Slave burial ground located in Lloyd

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 4/5/22

After much research and work in the field, a slave burial ground has been located on a hillside above the Highland Landing near the historic Yelverton House.

Joseph E. Diamond, Associate Professor …

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Slave burial ground located in Lloyd


After much research and work in the field, a slave burial ground has been located on a hillside above the Highland Landing near the historic Yelverton House.

Joseph E. Diamond, Associate Professor of Anthropology at SUNY New Paltz, has been working with his students, Lloyd Town Historian Joan Kelley and Lloyd Police Chief James Janso in preservation of the grave site.

Diamond said after using ground penetrating radar in the spring of 2021, the slave cemetery was finally located. Last fall he brought a group of his students out to gently unearth artifacts and to outline the border of the burial site itself.

Kelley estimated there are 12 graves in this area based on newspaper articles she has collected, especially ones written by a local historian, Warren G. Sherwood, who claimed in 1947 that “Negro slaves” were buried on a hill above the Hudson River.
Kelley described the process of their search for the graves.

“The question is what are we going to find because they may or may not have been buried in coffins and the bones may or may not be here. But if we match the ground penetrating radar to where there’s disturbances, we can see disturbances in the dirt and the color, that might indicate a grave,” she said.
Kelley reached out to professionals at Yale University and Vassar College for additional information.

Further research showed that Anthony Yelverton purchased a property just up from the Hudson River in 1740, likely from Isaac Deyo, all of which was originally part of the New Paltz land patent. Yelverton’s home, built around 1754 into a hillside still stands today at 39 Maple Avenue. It is the oldest residence in the Town of Lloyd. According to Wikipedia, it is the only surviving structure from “Yelverton’s Landing,” and once served as a tavern, storehouse, and private residence.

Reportedly, a ferry manned by Yelverton slaves, sank while crossing the Hudson River and the slaves who perished were buried at the site, which Kelley estimates happened between 1780 and 1790.

Kelley said you have to take oral history with a grain of salt, “but the fact that it’s been around for so long gives it some credence. It may not be 100% true but there’s probably some truth in it.”

Professor Diamond said they dug two troughs – one at nine meters and another at six meters in length.
“We’re actually looking to find normal grave shafts but I don’t know how deep they are going to be here,” he said. “Normally people are buried on an east-west axis and that’s why we’re going north-south. I don’t want to find bones but just the tops of a grave shaft.”

Diamond said because of Covid 19, “this is the first time a lot of these students have had the chance to be out in the field,” adding that they are mostly Juniors and Seniors in his New York State archaeology class.

Diamond said the students will wash the artifacts they have collected and their notes will be turned into a pdf. that will then be uploaded to the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

“It will be on file up there and the Town of Lloyd will keep all of the artifacts and the notes,” he said.

Diamond became hooked on archaeology in the sixth grade after finding a spear projectile point along the Hudson River. Quickly his interest in dinosaurs took a back seat.

“My friend and I were walking along the river in Esopus and we looked down and there was the projectile point and we looked a little harder and found a denticulate, which is like a shredder. So if you have plant material and you want to shred it or if you’re making a spear and you want to take the bark off the shaft, you’ll see a shredder peel it right off.”

In the future Kelley hopes to install a nearly indestructible sign to mark the grave site, “like the metal ones on the Walkway Over The Hudson.”

Student Naomi Hertz said one her majors is anthropology with a focus on archaeology. This is her first chance to work in the field since Covid hit.

“I’m really excited to be here finally doing some form of archaeology,” she said. “I’m a senior at SUNY New Paltz and I’ve been an archaeology major for two years. I have always been interested in history and I took his [Diamond’s] introduction to archaeology and this is very cool because my other major is geology, which combines history with geologic aspects and actually doing field work.”

Chief Janso helped to sift the soil to see what artifacts he could uncover. He said he became interested in this field after taking a history class in college.

“The professor was very animated about his teaching and you couldn’t help but being pulled into it. He inspired me to keep reading about history, local folklore and legends. Since then I’ve always liked investigating the history behind the stories,” he said.

Janso said through his involvement in the Wreaths Across America program that honors Veterans during the holiday season, he became interested in the cemeteries in the Town of Lloyd, especially the smaller ones that dot the landscape; one in particular was listed as a slave cemetery.

“I always heard about it but there was nothing in our books about it, just a few points about it and the Yelverton house,” he said. “This mystery drew me in even more.”

Janso reached out to Kelley, “who is an amazing detective and as a cop would be top notch. She pulled together all her research and paperwork.” He noted that the town owns the grave site plot and they will soon be able to map out a near exact border of it.

“Today it’s been about a year and a half working on the project. Archaeology is a hands on thing and there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity,” he said. “If we can say this is the location of the slave site then we can rededicate it, give them the proper respect and memorial they deserve, not just as property, but as the human beings that they were; so that’s our goal.”