This week, the Archivist's Mailbag uncovers the truth behind some other common myths about Trinity Church. Today, we tackle Myth #4: You had to be rich and white to be buried in Trinity churchyard.
Trinity’s north churchyard was originally the city burial ground of New Amsterdam, later colonial New York. This burial ground charged a small fee. In order to get around paying this fee, colonists would bury their slaves and African servants just south of the city burial ground.
In 1697, during the construction of the first Trinity church on the plot of land just south of the city burial ground, the Vestry issued several notices to the public asserting their right to their newly-purchased land.
They ordered “that noe Carmen [cart man] shall after notice given Digg or carry away any ground or Earth from behind the English Church & burying ground.”
They also ordered “no Negro’s be buried within the bounds & Limitts of the Church Yard of Trinity Church, that is to say, in the rear of the present burying place,” forcing residents to stop the practice of burying slaves just outside of the city burial ground to avoid fees. Over the past 300 years this order has been widely misinterpreted, leading to the myth that only white people could be buried in Trinity churchyard.
In reality, there are many Africans and African-Americans, both slave and free, among the 11,864 recorded burials in Trinity churchyard.
In 1703, Mayor Philip French granted Trinity ownership of the city burial ground. Trinity was required to maintain the burial ground fence and bury anyone needing burial. A quick look through surviving records from November 1778 reveals the burials of “a child, poor” with no parents, age, or cause of death listed. Unnamed refugees and artillerymen were buried. A fifteen year old “sailor lad” died of decay and was buried, far from his home, in Trinity churchyard.
Some priests at Trinity recorded the race of those they buried, married, baptized, confirmed, or otherwise interacted with, and some did not. The priest recording burials in February and March of 1801 noted race. From those records we know that “a black child”, 8 months old, died of fits and was buried in the churchyard. On March 24, “Anthony, a negro”, aged 84 years, died of old age and was likewise buried in Trinity churchyard.
Author: Trinity Wall Street Communications
Created: March 18, 2009
Trinity Wall Street has played a pivotal role in the religious and civic life of the city and nation since its founding in 1697. This blog will answer readers’ questions and provide a glimpse into the fascinating and provocative history of the parish.