (arrows)

During the American Revolution, thousands of American soldiers, sailors, and civilians perished aboard British prison ships anchored near New York City. Captured during the Battle of Brooklyn or in other military engagements fought in what is now the city, Americans were crowded aboard rotting British ships moored in Wallabout Bay, a shallow cove on the Brooklyn side of the East River. Here they endured appalling conditions and died in vast numbers, their bodies then hastily buried on nearby beaches. The actual death toll cannot be reconstructed from surviving records, but it is estimated as many as 12,000 Americans perished aboard the British prison ships during the seven years of the Revolution—almost twice the number believed to have been killed in action during the war. 

Detail from an 1869 map showing the first Prison Ship Martyrs Tomb in the triangular lot on Hudson Ave, adjacent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard

After the war ended, human remains littered the sandy shores of Wallabout Bay, washed out of the shallow gravesites of those who had become known as the prison ship martyrs. Many bones appeared on property owned by John Jackson, a politician and member of the Tammany Society. Jackson donated a piece of land from his estate for a tomb and memorial site for the remains of the prison ship martyrs. On this small triangular lot, situated on what is now Hudson Avenue, between York and Front Streets and adjacent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Tammany Society built a burial vault where they interred, in 1808, 13 coffins filled with the remains of the prison ship dead that had been collected from the beaches of Wallabout Bay.

Lithograph depicting the original Prison Ship Martyrs Tomb on Hudson Ave, after it was improved by Benjamin Romaine in the 1830s (NYPL)

Although the 1808 interment was accompanied by great fanfare and public excitement, plans to erect a suitable memorial at the vault never materialized, and the tomb was soon forgotten and allowed to deteriorate. In 1828, Benjamin Romaine—a Tammany leader who had himself been a Revolutionary War prisoner—acquired the site. He erected an ante-chamber over the vault, added decorations and inscriptions, and, in hopes of preventing future desecration, appropriated the tomb as a burial place for himself and his family. However, following Romaine’s 1844 death, the prison ship martyrs tomb again fell into disrepair and obscurity.

Around this same time, nearby Fort Greene (originally Fort Putnam, constructed in 1776), was turned into a public park and in 1867 landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (designers of Central and Prospect Parks) were engaged to redesign the park and create a new tomb for the remains of the prison ship martyrs. In 1873 workmen quietly transferred the coffins from the original prison ship martyrs crypt to the new tomb built into the middle of a series of terraces created in the northwest part of the park. Facing the corner of Myrtle Avenue and St. Edwards Street, the crypt was surrounded by a granite mausoleum, 10 feet high, 30 feet long, and 15 feet wide and embellished with pillars and fretwork. Though the mausoleum still lacked a monument memorializing the prison ship dead, these patriots were no longer forgotten, as services at the “tomb of the martyrs” in Fort Greene Park became part of Brooklyn’s Memorial Day ceremonies for the remainder of the 19th century.

An early 1900s view of the terrace at Fort Greene Park, with the Prison Ship Martyrs Tomb in the middle (arrow) (NYPL)

In 1905 the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White was hired to design a new entrance to the crypt and transform the terrace into a wide granite stairway leading to a plaza on top of the hill. At the center of the plaza would be a 149-foot Doric column honoring the prison ship martyrs, designed by esteemed architect Stanford White. On November 14, 1908, some  40,000 people stood in a storm of sleet and snow in Fort Greene Park as the folds of a massive American flag, more than 200 feet long, fell slowly away from the towering granite shaft during the monument’s dedication ceremony.

The redesigned tomb and grand staircase, with the newly-unveiled monument above, 1909 (NYHS)

At the center of the grand staircase below the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument is the entrance to the crypt where the patriots are entombed. Beyond a bronze door, a short passageway leads to a room lined with 22 bluestone caskets that hold the remains of the prison ship martyrs collected in the early 1800s along Wallabout Bay as well as bones unearthed in later years. Although the crypt is occasionally opened for historic tours, it is generally closed to the public. Speaking at the opening of the new Visitors Center at Fort Greene Park in 2006, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough called the Prison Ship Martyrs Tomb one of the most sacred Revolutionary War sites in the country and, like Arlington National Cemetery, a place that every American should visit.

