Old Burial Grounds: Cemeteries in Brooklyn and the County Towns 1886



It is but a few years since the bodies buried in the cemeteries attached to the Reformed and St. Ann's churches of Brooklyn were taken to Greenwood. St. Ann's burying ground was situated on the east side of Fulton street, opposite the corner of Clinton. Another cemetery, which was given to the village of Brooklyn over 260 years ago, by the Governor of New Amsterdam, occupied ground in Fulton street near Gallatin place. Before the establishment of either of the cemeteries mentioned the dead were buried on farms, which have long since been laid out in building lots. After the settlement of Brooklyn in 1616 there were many of these private burying grounds, but it is difficult at this day to locate them. A private burying ground was situated in Clinton street, near Fulton, on the site formerly occupied by the First Presbyterian Church, and which, in recent years, has been used for business purposes. Probably the oldest cemetery formerly located within the city limits was that of the First Reformed Dutch Church. The church was erected on what at the time was known as the Jamaica Turnpike Road, and the cemetery was located on the south side of Fulton street, east of Hoyt.

In 1662 one Jans made application to the Consistory of the Reformed Dutch church of Brooklyn for permission to enclose the grave of his deceased wife, Magdalen, with a fence. The application was referred to the Rev. Henry Selgus and Deacon Jacob Jorison with instructions to have the burial ground fenced in. Messrs Jorison and Selgus contracted with Jans for seventy guilders to enclose the burial ground with a good clapboard fence five feet high with a front piece for the entrance. The Dutch Church, erected in 1666, was torn down 100 years later, and another church edifice built on its site. The latter stood until 1807, when the church removed to Joralemon street in the rear of the Hall. This edifice, within six months, has also been demolished, and a building erected in which will be exhibited a panoramic view of the Battle of Gettysburgh. The old burying ground attached to the First Dutch Church in Fulton street was used for interment until 1849. On April 23 of that year a city ordinance was passed prohibiting burials within the city limits, and in 1865 the bodies were removed to Greenwood and business buildings erected on the spot.

To bring about a removal of the bodies from the old Dutch Church Cemetery it became necessary to apply to the Legislature for authority. The result was that the church was authorized to remove all bodies in the burying ground to a suitable cemetery in or adjoining the City of Brooklyn. It was stipulated that the headstones, so far as possible, should be removed intact, and that a record of the names of the bodies of those so removed should be kept. In 1868 the consistory of the Dutch Church issued a notice that the friends or relatives of the dead buried in the cemetery could have the privilege of removing their bodies, or that the church would undertake the work. A plot of ground in Greenwood Cemetery, known as Cedar Dell, belonged to the church, and there the majority, if not all, the bodies were reinterred. The cemetery ground was sold shortly after the removal of the bodies.

The Wallabout Cemetery

The Wallabout Cemetery situated in the neighborhood of Canton street and Park avenue, has an interesting history. It was established in 1824. On June 10, of that year, residents of Brooklyn assembled at a town meeting, appointed a committee to purchase a tract of land located in the vicinity of Fort Greene and belonging to Leffert Lefferts. The deed of the purchase was recorded in the Town Clerk's office on November 1, 1824.It was decided to cut the land so purchased into nine separate parcels to be used as burial grounds for the different religious denominations and the Town of Brooklyn. Lots were drawn and the ground divided among Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed Dutch, Universalist, Baptist, Quaker and Unitarian sects and the town. The Reformed Dutch Church purchased its plot in Greenwood Cemetery known as Cedar Dell with the proceeds of the sale of its plot in Wallabout Cemetery. The last named plot was drawn by Jeremiah Johnson for the Dutch Church. When the City of Brooklyn, in 1849, passed an ordinance prohibiting burials within city limits the Reformed Dutch Church used its plot in Wallabout for interments.

The Episcopal Church, known As St. Ann's Church

The Episcopal Church, afterward known as St. Ann's Church, was the first edifice of that denomination in the Village of Brooklyn. The original building was located in Fulton street, nearly opposite the head of Clinton. Attached to the church was a burying ground. Brooklyn was at first closely settled along the river front, and more particularly on Sands street. The latter street in 1822 was one of the fashionable thoroughfares of the town. Members of the Episcopal Church contended that the edifice was too far out of town. Finallly the congregation met in a building at the corner of Sands and Washington streets, but interments did not cease in the old churchyard near the junction of Clinton and Fulton streets. Rev. Henry W. Onderdonk was pastor of the Episcopal church in 1822. The wardens and vestrymen in the same year were Joshua Sands, John H. Moore, James B. Clarke, Robert Bach, Robert Carter, Adam Tredwell, Losee Van Nostrand, Fanning C. Tucker, A.H. Van Bokelin and William Cornwell. The last named acted as treasurer.

