Fort Totten Park

Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery

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

The Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery is located on the grounds of Fort Totten at Willets Point and dates to the 17th century. The property’s earliest settler, Englishman William Thorne Sr. (1617-1664), settled this area and established his farm on the point of land in 1645, calling it Thorne’s Neck. He along with seventeen other men founded “Vlissingen,” known today as Flushing, Queens. William Thorne Sr. was also one of the thirty signers of the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance, the first document for religious freedom in America and regarded as the precursor to the United States’ Bill of Rights.

The property passed through six generations of the Thorne-Wilkins family, before it was sold to Charles Willets (1781-1833) in November 16, 1829. With the purchase, the land became known as Willets Point, but the Thorne-Wilkins burial ground remained the family’s domain to ensure the graves remained undisturbed. Starting in 1852, the land passed through several hands, but documents reiterated the cemetery exemption.

Between April 1857 and April 1863, the United States Government acquired the properties to create Fort Totten, which hosted a series of military services until a large portion of the land was secured by NYC Parks in 2001.

Today, Charles Willets’ memorial stone stands on the site of the burial ground, but records show his body was reinterred in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn in 1855. Willets’ stone on the former fort property does not mark his actual grave, but documents the possible former burial place of the namesake of the Willets Point. Historic deeds, surveys, and maps suggest the marker actually identifies the location of the small family burial ground of the property’s original owners: the Thorne-Wilkins family.

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