The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument and Tomb, March 2022 (Mary French)
A view of the interior of the crypt, ca. 2006, shows some of the bluestone caskets that hold the remains of prison ship martyrs (NYC Parks Dept)
2018 aerial view of Fort Greene Park, arrows denote the monument and the entrance to the crypt (NYCThen&Now)

View more photos of the Prison Ship Martyrs Tomb and Monument

Sources: Johnson’s Diagram of the Wallabout Bay &c. from 1776 to 1783; Dripps’ 1869 Map of the City of Brooklyn; A History of the City of Brooklyn including the Old Town and Village of Brooklyn, the Town of Bushwick, and the Village and City of Williamsburgh, Vol 1 (Stiles 1867);  [Yesterday at the Wallabout], Public Advertiser, Apr 7, 1808; “Arrangement for the Grand and Solemn Funeral Procession,” American Citizen, May 24, 1808; “Tomb of the Patriot Prisoners,” Long Island Star, Jul 8, 1839; “Martyrs’ Monument, Brooklyn Union, Apr 11, 1873; “The Prison-Ship Martyrs,” New York Times, Jun 19, 1873; “Revolutionary Martyrs,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 18, 1873; “Not Forgotten!” Brooklyn Times Union, May 30, 1887; “Where History Lies Entombed,” Brooklyn Citizen, Feb 27, 1898; “Centenary of First Tomb of Prison Ship Martyrs,” Brooklyn Standard Union, Jun 16, 1907; “Nation Honors Martyred Dead,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 15, 1908; “Resurrecting Patriots, and Their Park,” New York Times, Sep 23, 1995; Encyclopedia of New York City, 2nd ed. (Jackson et al 2010); 1776 (McCullough 2005); Martyrs Monument/Monument Lot, Block 44, Lot 14, Brooklyn: Memo Report on Archaeological Investigations (Geismar 2003); Fort Greene Park Archaeological Assessment (Geismar 2005); Archaeological Documentary Study: Rose Plaza on the River (AKRF 2007); Phase IA Cultural Resources Investigation for Admiral’s Row Section, Former Brooklyn Navy Yard (Panamerican Consultants, Inc. 2008); Prison Ship Martyrs Monument/Fort Greene Park Visitor Center historical panels, New York City Parks & Recreation 

Stockbridge Indian Burial Ground

Stockbridge Indian Monument at Van Cortlandt Park, Sept 2010 (Mary French)

A small, grassy clearing at the northeastern corner of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx is the burial place of Chief Daniel Nimham and about 17 of his fellow members of the Stockbridge Indian Company who died while fighting with the Patriots during the Revolutionary War. Daniel Nimham was the last sachem of the Wappinger confederacy of Indians of the lower Hudson River Valley. Made head of his tribe in 1740, Nimham came to prominence for his efforts to recover tribal homelands and for his service to the English during the French and Indian Wars. 

1778 sketch by Capt Johann von Ewald, a Hessian officer who fought for Britain during the Revolution, depicting a member of the Stockbridge Indian Company

By the 1750s, Nimham and his clan had joined with allied Mohican groups at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. At the start of the American Revolution, members of the Stockbridge tribes pledged their loyalty to the American cause. Daniel Nimham was given a military commission as a captain in the Continental Army and his son Abraham Nimham was put in charge of the Stockbridge Indian Company. In April of 1778, the Nimhams and the Stockbridge militia unit joined Washington’s army at White Plains.

In the summer of 1778, the Nimhams and their detachment of some 60 Indians found themselves skirmishing with British and Hessian troops alongside American militia units operating on the Bronx border. On August 31, 1778, the detachment was outflanked and surrounded by a formation of British rangers and Hessian jaegers during fighting along a ridge in today’s Van Cortlandt Park. Outnumbered five to one, Daniel, Abraham, and at least 15 other Stockbridge men were killed. The Nimhams and the other slaughtered Indians were buried in a common grave near the battle site.

