New Place For a Lost Grave

Respected in life, deserves same in death

      A lone grave off Morris Park Lane in East Hampton was the burial site, it is believed, of “Ned, Faithtul negro manservant to Captain Jeremiah Osborn,” according to the marker that was once there, which stated his date of death as Aug. 8, 1817.

       Not much else is known about Ned, and, until recently, what became of his grave was unclear as well.

       In 2008, East Hampton Town’s nature preserve committee, under the leadership of Eileen Roaman, who died earlier this year, put together a list of the historic gravesites scattered about town, and members are updating it this year.

       There are over 30 family cemeteries or single gravesites throughout the town, Richard Whalen, the co-chairman of the nature preserve committee, told the town board on Tuesday. Under state law, he said, abandoned cemeteries revert to the ownership of the town.

       But many of the small burial plots, which are primarily in Springs and in the Northwest Woods and are often marked off with low white wood-rail fences, are surrounded by private house lots — and some, Mr. Whalen said, have actually een subsumed by them.

       Ned’s grave appears to be one of them. Mr. Whalen said he had walked into the 15-by-15-foot burial plot in the early 1980s and read the words on the servant’s headstone.

       It is unlikely, he said yesterday, that Ned was a slave, as slavery was abolished in New York State in 1799. And, he said, the inscription on the stone and the burial site in what was then called Freetown indicate that Ned was well regarded.

       The nature preserve committee found in 2008 that, though Ned’s grave was included on a list of those maintained by the Town Parks Department, the once-wooded area was built up with houses, and the grave could not be immediately found. It could not be easily seen, and aerial photographs on Google Earth and other sites did not indicate it was still there.

       A subdivision map and a 1988 survey of the surrounding land were located, both showing the gravesite, Mr. Whalen said.

       But now, Russ Calemmo, another nature preserve committee member, told the town board the area contains plantings and a barbecue pit is nearby. There is no sign of the headstone, he said.

       What appears to have happened, Mr. Calemmo said, is that a previous owner of the land had difficulty selling it, and removed the fence around the burial site, which is essentially in the backyard of a half-acre house lot.

       “We’re suggesting . . . a disinterment, and a reinterment of Ned’s remains,” Mr. Whalen told the board. Under state law, the town would have to apply to State Supreme Court for permission. The remains, suggested the nature preserve committee members, could be buried at a more public site.

       “Ned was respected by the people who buried him almost 200 years ago,” Mr. Whalen said. “And we think he should have the respect of having his burial venerated. . . .”

       Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley suggested the remains be reburied “someplace very public . . . easily accessible and prominent, and someplace the public will not just stumble upon it, but be drawn to it.” She suggested a new gravesite on the town-owned former Lester farm at North Main and Cedar Streets. “I think it’s an important part of our history,” she said.

       Mr. Whalen said by phone Tuesday that the committee hopes to produce a “master report” of graves tucked away throughout the town sometime next year. Of all of the single graves and family cemeteries the group visited, he said, “none of them was as impacted” by surrounding development as Ned’s grave. “We’re hoping that by having a final, well-documented inventory . . . that this won’t happen again,” he said.