In March of 1903 workmen in the Inwood section of northern Manhattan made a startling discovery. On a hilltop, near the present intersection of 212th Street and Tenth Avenue, were discovered row after row of skeletons buried beneath crude stone markers.
According to local lore the hill contained an old slave cemetery once maintained by Inwood’s early settlers.
These slave-owning pioneers included the Dyckmans, whose Dutch Colonial farmhouse survives today as a museum on nearby West 204th Street.
“The rows of crude gravestones which marked the burying ground which the extension of Tenth Avenue has unearthed has long been the source of varied conjecture,” wrote a New York Times reporter. “Old men in the neighborhood said that here lay the bones of slaves, and this belief was strengthened by a British picture, which showed a few hundred yards west from the burial place the “huts of the blacks.” (New York Times, April 12, 1903)
“Walter R. White, a contractor at Amsterdam Avenue and Two Hundred and Thirteenth Street, who has lived in the immediate vicinity all his life,” told a reporter, “that it was a well-known fact in his childhood that the knoll was an old burying ground for the slaves of the old Dyckman, Vermilye, and Hadley families, whose estates were thereabout, and who themselves are buried in a little historic cemetery close at hand. “ (New York Times, April 12, 1903)
“The crude monuments to these graves recall the custom prevalent in this city in slavery times of burying slaves with little if any ceremony,” the 1903 Times writer continued.
“The dread of ‘an uprising of blacks’ in 1722 prompted an act providing that all negroes and blacks be buried by daylight. The act was amended afterward so that not more than twelve negroes should attend a funeral. The penalty for the violation of this statute was a public flogging. Furthermore, the slave was to be buried without any outward signs of grief or any ceremonial tokens, such as a pall, gloves or flowers.” (New York Times, April 12, 1903)