This Sept 3, 1778 article from the Royal American Gazette, a Tory newspaper published in British-occupied New York, reports the death of Chief Nimham, his son, and other Stockbridge Indians earlier that week

In 1906 the Bronx Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument to Chief Nimham and his men. Consisting of a stone cairn and a plaque, the monument is near the intersection of Van Cortlandt Park East and Oneida  Avenue; the burial ground is in the field behind the monument. The plaque is inscribed “August 31, 1778.  Upon this Field Chief Nimham and Seventeen Stockbridge Indians, as Allies of the Patriots, Gave their Lives for Liberty.” The Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, and other groups frequently honor Daniel Nimham and the other fallen Stockbridge warriors with ceremonies at the monument. In 2005, veterans from the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians held a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial, with the United States Military Academy West Point providing the Honor Guard for the event.

Section of Van Cortlandt Park Alliance map showing location of the Stockbridge Indian monument
A view of Stockbridge Indian memorial and burial ground, Sept 2010 (Mary French)
A panel from the “Native New York” exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in  NYC depicts present-day Stockbridge-Munsee veterans visiting the burial ground

Sources: “New-York, September 3,” Royal American Gazette, Sep 3, 1778; “Old Historic Cemeteries,” Daily Argus (Mount Vernon, NY), Jan 9, 1905; Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Vol 2 (Hodge 1910); The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); “The Indian Field Massacre,” Bronx County Historical Society Journal Vol XIV(2)(Fall 1977); “The Nimhams of the Colonial Hudson Valley, 1667-1783,” The Hudson River Valley Regional Review 9(2) (September 1992); Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); “A Trip for the Ages,” Mohican News, November 15, 2005; “Remembering the Sacrifice of a True Patriot,” DAR Blog, Sep 8, 2021; “Why We Serve—Origins of Native American Military Service” (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian); “Native New York,” (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian)

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Tombstones in the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in 1925 (NYPL)

Throughout the five boroughs, New Yorkers are actively protecting the forgotten and neglected burial places of their neighborhoods. Some are silent guardians tending to these old plots with little fanfare, while others are vocal advocates striving for preservation. Most have no familial or cultural ties to those interred in the graveyards they caretake and defend but feel called to save these historic sites and honor their departed local forerunners.

For more than 25 years, Ceil Pontecorvo almost single-handedly maintained the Moore-Jackson Cemetery next door to her apartment building on 54th Street in Woodside, Queens. Noticing that the old graveyard had become a neglected dumping ground, she determined that the people buried there “deserve better than this” and began planting flowers and shrubbery, picking up weeds and garbage, and was among those who lobbied the city to landmark the Colonial-era site, which they won in 1997.

At left is a map detail showing location of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside, Queens (mid-block between 31st St and 32nd St, the site extends from 51st to 54th St). At right is a 1919 survey showing location of graves at the site.

The Moore-Jackson Cemetery was established by 1733 on the farm of Samuel Moore and Charity Hallett Moore, just north of their homestead on Bowery Bay Road (present-day 51st Street) at the outskirts of the colonial village of Newtown. The Moores were early English settlers of Newtown, played a prominent role in the development of Queens, and intermarried with such leading families as the Rikers, Berriens, Blackwells, and Rapelyes. Among those interred in the cemetery is Nathaniel Moore (d. 1802), the owner of the land during the American Revolution. A staunch loyalist, Nathaniel Moore housed a division of the British Army following its victory at the Battle of Long Island and some say the British capture of Manhattan was planned in the Moore home. A great-granddaughter of Nathaniel’s married into the Jackson family, from which the cemetery and nearby Jackson Heights get their names.

A view of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in 1927 (NYCMA)

The cemetery remained in active use until at least 1868 and contained at least 51 graves which were marked with fieldstone, brownstone, and marble gravestones. By the early 20th century, most of the Moore descendants had moved away, and the burial ground fell into periods of neglect and rediscovery. In 1998, the last surviving heir of Nathaniel Moore transferred ownership of the site to the Queens Historical Society.

Today, about a dozen headstones still stand at the Moore-Jackson Cemetery and only a few have legible inscriptions. Most of the gravestones are clustered near the side of the property bordering 54th Street and although that section was well kept by Ms. Pontecorvo and others, the rest of the half-acre property, which extends to 51st Street, remained “a jungle” for decades. In 2017, several Woodside residents came together to clean up the overgrown lot and received permission from the Queens Historical Society to create a community garden on part of the property. The cemetery has now entered a new phase of neighborhood guardianship. While the burial area near 54th Street is preserved, the remainder of the site is a vibrant community garden that provides fresh food, green space, and programs for local residents.