After the city ordinance referred to above in regarrials within city limits was passed the churchyard of St. Ann's lay idle and being in the center of the town, it could not be kept in order. When it was suggested that the bodies in the cemetery be removed, the scheme was vigorously opposed by many prominent citizens, among them being ex-Mayor John W. Hunter. The feeling at the time was intense and so high did it run that a riot was daily expected. The removal, however, was finally effected with but little trouble. The bodies formerly buried in the Fulton street churchyard now occupy graves in St. Ann's plot in Greenwood.

The Burial Ground Attached to the Dutch Church of Flatlands

Next to the cemetery of the First Reformed Dutch Church of Brooklyn, the burial ground attached to the Dutch Church of Flatlands is, perhaps, the oldest on Long island. Brooklyn was settled in 1616 and Flatlands twenty years later, in 1636. I have no data at hand giving the date of the building of the first Dutch Church of Flatlands, but it must have been some years prior to 1655. In that year the people of Brooklyn and Amesfort (Flatlands) were ordered by the Dutch Governor to aid the people of Midwout or Flatbush, in erecting a house of worship sixty feet in length by thirty-eight in breadth, the whole to be fourteen feet in height below the beams. The cost of erecting the Flatbush house of worship was 4,637 guilders. The first church built in Flatlands was octagon in shape and less than one-third the size of the present edifice. One pleasant Sunday morning recently I paid a visit to the old Cemetery, where for centuries generations on generations have peacefully slept.

Commodious carriage sheds occupy a position in the rear of the church. There was a tradition among the first settlers of Flatlands that the space between the church and the sheds was at one time used as an Indian burial ground. Garret P. Wyckoff who died recently aged 96 years, said that his father had said that the plot of ground mentioned was, prior to the building of the church, used as an Indian burial ground. So far as known there is nothing in the early Dutch records of the town to substantiate this statement.

Many of the mounds in the graveyard have been washed away or trampled down, and nothing remains to show the resting place of many of the first settlers but scraps of stone, the lettering of which has long since fallen into decay. The early inscriptions were in Dutch, but are easily translatable. Peter and Willimple Ammerman's three children were buried in the churchyard in 1707. Their headstones are the oldest that can be deciphered. Here is a specimen of the earlier Dutch inscriptions:

Hier Leyt Begraaven Her Lighhaan Van Adine Lucassen.

Huys Vrouw Van William Kouwenhoven, born April 25, 1686, overleeden September den 30, 1774, in her 89 Gaer Hares Levens.

Many of the headstones in good preservation bear roughly hewn faces to represent angels. A stone of this description was placed over the grave of "Van David Sprong, soon of Van Folken Sprong overleeden 20 September, 1766." The earlier settlers of Flatlands were buried in the churchyard with no headstones to mark their graves. Even had stones been erected it is unlikely that they would be in a legible condition at the present day. Moss from the trees has completely hidden the inscriptions on many of the tombs. The stone used for monuments prior to 1800 was of a kind not found on Long Island, and was probably brought from stony parts of New York State.

Early Dutch Ministers on the Island had no particular pastorate, but preached in different towns on alternate Sundays or had circuits of two or three villages. Rev. Revulanplanus Van Sinderen acted as pastor of the Dutch Reformed churches of Flatlands and New Utrecht for thirty-seven years. He died in Flatlands on July 23, 1779, and was buried in the churchyard. Within a few years a new headstone has been erected over the minister's remains.

The original monument placed over the pastor's grave, and which was much the worse for age, was buried with him. The original cemetery has been enlarged, and in the rear are buried residents of the town who died in recent years.

