Category Archives: History

Rediscovering Sibbie

A notation on a burial card for Section 98 leads to the final resting place of the last documented slave at the Schuyler Flatts.

Rediscovering Sibbie


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The Albany Vault Company


From the advertisement appearing in the Albany Argus newspapers in 1830-1:

ALBANY VAULT COMPANY – Notice is hereby given that the said company have erected and finished in a substantial manner, a vault, west of the burying grounds of the First Presbyterian church, into which they will admit the bodies of deceased persons for a certain period previous to their interments.  For terms, apply to Joseph T. Rice, No. 17 South Pearl street, or to the subscriber, No. 226, N. Market street.  DAN’L CARMICHAEL, Secretary

Incorporated in 1831 with a capitol of $1,500.00, the Albany Vault Company constructed at least several receiving vaults at the State Street Burying Grounds and, possibly, some of the private vaults erected there.

At least one private vault was deeded to Blandina Bleecker Dudley and in use until Mrs. Dudley removed the remains of her family from the Burying Grounds and other locations to a lot on the Middle Ridge of the Rural Cemetery.

A vault belonging to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church temporarily received the body of Major Richard Garland of Anitgua who fell ill while staying at the Mansion House hotel and was removed to the quieter residence of “the Misses Carter” where he died on August 8, 1831

In The Grave-Digger of Other Days, an Albany policeman reminisced about an attempted burglary of a vault at the Burying Grounds;  the crime was thwarted (at least temporarily) by a storm and fire.

When the State Street Burying Grounds closed, the vaults were demolished and their bricks, stone, iron, and other materials sold at public auction for reuse.

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Ancient Albanians

The article below was published in the Albany Journal on July 31, 1888 and, while the container here is described as a flour barrel, it relates to the same discovery of remains covered in a second article published on August 2 – see Bones In A Sugar Barrel.  Any question marks or brackets in the body of the article indicate that the newspaper is illegible in those places. 

The Albany Journal, Tuesday, July 31, 1888


Some Of Their Bones Dumped Into A Flour Barrel

Excavations on Beaver Street Disclose the Crumbling Remnants of Dutch Burghers – A Former Graveyard Under Pick and Shovel – Antique Inscriptions on Tombstones

Three skulls and a number of thigh bones, ribs and other of the smaller bones of human skeletons were unearthed Tuesday afternoon in front of the old Jackson corps armory on Beaver street. Together with the space in front of the old armory building and the old public market building site, the [illegible] between Beaver street and the old Dutch church was used as a burial ground by the congregation of that church many years ago. The Dutch church on Beaver street was built in 1805, when the tombstones and the remains of members of the congregation who had been buried in the original Dutch church burying plat at the intersection of State street and Broadway, were taken up and re-interred at the Beaver street house of worship. Continue reading


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The Book of Burials – The Churchyard

The greatest percentage of interments records in The Book of Burials are those from the churchyard.  Established around 1676 on Beaver Street east of South Pearl, this churchyard was the successor to the burial ground alongside the Dutch Reformed Church at Broadway and State Street.  In addition to new burials, it received remains moved from its predecessor.  As this graveyard ran out of room, the headstones would be laid flat over the graves and a new six-foot deep layer of  earth spread over it.  New graves would then be opened in this layer above the older burials, a process repeated at least three times.

In 1806, the Second or Middle Dutch Reformed Church was constructed on the site and, again, the remaining headstones were laid over the graves and covered with earth.  Burials here had, by this time, ended with the opening of a municipal cemetery just south of the Capitol and, later, with the establishment of the State Street Burying Grounds which included two large sections for Dutch Reformed interments.  Continue reading

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The Book of Burials – The Vault

Below is a chronological list of burials in the vault of the First Dutch Reformed Church which stood on Broadway at the foot of State Street hill until 1806.

Many of these burials were removed to the Second Dutch Reformed Church where they were placed in a vault beneath the bell tower.  Later, some were moved to the Madison Avenue Reformed Church and, eventually, to the Church Grounds (see Albany’s Dutch Stones and Not The Right Stones). 

See The Book of Burials master post for further details on the list.

