Cemetery of the Week #41: Trinity Churchyard

Alexander Hamilton’s grave

Trinity Churchyard
74 Trinity Place (Broadway at Wall Street)
New York, NY 10006
Founded: prior to 1697
Number of interments: Tens of thousands, according to The Graveyard Shift
Open: Weekdays 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday and Holidays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3.

One of the oldest surviving graveyards in Manhattan is Trinity Churchyard, at the head of Wall Street. The original New Yorkers used the area north of the church as a graveyard even before the King of England granted land to the parish in 1697. Three centuries later, skyscrapers overshadow the spire of the old church and its beautiful old tombstones.

The most famous permanent resident of Trinity Churchyard is Alexander Hamilton, who served as George Washington’s aide-de-camp, commanded troops at the Battle of Yorktown, became the first Secretary of the Treasury and conceived a plan to pay off the debts incurred during the Revolutionary War. He died in 1804 died after a duel with then-Vice President Aaron Burr.

The original monument still marks Hamilton’s grave, erected by the Vestrymen of Trinity Church, who I’m sure were thrilled to score such an illustrious addition to their churchyard. Hamilton’s epitaph reads, “The Corporation of Trinity Church Has erected this Monument In Testimony of their Respect For The Patriot of incorruptible Integrity, The Soldier of approved Valor, the Statesman of consummate Wisdom, Whose Talents and Virtues will be admired By Grateful Posterity Long after this Marble shall have mouldered into Dust.”

Other historic personages buried in the old churchyard were not immediately celebrated by their contemporaries. Francis Lewis, the only signer of the Declaration of Independence buried on Manhattan Island, lies in Trinity Churchyard somewhere. Trinity’s Register of Burials lists him, without noting the location of his grave. Instead, he’s remembered by a bronze plaque placed near the church in 1947 by the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration. Also buried here is Robert Fulton, a painter who developed the first practical steamboat as well as a submarine for use in torpedo attack. In 1901, eighty-six years after Fulton’s death, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers erected a monument to him.

Remembered at the time of his death was William Bradford, the first man in the Colonies to assert the freedom of the press. On his 200th birthday in 1863, an exact copy replaced his original gravestone at the behest of the New York Historical Society. That same pride in the city’s history shielded Trinity Churchyard’s priceless real estate from changes that might have engulfed it.

You can pick up a cemetery guide inside the church. The church encourages people to eat their lunches on the cemetery benches and to come inside for a service or to see the crypt. A schedule of events, including concerts or readings of Shakespeare, is online here.

Useful links:

A History of Trinity Episcopal Church

Photos of the church and churchyard

Gravestones of Trinity Churchyard

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Trinity Churchyard:

The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries

Permanent New Yorkers

Graveyards of Colonial New York City on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #65: the African Burial Ground

Cemetery of the Week #73: St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard

5 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #41: Trinity Churchyard

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