African Burial Ground National Memorial

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I think I am as most other non-Americans think that the history of African slaves brought to America was something connected with the southern states and not the northern states like New York. But back in the early days of the American colonies all 13 colonies had slavery present to various extents. In fact New York didn’t start the abolishment of slavery until 1799 and there was slavery present on Manhattan Island from the early days of the city of New York. The last 10,000 slaves in New York were finally set free on 4 July 1827 without compensation given to the former owners of the slaves.

At the time of the American revolution slaves actually made up a quarter of the population in new York and the city had the second highest number of slaves in any city of the American colonies just behind Charleston in the deep south.

The presence of slaves on the small island presented a special problem – what to do with them after life. There really wasn’t any of the wealthy or not so wealthy white population on the island who wanted to spend eternity next to the African slaves and when the Trinity Church took over the administration of the city burial grounds they banned the burial of blacks in the church yards.

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Monument of the Burial Ground from outside

So something had to be done – a new burial ground was created designated as the Negros Burial Ground where people of African descent – both slaves and free – could be buried. To be buried in the actual burial ground you had to pay a fee so some people were buried just outside the official burial ground to avoid paying a fee. The first burial took place in 1690s and the area was in use until 1794 and an estimated 10-15,000 people were buried in the area. Not everybody kept the peace of the cemetery – in fact some physicians and medical students dug out bodies from the burial ground during the nights in the 1780s to make dissections of the bodies.

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Inside the memorial

After the last burial in 1794 the city was expanding and the area of the burial ground was designated for city development. The area had been in a small valley so a lot of dirt were transported in and put on top of the burial ground which actually protected the area. After this the burial ground was largely forgotten for 50 years. Then in 1846 when the first department store in America was built on the corner of Champers Street and 280 Broadway several skeletons were found. This didn’t really stir an interest when more bones were discovered at Broadway 290 in 1897 it did create a short-lived interest in what kind of bones it was but nothing more were done about it and the place remained forgotten for almost a hundred years.

 

Finally when the new Ted Weiss building was under construction in the early 1990s actual intact graves were discovered and pressure build on the federal government to actually do something about the burial area. Finally in 1992 George Bush made a slight change to the design of the Ted Weiss building and part of the burial site was protected. Finally in 2006 the next president Bush made the area into a national memorial for the burial ground.

 

From outside there is a small memorial which you can walk right by on the street if you are in the area. There is a small memorial next to the street and apparently there is also a small visitor center in the Ted Weiss building which I didn’t realize when I was there. So I only took a quick look at the memorial which is fairly quick since it is nearly as interesting as the backstory of the monument.

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10 comments

      1. I am not sure the physicians and students at that time bother about the skin colour. I think they just wanted the bodies most easily available for their studies. If it had been of the poor White people they probably would still have stolen those. I guess the bodies at this burial site was just the ones with the easiest access.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I wasn’t surprised they would let the slave be buried in the white cemetaries inside the city limits. It was what I kind of would expect from this time period. But the fact they actually stole the buried bodies in the middle of the night was very disturbing.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m surprised that I’m just now learning about this memorial. The next time I’m up there I’m definitely visiting this spot. The history is so sad. I’m glad that at least there’s a memorial for all those people, but of course the memorial doesn’t make up for how they were treated. Thank you so much for teaching me about this place!

    Liked by 1 person

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