A 19th century cemetery on Chrystie Street

If you ever find yourself at Sara D. Roosevelt Park below Houston Street, take some time to consider the New Yorkers who were once interred beneath your feet.

This was the site of the Second African Burial Ground—replacing the original cemetery for black New Yorkers located near City Hall that had been closed in the 1790s.

Back then, residents of African descent made up almost 20 percent of the city’s population. Since they were restricted from white cemeteries, another one had to be built.

So in 1794, a group of black residents petitioned the city to purchase land for a new burial ground. City officials granted four lots “near the dilapidated ruin of James Delancey’s mansion,” explains the Parks Department:

“The land purchase was bounded to the east by First Street (now Chrystie) and to the north and south by Stanton and Rivington Streets. By the late 1700s, the growing population of the city forced northern expansion. The burial ground began to deteriorate, and in 1853, it closed forever. The human remains were disinterred, and the site was soon built over.”

Sara D. Roosevelt Park (above) opened in 1934, 80 years after the burial ground had been closed and mostly forgotten.

In the 2000s, when the New Museum on nearby Bowery was under construction, some human remains were found, according to the website of the M’Funga Kalunga Community Garden in the park, which hopes to build a prominent marker on the site.

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17 Responses to “A 19th century cemetery on Chrystie Street”

  1. Sara D Roosevelt Park history « Hardcourt Bike Polo Says:

    […] caught this little gem in my RSS feed from Ephemeral New York in a post titled A 19th century cemetery on […]

  2. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    That was the drinking place of the Lower East Side, so close to the Bowery, I suppose. I spent many an afternoon there eventually passed out from too much beer or cheap wine. Was dangerous, too, I have the scars and bad memories to prove it. Amazing that they cleaned it up. Where do old bums and alcoholics go?

  3. T.J. Connick Says:

    M’Funga M’Finda

  4. T.J. Connick Says:

    Here is another fine demonstration of the virtues of your ever-entertaining site. In a few brief brushstrokes, we’re invited to learn more about an obscure, largely forgotten, part of our past.

    The ever-changing character of New York dominates its past, its present, and — it seems safe to predict — its future. Fame, fashion, and wealth rise and fall with the mighty, inexorable power of the tide, and the dead — a group for whom we wish, in prayer and poem, a state of “eternal rest” — are swept along.

    Prior to their ban under a sequence of laws of northward-marching effect, it is estimated that today’s Manhattan had over one hundred cemeteries, now mostly obliterated.

    Readers with a curiosity for more will find research into St Philip’s parish rewarding. The body of St. Philip’s first rector, Rev. Peter Williams, was laid to rest in the Chrystie Street cemetery on October 20, 1840. Church (Episcopal) hierarchy poured out in numbers, arrayed in their ecclesiastic finery, and dished what even contemporary accounts recognized as a fulsome, guilt-obscuring, sendoff to the great New Yorker.

    The cemetery, the parish, and the many fascinating episodes and personalities that there crossed paths, shed light upon the church, the abolitionists, the growth of the city, and those early prominent among New York’s sons and daughters of Africa.

    One note: if you’re treading about Sara D. Roosevelt Park, you’re not in the former confines of the cemetery. The cemetery by all accounts lay to the west of Chrystie, whose west-lying blocks did not change with the complete razing of all that lay east to Forsyth. The park was a dud product of “slum clearance”. The titanic effort that leveled seven city blocks was to have prepared the way for better homes for the poor, but like Samson shorn of his locks, government rarely summons much energy for building after exhausting itself in fits of destruction.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Nicely put, and thanks for the info about the true confines of the cemetery. No wonder they found bones while digging the New Museum, on Bowery.

  6. Jim Says:

    I did some research and found the names of 499 persons who were buried at the Second African Burial Ground.

    In 1853 they were reinterred. Does anyone know where they were interred too?

  7. Jim Says:

    I am searching for the place of burial after 1853 when the Second African Burial closed.

  8. Jim Says:

    I located the names of 499 people who were bured in the Second African Burial ground. The burial ground closed in 1853 and the bodies were reinterred.

    Does anyone know where they were reinterred too? what cemetery?

    • T.J. Connick Says:

      St. Philip’s parish operated the cemetery at the time, and organized relocation to a section of the Cypress Hills cemetery in Glendale that bears the parish name. See the cemetery web site for an excellent map.

  9. Jim Says:

    I am new at this. Sorry for the double posting.

  10. Jim Says:

    T.J .
    Thank you for that wonderful piece of information. I now have closure on these people. I am trying to have Findagrave.com transfer the 498 people from the City Hall African Burial Ground to the second African Burial Ground site.



  11. WHAMMO! Says:

    I often walked by this park but never went in. I get a ‘bad vibe’ there.

  12. Carol Smith Says:

    My x3 great grandfather was buried in M.Chrystie (what does the M stand for?) in New York according to his death record. He was English with no African connections so would there have been another cemetery in this street? His name was Abraham Lockwood and he died on 1 Aug 1843. He had been living at 6 Pearl Street, Manhatten, which I believe was a boarding house, and had only been in New York for one year before his death. Any information on the possible site of his burial would be much apprecaited

  13. Jim Says:

    I viewed your posting. You may go to the link below to view my additions.


  14. Tasha H. Says:

    So an update it’s looking like a strong likelyhood that Hercules George Washington’s famous cook was buried here: https://www.philly.com/food/craig-laban/george-washington-slave-chef-cook-hercules-gilbert-stuart-painting-wrong-20190301.html?utm_medium=social&cid=Philly.com+Facebook&utm_campaign=Philly.com+Facebook+Account&utm_source=facebook.com&fbclid=IwAR1nRljZTQPyA56tjiegbj_xuP6fQfQRkdnjim7gP_DBkdJd7Fa6yGt_D7A

  15. The anti-slavery past of a Bowery house built in the 1790s | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] stood on Centre Street. He also donated plots he owned on Chrystie and Rivington Streets for a cemetery for black New Yorkers, who made up about 20 percent of the city’s population the […]

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