A view of tombstones at the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in October 2010. The gravestone in the foreground, commemorating Augustine Moore, is the oldest legible marker at the site today (Mary French)
The aerial view at left shows the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in 2018; at right is a more recent view depicting the raised planting beds and other features of the new community garden at the property (NYCThen&Now/Google)

Sources: Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens (Powell & Meigs 1932); Woodside: A Historical Perspective, 1652-1994 (Gregory, 1994); Moore-Jackson Cemetery Designation Report (Landmarks Preservation Commission 1997); Moore-Jackson Cemetery Phase IA Archaeological Assessment Report (Bergoffen 1999); “A Long-Orphaned Family Plot,” New York Times, Jan 19, 1997; “A Hidden Cemetery of an Earlier Era Becomes More Visible,” New York Times, Jul 2, 2000; “Volunteers Want Help Revitalizing Colonial-Era Cemetery in Woodside,” DNAinfo, Oct 11 2017; “Historic Woodside Site Revamped Into Community Garden,” Astoria Post , Jan 14, 2022; Moore-Jackson Cemetery and Community Garden

Evergreens Cemetery

An 1893 photo of the ivy-clad administration building at Evergreens Cemetery, originally built as a chapel

It was still morning, and the quiet of the huge Evergreen Cemetery was broken only by the idling engine of Otis Chance’s big yellow backhoe. The machine was parked at the edge of the cemetery’s Ascension Section, a few yards from Yusef Hawkins’ grave, a few hundred yards from where Michael Griffith, victim of the Howard Beach racial attack, was buried on the day after Christmas in 1986. Otis Chance dug both of those holes in the sandy Queens earth. “I even carried Michael Griffith’s coffin,” he said. “You don’t always know who they’re for, but the foreman told us yesterday this one was for Hawkins,” said Chance, a 34-year-old black man who owns and lives in a house in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section. “It’s a tragedy, a damn shame, nonsense, stupidity,” he said, shaking his head. “It was the same way with Griffith—it didn’t make any sense, what happened. You feel so bad, so sorry for the families.” (Daily News, Aug 31, 1989)

A view of Manhattan from Evergreens Cemetery, Apr 2016

Evergreens Cemetery is a non-denominational burial ground created in 1849 that spans 225 acres along the Brooklyn-Queens border. Prominent landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing designed the grounds, and the results were described as “a perfect rural cemetery” by one 19th-century guide to New York City cemeteries. The wooded landscape includes winding paths traversing an undulating terrain, high points that offer scenic vistas of the Manhattan skyline and Jamaica Bay, and a picturesque Gothic Revival chapel designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis in 1849/50  (now used as an administration building). 

Celestial Hill, an early Chinese burial ground at Evergreens Cemetery, Mar 2018 (Mary French)

Evergreens is the resting place of over 526,000 people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds; among the notables interred here are dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, jazz musician Lester Young, and world chess champion William Steinitz. Distinctive plots include the Seaman’s Grounds, which hold the remains of more than 1,200 sailors; Celestial Hill, one of the early burial grounds for New York’s Chinese immigrants; and the Actors Fund Plot, where 500 members of the entertainment industry are interred. Also of note is the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Memorial, a haunting monument to several victims of the 1911 Triangle factory fire buried here; the victims’ names, unidentified for a century, were uncovered in 2011 through the persistence of researcher Michael Hirsch and have been added to the memorial.

Yusuf Hawkins’ grave at Evergreens Cemetery, Mar 2018 (Mary French)

The graves of Michael Griffith and Yusuf Hawkins—both victims of late-1980s racial attacks—are in an area of modest graves on the northern side of Evergreens Cemetery. Unlike older sections of the cemetery that are named for pastoral features such as Sylvan Dell, Lake View, and Hickory Knoll, these newer sections are named for biblical themes. In the Redemption section is the burial place of 23-year-old Michael Griffith, killed in 1986 when he was struck by a car as he was chased onto a highway by a group of young white men in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens. Three years later, 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins was laid to rest in the nearby Ascension section after he was shot to death during an attack by a white mob in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The peacefulness of the gravesites of these two young men is a stark contrast to the anguish and civic unrest that followed their deaths, one of the worst periods of racial tension in New York City’s history.

