Yes, Native Americans Were Buried on Staten Island!

Yes, Native Americans Were Buried on Staten Island!

The remains of Native American Burial Grounds have been found in several locations on Staten Island. These would include two sites at what is now West New Brighton. One was at Pelton’s Cove, while another was at the former Church of the Ascension. It was here, at the Church of the Ascension in 1903, that skeletons flexed in Indian fashion were found. “Indian fashion” means that the bodies were placed on their sides, with their arms and legs bent, so the hands and knees were in front of the face. Beads, shells, and assorted implements were found with the deceased.

Lenape grave drawn by A. Skinner, 1906

Lenape burial sites were also found at the former DeHart Farm in Mariner’s Harbor. Also referred to as Bowman’s Brook, this once active village yielded numerous skeletons, fire pits, garbage middens, pottery shards, sweat lodges, and house sites. Archeologist Alanson Skinner made this discovery in 1904, after seeing shells, pottery bits, and flint chips on the surface of the Milliken Brothers iron foundry that was operating at this time. Skinner moved the sandy soil aside to discover splintered bones and the crushed skulls of five humans. An aged female who was buried with a young lynx was also found. The lynx was more than likely a favored pet.

Skinner came back two years later, with the result that on May 12, 1906, he unearthed another skeleton. The head of the deceased had been crushed by the weight of the earth. He was flexed in the usual manner, with his hands before his face. No implements were found, but fire cracked stones and oyster shells had been placed in the grave.

Alanson Skinner, 1916.

During the fall of 1917, and into the winter of 1918, Alanson Skinner continued to search for artifacts and remains at this area. This time he worked with the Heye Foundation. Three sets of remains were found. One had a perforated oyster shell on its chest. The pit lacked relics, but it did hold a number of fire cracked stones.

An 1896 “Proceedings” article describes a “Burying Hill” that purportedly held Indian remains. It was said to be just southeast of what was once referred to as Smoking Point, near Rossville. In 1912, Skinner referred to a “Burial Point” near Rossville and it would appear that this could be the same locale as “Burying Hill.” Skinner was quick to note that the name is in reference to a supposed Indian burial ground in the area, but that while local farmers were adamant in their belief that the burial ground existed, he was unable to find solid evidence to support their statements. Skinner called for further investigation of the site.

In “Staten Island and Its People” Mr. Davis and Mr. Leng mention a Native American burial site at Chelsea. It was known locally as the “Burying Ground” and it was noted on a 1909 list of Native American burial grounds that Skinner maintained.

Staten Island’s most well-known Native American burial ground is, of course, “Burial Ridge.” This prehistoric cemetery, the largest of its kind in the New York City area, was discovered at Ward’s Point in Tottenville. It is today part of Conference House Park.

Taken from “Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island” by Patricia M. Salmon, 2006. Published by the Staten Island Museum.

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