“Persons of Color Cemetery” sheds light on complicated part of Kinderhook history

May 06, 2017 11:57 PM

KINDERHOOK -- A little more than a dozen headstones on Rothermel Avenue across from the baseball field are all that is left of what some call a slave cemetery.

Village historian, Ruth Piwonka, said there is more to this story, which few people know about.

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“Some of the first people who were first buried here undoubtedly were slaves but of course later on they certainly weren't,” Piwonka said.

Most of the headstones that remain belong to children.

However, Piwonka said over 500 slaves and free African Americans are probably buried in what is actually the Persons of Color Cemetery at Kinderhook.

Warren Applegate, who lives in Kinderhook, said it likely survived the last 200 years because of 19th century Irish businessman and slave owner, John Rogers.

Rogers owned the land where the cemetery is and dozens of acres of nearby property, including a house around the corner.

”He was perhaps a little sympathetic with other minority groups, which had been persecuted,” Applegate said.  

Piwonka recently found Rogers' will, which in 1815, designated the quarter acre of land as a cemetery for quote, "persons of color."

“I don't think you're going to find very many cemeteries which were established by a white person for persons of color at this particular time,” Applegate said.

New York State and the National Park Service recently declared the cemetery a State Historic Site and a National Historic Site.

However, for years it was an afterthought.

“I played little league here in the early 50's and it was sumacs and weeds where the cemetery is,” Kinderhook Jim Dunham said.

Mayor Dunham said the village now maintains the burial ground.

Applegate and Piwonka are part of a group of people who are on a mission to preserve it.

An upcoming rededication ceremony will shed light on an unspoken part of history in Kinderhook, which Piwonka said was once home to one of the state's largest rural slave populations.

“Slavery was a fact of Kinderhook,” Dunham said. “Something we have to acknowledge. I know I have relatives that lived here at that time and I know they did have slaves.”

The rededication ceremony will be held May 13.

During the event, the village will install an interpretive sign explaining the history of the cemetery as well slavery and the contributions of African Americans in the region.


Nia Hamm

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