Restricted from Christian churchyards within the city, Africans developed a burial ground consisting of a small plot of land located outside the city’s northern palisade. As the enslaved population grew, so did the Burial Ground, eventually covering five to six acres, or about five present-day city blocks. Even here, harsh legal restrictions applied. No more than twelve persons were permitted in funeral procession or at graveside services, and interment was not allowed at night, the customary time for many African burial rituals. Enslaved Africans were required to have a written pass in order to travel more than a mile away from home.
Finger rings were found with five burials: 71, 115, 242, 310 and 398. Plain bands and two rings with settings were recovered. Two burials- 242 and 310 had identical copper-allow rings with glass insets. Both rings showed fragmentation, and were fragile.
Four cast, copper-alloy buttons with gilt faces and applied loop shanks were recovered from Burial 6. These buttons had an anchor-and-rope design. One of the buttons were in excellent condition. One was recognizable, and the other two were degraded. The buttons may be associated with the British Navy, and were spaced in a line along the torso, suggesting they were fasteners. It is believed they were associated with some type of cloth, although no cloth survived.
Shroud pins were recovered from 159 different burials, and were the most common artifact recovered. Most pins were mineralized and fragmented, although one intact pin measured 2.5cm. the presence of pins implies the presence of shrouds, although not much cloth survived.
The Archaeology of 290 Broadway
Excavation of the site of 290 Broadway took place in compliance with Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The bulk of the African Burial Ground/290 Broadway site excavation was undertaken by Historic Conservation Inc. Later, John Milner Associates took over excavation, producing this 4-volume set of reports presenting their descriptions and interpretations of that excavated portion of 290 Broadway not directly related to the excavated human remains.
The New York African Burial Ground: Unearthing the African Presence in Colonial New York
Last updated: January 14, 2022