In 1694, Jacobus Van Cortlandt acquired a tract of land in “Lower Yonkers” that became the nucleus of what is now Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Jacobus was the youngest son of Oloff Van Cortlandt, a wealthy Dutch merchant who founded the Van Cortlandt dynasty that was influential in New York from the colonial period into the 19th century. Jacobus added to his estate throughout his lifetime and in 1732 acquired the tract upon which his son Frederick built a family home in 1748-49. Frederick fell ill and died during completion of the house in 1749, and his will directed that he be buried in “a Family Vault which I intend to Build on my plantation on a little Hill which lies to the Northeastward of Tuttle Brook.” This burial vault was completed shortly after Frederick’s death and was used as a family burial ground until the Van Cortlandt estate was acquired for a city park in 1888.
The Van Cortlandt burial vault is situated atop a steep ridge that became known as Vault Hill. The site gained renown in 1776 when Augustus Van Cortlandt, Frederick’s son who was then New York City Clerk, hid the city records in the family burial vault to protect them from destruction during the British occupation of New York in the American Revolution. A fieldstone wall surrounds the burial ground but most of the headstones and markers were removed when the site was vandalized in the 1960s.
In 1732, when Jacobus Van Cortlandt acquired the tract of present-day Van Cortlandt Park on which the Van Cortlandt House Museum now stands, George Tippett, who sold the property to Van Cortlandt, stipulated that a cemetery included in the tract should be reserved as a burying ground for Tippett and his heirs. This same cemetery is referred to in a 1717 document wherein George Tippett granted the Betts family the continued use of the site that had been “used as a burying ground for a great many years by the families of Betts and Tippitt.” The tract had been connected to these families since 1668, when William Betts and George Tippett (grandfather of the George Tippett mentioned above) purchased the property.
The cemetery has been known by a number of names over the years, including the Kingsbridge Burial Ground, the Tippett Family Cemetery, and the Berrian-Bashford Burying Ground. When local historian Thomas H. Edsall visited the burial ground in the 1880s, he found that most of the graves were marked by fieldstones containing no inscriptions or only the initials of the deceased. Five inscribed headstones were present. These dated from 1794 to 1808 and marked the graves of members of the Berrian, Bashford, and Ackerman families that were descendants of the Betts and Tippetts. Today, this burial ground is situated east of the Van Cortlandt House and just west of the southern part of Van Cortlandt Lake. All of the grave markers are now gone and a stand of trees has grown up in their place. The site is enclosed by an iron pipe rail fence.