Continue reading

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A Tour of Lost Cemeteries

From the companion blog, Albany (NY) History, a brief look at some (though not all) of Albany’s former burial grounds.

A Tour of Lost Cemeteries


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The Cost of Removing A Burial Ground


Above:  Crews at work laying out the new Washington Park ca. 1869.

When the Common Council authorized the removal of 4,000 graves from the State Street Burying Grounds in advance of its redevelopment as a park, it allocated $30,000 for the project.  However, this was not sufficient and an addition $15,000 was added.

A breakdown of expenses:

For removals from

United Presbyterian ground…… $638.03
Methodist Episcopal…… 818.75
First Presbyterian…… 2,103.95
Garretson Station M.E….. 983.20
Dutch Reformed…… 3,369.00
Friends…… 624.90
Universalist…… 1,119.90
Lutheran Ebenezer…… 1,534.35
Third Presbyterian…… 1,194.90
Baptist….. 998.85
Second Presbyterian….. 368.10
St. Mary’s…… 2,514.15
Potter’s Field…… 3,702.25
African Church (estimated)…… 3,814.00
Saint Peter’s (estimated)…… 2,500.00

To grounds in Rural Cemetery…… 4,000.00
To grounds in St. Agnes Cemetery…… 3,000.00
To boxes, large and small…… 8,947.00
To insurance, clerks, sextons, etc……. 2,795.97

The total cost of the project was $42,373.05 or a little over $11 per body.  It’s interesting to note that the most expense sections to remove was the African Church at an estimated $3,814 which hints that the number of burials there far exceeded the number of graves recorded in the Common Council inventory.  The inventory lists forty names, but as the list was compiled from headstones present in 1868, it is likely that many graves there were unmarked. By averaging the cost of the individual burials, it is possible to estimate that the Potters Field and African lots contained approximately 330 and 340 bodies respectively.

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Removal Of The Dead To The New Cemetery

While the actual removal of the graves from the State Street Burying Grounds did not take place until the late 1860s, the call for such a removal was recorded in the Albany newspapers and was brought to the Common Council as early as the 1840s.  The letter below appeared in the Albany Argus less than a year after the consecration of the Albany Rural Cemetery.   The Boyds are an example of the earliest families to remove the remains of their kin to the new Cemetery.

(The author of this letter refers to the new Rural Cemetery as “Towasentha.”  During the first few years of its existence, the name of the new Cemetery was a matter of some surprisingly spirited debate and Tawasentha, meaning “Place of Many Dead,” was among the names proposed. )


It appears by the report of the proceedings of the Common Council on Monday evening, a resolution was introduced, and laid, by consent, on the table, for the appointment of a committee, “ to consult with the Trustees of the several churches,” possessing burial-places, within the tenth Ward of the city, on the propriety of removing the remains therein interred to the new Cemetery, TOW-A-SEN-THA, in the town of Watervliet; and to report to the board what measures may be within the competence of the Common Council to promote a removal so loudly called for by the health and convenience of the increasing population of the tenth ward.”

Alderman PRUYN deserves commendation for introducing this resolution. The opportunity of the measure suggested will not be denied. The propriety of a general removal of the remains of persons interred in their burial grounds has begun to be agitated in some of our churches. Many members, it is known, have expressed the intention, and are about to make arrangements, to transferr the remains from friends from their present, it may be almost said, desecrated resting places, to the more solemn and suitable depository at TOWASENTHA. It may be safely assumed that the instances will multiply when once the example shall have been set, or the season permit.– The grave-yards of several churches will consequently be almost wholly broken up, and defaced beyond restoration, except at an expence which no prudent body of trustees will be disposed to encounter, in view of the growing disposition of their inhabitants of the tenth ward to insist on their right to as pure an atmosphere as their neighbors, and to apply for a law interdicting the burial of the universal dead of the city in their midst.

It is therefore a question whether it be not wise in our Common Council to prepare the way for a measure which their duty as guardians of the health of the city, and of equal rights of its citizens, must lead them to encourage and must soon oblige them to urge.

