By Mark Reynolds
After three years, the New Paltz Slave Cemetery has been identified and is now surrounded by a wooden fence and new signage. The cemetery was founded in 1780 and was initially known as the Abraham Elting Slave Cemetery. It is located on the hill behind the Anthony Yelverton House.
Town Historian Joan Kelley said they dug two trenches, each six inches deep, and sifted dirt and collected a number of manmade items, such as parts of a clay smoking pipe. Tree roots made digging deeper nearly impossible.
Lloyd Police Chief James Janso said by using special ground penetrating radar, at least the bodies of three slaves were identified as having been buried at the site.
Kelly said in 1777 Lloyd town records mentioned that Anthony Yelverton ran a ferry service across the Hudson River using slaves. She said his tax assessments took a big hit after his ferry capsized and 12 slaves drowned.
“It’s hard to say they were worth $100 a piece, but a horse back then was worth $60, so you figure he had many slaves,” she said. “It made sense because he had a saw mill and had to have a lot of strong guys around to row the ferry.”
Janso said the task of restoring the grave site is finally finished.
“I’m very proud of the project, which took us three years and a lot of people helped along the way,” he said. “Now we have a piece of our history that we are able to tell and we can treat them like the people and the residents that they were; so it’s a good day.”
Kelley said, “I am very pleased that we found it with everybody’s cooperation and help. It was the Chief [Janso] who came to me, saying he had heard about a slave cemetery and did I know where it was?”
Supervisor Dave Plavchak said this was an interesting project.
“It took a lot of people to find it, a lot of people to identify it, put the fence up and make it known and now we have to take care of it. It’s another community thing where people came together and we got it done under Joan Kelley and James Janso’s leadership,” he said. Plavchak also thanked the Lloyd Highway Department for their assistance and Brad Scott for the donation of the fence.
The project also received support from the Archaeology and Geology Departments of SUNY New Paltz, especially Professor Joseph Diamond and his students.”