Three Dutch churches have been erected in Flatlands since 1636. The second church, like the first, was a rude affair, being built entirely of boarding. It was poorly constructed, and in case it rained on Sunday the worshipers often got wet. The first two churches were built after the Dutch style of architecture, with high backed pews and pulpit. The second church was struck by lightning and nearly demolished in 1845. it contained no plastering, and when it was decided to pull it down, the work of destruction was performed by the boys of the village, among them being Dr. Nelson A. Baldwin, now a well known and prominent Brooklyn physician. Rev. John Abeel Baldwin, Dr. Baldwin's father, was called to the pastorate of the Flatlands Church in 1835, and continued to preach until the second edifice was demolished in 1848. He was also the first pastor of the new or third church which was erected in the last named year. He severed his connection with the church in 1853. Dr. Baldwin was for many years prior to his death a resident of Brooklyn. He died at his late residence on Adelphi street, in this city on February 22, 1886, aged 76 years.

The Dutch settlers of Flatlands brought many, if not all, the customs of the Fatherland, with them. They were inveterate smokers, the pipe playing an important part in all their funeral ceremonies. It was the custom not so very many years ago at a funeral in Flatlands to hand around liquor and pipes to visitors to the house of mourning. Personal invitations, by word or letter, to funerals are even issued to this day by families who are loath to give up the customs of their forefathers. It was also customary to provide a hearty luncheon for those who sat up with the corpse. Both the last named customs and those of passing around liquor and pipes have fallen into disuse. Residents of Flatlands many years ago raised tobacco for home consumption and cultivated peanuts in small quantities.

The churchyard attached to the Reformed Church of Flatbush is in excellent repair, but no interments are now made there. Early settlers were, no doubt, buried in the cemetery soon after the erection of the church in 1655, but owing to the custom of the time in not placing headstones over the remains of the dead, their graves cannot be located. Many of the headstones which have been erected since 1800 tell pathetic stories. Two of these certify to the deaths of Charles and Elizabeth Clarkson, man and wife, who died within two months of each other. The inscription on the tomb of the husband is as follows: "In memory of Charles Clarkson, who, in the prime of life and in full health, was suddenly cut off, on the 2nd day of October, 1802, in the 33rd year of his age, leaving a wife and three small children." Within a few feet of the stone is the grave of Elizabeth Clarkson, his wife, who died on the 24th of December, 1802. Who knows but that the young wife died of grief? On the tombstone of John Vanderbilt it is stated that he was a merchant and a true patriot.
Cedar Dell the spot in Greenwood in which the bodies disinterred from the plot belonging to the Dutch Reformed Church in the Wallabout Cemetery are buried, is beautifully located in the center of the cemetery. I visited the spot one morning recently. An evergreen hedge surrounds the plot, and back of this are buried the disinterred bodies. Many of the original tombstones placed at the heads of the dead are fast becoming decayed. In many cases moss entirely obscures the date of death, while here and there are inscriptions in Dutch. After a patient search of half an hour I found a stone bearing date of 1730. This stone was the oldest in preservation. Undoubtedly, older exist, but their dates have long since been obliterated. Recent interments have been made in the plot. The following inscription taken from a slab is interesting:

This stone covers the remains of James R. Church, M.D., Who died June 6, 1838, aged 38 years, Mrs. Jane F. Birch, August 1, 1843, aged 29 years, 6 months and 22 days. John S. Douglass, July 24, aged 7 months and 24 days.

And of seventy-five others whose names and time of decease could not be ascertained, exhumed from the burial ground at the Wallabout under direction of the Reformed Dutch Church of the Town of Brooklyn on the 17th of May, 1858, and reinterred here on the 23d October, 1860, under a special Law of this State having reference thereto.

St. Ann's plot in Greenwood, situated in the vicinity of the Soldiers' Plot, is very similar to the Dutch Reformed burial place.

Nearly fifty years ago the Cannon street Baptist Church, of New York, purchased a tract of land in the Town of Bushwick, on the ground known as the Conselyea farm, and there established a cemetery. It at once became popular with the poorer classes, and graves were as many as five and six times opened to receive bodies. After the incorporation of Bushwick with Williamsburgh and the last named town with Brooklyn no interments were made in the cemetery. In time the fences were broken down and children played among the neglected graves and on the tombstones. Hogs rooted up the soil, while cows and other animals browsed on the grass in the cemetery. Opposition was at first shown to the removal of the bodies, but, finally, the remains were disinterred and buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Old Burial Grounds: Cemeteries in Brooklyn and the County Towns 1886
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle 8/29/1886
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