Slavery in New York: Hunts Point Burial Ground and Jupiter Hammon
By A. C. |
The Hunts Point Slave Burial Grounds in the Hunts Point section in the Bronx is located on the tip of Hunts Point Avenue and Longfellow Avenue. The surrounding neighborhood is mostly auto body repair shops, chop shops, and other industrial businesses. One side of the park, along Longfellow Avenue, is busy with car and truck traffic making lefts onto Hunts Point Avenue, headed to either their warehouses or towards the I-95 Expressway. The square block that houses the Slave Burial Grounds is called Joseph Rodman Drake Park. It is mostly grass and trees, a circular path with routes snaking outwards, and the gated cemetery in the center. There are no typical park benches, but a couple of big boulders dot the park. On the day I visited, there were small red flags marking spots in the graveyard, which perhaps one day will be the place for headstones or permanent memorial markers. The grounds are green, but it is mostly weeds that have been cut down instead of grass or flowers, giving me the impression that the bare minimum is being done to keep up the park. Although I visited on a weekday in the early afternoon and even with all the traffic about, the park was not being used, making it eerily empty and quiet.
Until recently this cemetery was a mystery to many in the area as there are no posters or other directions visible with information about this long-forgotten historical site. Children from the local schools in the area and other local historians are doing more to bring the graveyard to public attention (Project). The geographic location of the slave graveyard was identified based on a 1910 historical photo (Location). The community’s honoring the lives of the slaves buried there reminds us that American history is founded on slavery (Lee). The Burial Ground has been reconstructed not only for the white families who once lived in the area such as Hunts, Leggett, and Willett, but for the forgotten slaves that were owned by these families. Although Americans have no honorary day for the slaves that helped build America, the Burial Grounds are a small commemorative site that reminds people that slavery was a part of New York, the Bronx, and America.
In the speech “An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York” by Jupiter Hammon, Hammon pleads with his fellow slaves, whom he calls his “brethren,” to follow God’s laws and respect their masters. He emphasizes that although slaves might want or need a better life, they should look to their masters because that is the way God wants it, that fighting their masters and doing wrong by their masters will put them into the path of hell and its everlasting torture. “You and I, must stand, and hear everything we have thought or done, however secret, however wicked and vile, told before all the men and women that ever have been, or ever will be, and before all the angels, good and bad.” (Hammon). Above all, Hammon wanted the slaves to become Christians: “Heaven,…shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves.”(Hammon). In a way, his address was a testimonial, as the Burial Grounds are a tribute to the slaves for their contribution to building up New York.
Documents have helped reveal the identities of the slaves laid to rest in the Burial Grounds. From John Leggett’s Will, we know that he bequeathed to his son John “my negroes [sic] Dick and Sharp.” Using Census information, the graves were identified by looking at who lived with their owners on the nearby land (Census). In the census of 1790 and 1800, the Hunt family owned several slaves who were likely buried in what is now the The Hunts Point Slave Burial Grounds. The once-forgotten slaves of the Burial Grounds were buried adjacent to the members of the white families who owned them and the land in that area, so it is somewhat ironic that now the Burial Grounds are not known for the white landowners but for the remembrance of the slaves. In a way it can be said that they’ve found benediction, for they were buried in the early 1800s, and are still remembered today.
Fowle, Farnworth. New York Times. “Poets Graveyard in Bronx Torn Up”. August 14, 1961. May 18,2016. Web.
Hammon, Jupiter. “An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York”. May 18, 2016. Web.
Lee, Felicia R. “The New York Times.” The Anger and Shock of a City’s Slave Past. The New York Times, 26 Nov. 2005. Web. 22 May 2016.
“Location.” Hunts Point Slave Burial Ground. Bronx County Historical Society, n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.
New York Historical Society (NYHS): “Buried Stories Lessons from the African Burial Ground.” Web.