According to the New York Law School website Citylandnyc.org, earlier in December, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commissioner voted to designate the Joseph Rodman Drake Park and Enslaved People’s Burial Ground in the Bronx as a landmark.
Drake Park was opened in 1910, and contains two colonial-era cemeteries. During the 1700s, three families – the Hunts, the Willetts, and the Leggetts – dominated the area. The Hunt family established a cemetery on the northside of Hunts Point Road for the three families by the 1720s. All three families enslaved both African and Indigenous people, and those enslaved people were buried in a cemetery across Hunts Point Road.
The park was built to preserve the grave of Hunt family relative Joseph Rodman Drake, who died in 1820. The Hunt-Willets-Leggetts family cemetery is still a feature in Drake Park, with multiple grave markers visible and enclosed by a fence.
The burials in the enslaved people’s burial ground are anonymous; no visible grave markers remain, and there is no record documenting the names of who is buried there or when they died. Over time the enslaved people’s burial ground was covered over in dirt, gravel or asphalt. In 2013 a NYC Department of Education official found an old photograph of the burial site and began researching. A study used a ground-penetrating radar survey that uncovered four likely burials in the portion of the park that was identified as the enslaved people’s burial ground.
A pathway currently runs along what used to be Hunts Point Road, dividing the Hunt-Willett-Leggets family cemetery from the enslaved people’s burial ground. The Parks Department officially renamed the “Joseph Rodman Drake Park and Enslaved African Burial Ground” in 2021 with new signage to reflect the site’s history.