Where the beautiful parks of the Capitol and Academy now refresh and delight citizen and strange, was within recollection of many, a vast burial spot, as unseemly and out of place, as the grounds now occupied by the churches in the luckless tenth ward. The Common Council of those day was as little prone to disregard ‘rights,’ probably, as its successors in times when the expression of the public will is apt to be less equivocal and its influence more potent. Yet it was by their actions, as ungracious as it was liberal, that the removal of the ancient grave yards was made to their present site; and the heart of our town from a jumble of shapeless sepulchres and neglected graves, offending sense and corrupting health, has been changed into a square not to be surpassed in the world for spaciousness, wholesomeness and beauty.

With such a precedent in their favour, and supported by the opinions of all enlightened medical men, and the practice of every civilized nation, except the English, the inhabitants of the 10th Ward, cannot be rebuked for impatience or encroachment, but should rather be praised for their forbearance, since they have waited to agitate a measure so nearly concerning themselves, until the the removal, they desire and will certainly claim, could take place to a more appropriate, save, and inviting spot. But for this, peradventure, they would have appealed to a grand jury before they would have consented to allow State-street to be graded along the grave-yards as low as the usual level of the coffins.


Albany Argus, July 17, 1845

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Bones In A Sugar Barrel

A brief article in the August 2, 1888 edition of the Albany Evening Journal recounts the discovery of remains at the former site of the Dutch Reformed burial ground on Beaver Street near South Pearl Streets.  A previous article appeared on July 31 – see Ancient Albanians and The Burying Places.


Excavations at the Old Churchyard on Beaver Street – Italian Workmen Avoid Contact With the Relics

The four human skeletons that were unearthed today on the site of the old Dutch church burying ground on Beaver street were placed in a sugar barrel. The barrel was about half fill when the last skull was dropped in. The bones were found about 8 ½ feet below the surface, after the three feet of filled-in earth had been removed. The skulls of the four skeletons were towards the west. They were laid out very regularly, the back bones of the arms and legs being held as if in a mould in the grasp of the light loam soil. Under two of the skeletons evidence of the cedar bottom of a coffin was found. There was nothing left, however, of the sides or top of the coffin. The decayed bits of wood were so very small and decayed that even if there had been a cover and sides to the casket, the shovels and picks of the Italian workmen would have scattered them before the bones of the dead were reached.

They Had Sound Teeth

The soundness of the teeth was remarked by all who saw the skulls. In two of the skulls, the teeth were perfect. The Italian workmen were careful not to touch the bones with their hands. They would force the bones from the grasp of Mother Earth with a pick and then toss them upon the embankment with a shovel. When the bones were discovered, the tan-colored Italians jabbered less than usual and seemed more awe-stricken that the few spectators of the scene.


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Featured Gravestones – Samuel and Mary Hill

DSC02692Location:  St. Peter’s Episcopal (both stones)

Material:  White marble (both stones)

A matched pair of stones for a husband and wife.  Both feature a willow-and-urn motif and oval tablets surrounded by wreaths of foliage.  Both feature inscriptions below the tablets and a twisted-rope border near the base.  Samuel Hill’s stone has typical darkening.  Inscription is deeply carved and very legible.  There is a large break at the base on the right side and some wear to the finials, especially on the right.  Mary Hill’s stone is in comparable condition.

Inscription:  Sacred to the memory of Samuel Hill who departed this life May 12, 1819 in the 52nd year of his age.  Friends nor physicians could not save This mortal body from the grave Nor can the grave confine me here When Christ commands me to appear.

Inscription:  Sacred to the memory of Mary Hill who departed this life January 15, 1816 in the 44th year of her age.  Behold we see while here we look The dearest ties of friendship broke The grief and sorrow pierce the heart The dearest friends we must see part.


Samuel and Mary’s son, Thomas B. Hill, is also buried in the Church Grounds and featured in this post.  His headstone also features a willow-and-urn motif, but in a different style, more ornate style.

Samuel Hill was a prominent Albany merchant whose brick mansion (designed by Philip Hooker) still stands as the Fort Orange Club on Washington Avenue.  More on Hill can be found here.  His wife, Mary, was the daughter of Thomas Barry, an Irish-born merchant whose business contacts included Sir William Johnson and who was a founding member of Albany’s first Catholic Church, St. Mary’s.

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