Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Urban Environmentalist NYC: Slope-Gowanus Burial Ground Revealed

August 25th, 2008 · 1 Comment

On Saturday, August 16th, a “Maryland 400” remembrance ceremony was held at the Michael A. Rawley American Legion Post, located between 8th and 9th Streets and Third & Fourth Avenues. A faded New York State historic blue and yellow sign has been hanging in front of the Post on 9th Street commemorating the “Maryland Heroes” since 1952. “Here lie buried 256 Maryland soldiers who fell in the Battle of Brooklyn August 27, 1776,” it simply states.

This past Monday, however, we were surprised to see new signage had joined it—a Revolutionary War Heritage Trail sign (pictured above). Much more visible to the passerby, this illustrated sign states that the vicinity of 3rd Avenue and 9th Street represents “the presumed location of the burial site of more than 250 soldiers of the Colonel Smallwood Regiment from Maryland.” As you continue to read, the role Marylanders played in holding back the British—and enabling the American forces retreat across Gowanus Creek—unfolds with dramatic clarity. After a battle with heavy casualties, the British buried the American dead in mass graves on a hillock in the middle of the swamp. The sign states that the exact location of the burial ground is unknown. But we found a description of the exact location of the site in a wonderful old book, A History of the City of Brooklyn, by Henry R. Stiles.

Here is a telling excerpt from the Stiles book: “…..Composed chiefly of young men of the most prominent and influential families of Maryland. Two hundred and fifty-six of them were slain in the desperate struggle with Cornwallis’ grenadiers, near the Cortelyou house. These noble martyrs of the Maryland and Delaware regiments were buried on a small island of dry ground, scarcely an acre in extent, which formerly rose out of the marshy salt–meadow on the farm of Adrian Van Brunt. This spot then, and for some time afterwards, covered with trees and undergrowth, was carefully preserved intact from axe or plough during Mr. Van Brunt’s lifetime; but the remorseless surveyor’s lines have passed over it, and its site is now far below the grade of surrounding streets. Third Avenue intersects its westerly end, and Seventh and Eighth Street indicate two of its sides.”

Over the years, a number of people have searched for its true history. On January 17, 1957, a story in the New York Times reported that three young men were digging up the cellar of an unused Red Devil paint factory at Third Avenue and 8th Street in search of the remains. According to the article, the site extended from 7th to 8th Street and from Third Avenue to “a line 120 feet to the eastward.” According to the article, the burial trenches “were still visible in 1905 when Henry Wilhack paved them over to make a coalyard.” No remains were found. The site is now occupied by auto repair shops, Carousel Beverages, Powerplay—among others. The headquarters of the Center for the Urban Environment abuts the area and, it has been said, that ghostly presences have appeared at night on our lower level. We like to think that these spirits are the Marylanders buried here looking for greater recognition and memorial of their ultimate sacrifice.

Ruth Edebohls

(Ruth Edebohls is the Coordinator of Urban Tours at the Center for the Urban Environment. To learn more about the Center visit us at www.bcue.org.)

Tags: CUE · Gowanus · Park Slope · Urban Environmentalist

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 amarilla // Aug 29, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Thanks, Ruth, for this shout out for the Maryland boys.