Monument at the center of the Seaman’s Plot, Evergreens Cemetery , Mar 2018 (Mary French)
Location of Evergreens Cemetery Brooklyn-Queens border (OpenStreetMap)

View more photos of Evergreens Cemetery

Sources: The Cemeteries of New York (Judson 1881); The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle…(Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1893); Green Oasis in Brooklyn: The Evergreens Cemetery 1849-2008 (Rousmaniere 2008); The Evergreens Cemetery—The Cultural Landscape Foundation; The Evergreens Cemetery; “When Jack Tar Dies in Port—A Final Resting Place in the Evergreens Cemetery,” New York Times, May 28 1893;  “He’ll Bid Yusef His Last Farewell,” New York Daily News, Aug 31, 1989; “100 Years Later, the Roll of the Dead in a Factory Fire Is Complete,” New York Times, Feb 20, 2011; “The Story Behind HBO’s Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn,” Time, Aug 13, 2020; OpenStreetMap

St. Augustine’s Churchyard

An 1860 map of Morrisania shows St. Augustine’s parish complex, at the corner of Jefferson Street and Franklin Avenue. The burial ground was at the north end of the property, near today’s 170th Street.

In 1898, the New York Sun reported on the removal of a small cemetery in the Morrisania section of the Bronx:

Workmen are busy destroying another of Morrisania’s old landmarks, the old graveyard of St. Augustine’s Church. The graveyard was the churchyard of the old church which stood for many years on Jefferson street near Franklin avenue. The graveyard was at the rear of the church and extended back over the line of 170th Street.

Morrisania was one of the quietest of country villages forty years ago, when the first interment was made in the old cemetery. In the ten years that followed many a procession went to the churchyard, until some 250 persons slept under the shadows of the church.

St. Augustine’s Church was founded in 1850 to serve Morrisania’s Catholic community, which developed as Irish and German immigrants came to live in the area. The parish’s first wooden chapel at today’s Jefferson Place and Franklin Avenue was replaced in 1860 by a “handsome and commodious” brick church seating 800 worshippers. The churchyard served as a parish burial ground from 1850 until 1876, when the local Board of Health prohibited further interments there. Interments were also made in vaults beneath the brick church building.

1876 newspaper clipping announcing the prohibition of burials at St. Augustine’s Churchyard.

When St. Augustine’s Church was destroyed by fire in 1894, the parish built their new church a few blocks south, at the intersection of Franklin Avenue and 167th Street. Remains in the vaults beneath the church were removed shortly after the fire in 1894, and reinterred in plots at Woodlawn Cemetery and St. Raymond’s Cemetery. Though the old parish churchyard was long unused and separated from their new house of worship, St. Augustine’s continued to care for the site. At the time of the 1898 removals, The Sun noted that the burial ground was still “green and beautiful” and “visited by some of the older residents of the district.”

Remains removed from St. Augustine’s Churchyard in 1898 were reinterred at St. Raymond’s Cemetery. In 2013, St. Augustine’s Church at Franklin Avenue and 167th Street was demolished and the congregation merged with Our Lady of Victory on Webster Avenue. Today apartment buildings stand at the site of the old St. Augustine’s churchyard site.

2018 aerial view of the former site of St. Augustine’s parish complex; arrow denotes approximate location of the churchyard burial ground (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the Town of Morrisania (Beers 1860); Bodies in Transit Registers IX & X, Municipal Archives, City of New York; “Church of St. Augustine, Morrisania,” Irish American, Oct 2, 1858; “Dedication of a New Catholic Church,” New York Herald, Oct 3, 1860; “Dedication of St. Augustine’s Church, Morrisania,” Metropolitan Record and New York Vindicator, Oct 6, 1860; “Death of Rev. Stephen Ward,” Metropolitan Record and New York Vindicator, Jul 4, 1863; “No More Burials,” Eastern State Journal (White Plains), Mar 31, 1876; “A Catholic Church Burned,” The Sun, Apr 9, 1894; “St. Augustine’s Graveyard,” The Sun, Oct 30, 1898; “Old Cemetery Blocks Street,” New York Herald, Oct 31, 1898; History of Westchester County, Vol 1 (Scharf 1886); “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1 (1900); Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016)