Van Cortlandt Park

Enslaved African Burial Ground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Located along the eastern edge of the Kingsbridge Burial Ground, this area has been identified as a burial site of enslaved Africans who lived on the Van Cortlandt family plantation. They were responsible for its functions and economic gains for over a hundred years. According to records, there were several Indigenous people who were enslaved as well.

Research is inconclusive but suggests that this area is the location where enslaved people were interred. Primary documents include wills, land deeds, census data, and estate inventories belonging to the Van Cortlandt family and other local colonial families. It was also common practice for enslaved people to be buried adjacent to the cemetery of settlers.

Slavery was outlawed in New York State in 1827; enslaved people on the Van Cortlandt estate were freed in 1821.

The adjacent Kingsbridge Burial Ground, which dates to the 17th century, was used by some of the area’s earliest colonial settlers including members of the Tippett, Berrian, Betts, Bashford, Ackerman, and Warner families. Members of the Van Cortlandt Family are buried at nearby Vault Hill.

In the 1870s, workers unearthed skeletal remains in this area while working on the construction of the New York and Northern Railroad. In 1879, a local man, Caleb van Tassel, recalled “making a coffin for a slave” who was buried here. This account was supported by J.B. James, who spent his youth around Van Cortlandt Lake, who wrote in his 1935 memoir that “a great number of skeletons of former slaves were unearthed” here during the construction of the railroad.

In 2019, NYC Parks commissioned a USDA geophysical study adjacent to the Old Putnam Trail (now the Putnam Greenway) along the former railroad lines, using ground-penetrating radar, which identified what was described as “fine linear features” that resemble coffins, 1.2 to 1.5 meters underground.

For more information regarding the enslaved African legacy in the park and related programming, go to vancortlandt.org.

Directions to Van Cortlandt Park

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