African Burial Ground
Local historians have long held that this area just outside of the Kingsbridge Burial Ground was used as a burial place for enslaved Africans. This follows a pattern seen elsewhere, in which enslaved people were interred in burial grounds adjacent to cemeteries for white colonists.
It is likely that adults were not the only ones buried here. A site study at the African burial ground in lower Manhattan revealed that nearly half of the burials were of children under 12.
No records survive, and very likely none were ever created, to document the names of the deceased or even the number of burials in this location. However, the historic Black community in Kingsbridge was about 20% of the neighborhood’s total population at its peak just after the American Revolution. It is therefore possible that there were a substantial number of burials here.
Fearing a rebellion of its enslaved population, New York’s colonial legislature banned gatherings of Black people numbering more than a few individuals. However, an exception was granted for funerals. Therefore, this spot could have been one of the few places in the area that the Black community could come together legally. This place could have carried additional meaning as the serenity of Van Cortlandt Lake is itself the legacy of enslaved Africans, who dammed Tibbetts Brook to create the lake in the early 1700’s.
In the 1870s construction workers unearthed skeletons in this area while working on the New York and Northern Railroad. According to an 1879 Yonkers Statesman newspaper article, a local man, Caleb Van Tassell, recalled “making a coffin for a slave” that was buried here. Writing in a memoir, another area resident recalled that “a great number of skeletons of former slaves were unearthed” during the railroad construction. It was not reported what happened to the skeletons after they were disinterred. The railroad trackbed later became the Putnam Greenway of today.
On June 19, 2021 at a Juneteenth Ceremony, in honor of the African burial ground, located within the previously named Kingsbridge Burial Ground, a new sign bearing the words ‘Enslaved African and Kingsbridge Burial Grounds’ was unveiled.