A Slave Burial Ground in Gowanus, Brooklyn?

Van-Brunt Homestead

A painting by James Ryder Van Brunt – Grandson of the Cornelius Van Brunt, who bought the farm in 1796. It likely took up four modern street blocks from 8th to 11th Street.

Civil activist groups are at odds with the City over the preservation of what could be a slave burial ground at 9th Street and 3rd Ave. in Gowanus. Since 2015, the City had wanted to build a pre-Kindergarten on the empty lot, but the Preservationists desire more research be done on the land before that happens. Recent Archeological digs haven’t found any remains or artifacts, but there’s still the possibility. According to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams – “…it is imperative that New York stands for preserving history and protecting the truth.”

Read the ongoing story here at the New York Times and here at the New York Daily News.

The Van Brunt family were Pioneers of Brooklyn, prominent farmers, but also slave-owners who lived at the location in the 19th century. A detailed diary, written by Adriance Van Brunt, noted that slaves were buried on the land.

“Buried old Mr. Bennet Aged 80,” Van Brunt wrote in September 1828. “Also a Black woman.” The following month, he wrote: “Buried Oct. 1 Nancy (Black girl) aged about 12 years.”

In 1846, members of the Van Brunt family were disinterred from the land and buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, the family continued on the Gowanus farm until 1867. The slaves’ final resting place, however, remains a mystery. There’s no longer a “well wooded” section on this plot of land and most likely the graves were unmarked.

The full diary can be accessed with advance notice through the New York Public Library’s archive and manuscript section in the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room.

You can also find Van Brunt’s Genealogy records at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

I also found an interesting genealogical page created for the Van Brunt family –

http://bklyn-genealogy-info.stevemorse.org/Town/Homesteads/VanBruntRobarts.html

Red-Hook-1875-LibCongress-via-Wiki-940x529

Red Hook Waterfront: 1875

Some further reading into Red Hook’s history. Van Brunt Street is most-likely named after Rutgert Van Brunt, a member of the Dutch family from the latter 1700’s.

gowanus-van-brunt-dig-site

Credit: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

I hope the City and activists can come to an agreement and that the remains are found. If they aren’t, it would still be fitting to put a monument there, or plaque, acknowledging the slave’s grave-sites and ensuring that this vital piece of Brooklyn’s history and their existence are not forgotten.

 

Turn of the Century NYC Google Maps

Brooklynbridge-construction-1879

The Brooklyn Bridge under construction around 1880.

New York is a dynamic city that’s forever transforming. Buildings rise and fall, stores and restaurants come and go and the landscape evolves with new developments in housing and parks. It’s hard to keep up with all the changes and remember what it used to look like. If you enjoy browsing the interactive images from Google Street maps of the present, how would you like it from a 19th century view?

oldnyc-mappage

Developer Dan Vanderkam has partnered with the New York Public Library and their massive photo archives to create just that. You could spend hours zooming in and out on familiar streets and landmark areas just by clicking on the red dot. The vintage photos are linked straight from the NYPL website.

Begin your journey to the past here at OLDNYC