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Africa and the African Diaspora
Manhattan Woman and 20,000 Slaves
Genealogical Ties That Bind.
We met at the Chambers Street IRT subway station — Lynn Jencks, descendant of an early Dutch family, and me, descendant of Lenape, Dutch and Africans. About 400 years ago, Dutch and enslaved Africans arrived into the ancient Algonquian wilderness that became New York City. Lynn, who lives in Illinois, had never been to the property owned by her ancestors and worked upon by slaves.
"Christopher guided me out of the subway and we emerged into the crisp clear December air," Lynn wrote in an email account of our walk. "We walked a short distance to Duane Park, a tiny triangle of green at the intersection of Hudson and Duane Streets."
The park is part of the Domine (Minister's) Farm, once owned by Protestant Dutch Rev. Everardus Bogardus and his wife, Anneke Jans. Rev. Bogardus is notable among colonial Christian ministers, as he opposed the relentless wars against the natives, supported education of black children and performed marriages and baptisms of free and enslaved blacks. Lynn's ancestors and a few of my own are registered in the Kinderboek, one of our city's oldest documents.
Duane Park is the city's oldest American park, founded in 1797 (Bowling Green is older but it was created during the English reign — 1733) elicited Lynn's biggest smiles of the day.
"It is the last little sliver of my ancestors' farm that remains, somehow escaping 400 years of development," Lynn explained.
From Duane Park we walked east along Chambers Street, where once stood an island-wide slave-constructed wall from the Hudson to the East River, much wider than the more famous Wall constructed by enslaved laborers at Wall Street in 1653.
At Broadway, we reached the 6.6 acre property, once owned by Lynn's 17th century great aunt, Sarah Roloff Kiersted Van Borsum, step-daughter of Rev. Bogardus.
"As an adult, Sarah (some sort of great-aunt to me) befriended the Native Americans, with whom the Dutch colonists were at frequent war and whom the Dutch eventually expelled from the territory," stated Lynn.
In 1669, Sarah received a 2260-acre land grant in New Jersey (Bogata and Teaneck) from Lenape-Hackensack Chief Oratamy. During the brief Dutch return to power (July 1673 – November 1674) Sarah received the burial ground property from Petrus Stuvesant, for her role as an Indian translator. Sometime after that grant, it became used for African burials.
"Sara gave permission to the enslaved Africans to bury their dead on her property. Within a few decades, this area was named on a map as the 'Negro Burial Ground,' eventually containing the graves of an estimated 15,000-20,000 Africans by the time it closed at the end of the 18th century," wrote Lynn.
Unearthed during construction of a 34 story federal office building at 290 Broadway in 1991, the cemetery became a NYC landmark in 1993 and a National Monument in 2007. Four hundred and nineteen burial remains were reburied in individual wooden coffins in seven mounds at the memorial site.
"Christopher brought me here, and as I stood in that place, I had an overwhelming sense of something coming full circle. I was intensely aware of the connection between my ancestors, on whose land this burial ground had begun, and of Christopher's, whose ancestors' community had buried their dead here."
The African Burial Ground National Monument Visitor Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and is closed on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day. The African Burial Ground National Memorial is open every day from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. except Christmas Day and Thanksgiving.
Lynn Jencks is a Doctoral Candidate in Theology and Religion at Northwestern University.
Chris Moore is Senior Researcher and co-author of The Black New Yorkers: 400 Years of African American History and Standing In The Need Of Prayer: A Celebration of Black Prayer and a member of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.
For additional resources, visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.