There are any number of fascinating cemeteries in New York City, but Trinity Church’s three cemeteries may have the highest proportion of familiar names — and if you’re a Revolutionary War buff or a Hamilton fan, the original, downtown cemetery easily takes the cake. (The uptown Cemetery & Mausoleum has some very interesting people as well… but that’s a subject for another post.)
The Trinity Church you can see today is the third on this spot; the original building was built in 1696 but, unfortunately, burned to the ground in 1776. However, the nearby St. Paul’s Chapel is part of the parish of Trinity Church, and may be the second oldest surviving building in Manhattan, after Fraunces Tavern. (It, too, is the subject for another post.) The current Trinity Church was completed in 1846, making it still quite distinguished in age.
I’m not religious and I don’t know much about architecture, so while I think the interior of Trinity Church is pretty, it’s the cemetery outside that really captures my attention.
The cemetery here has not been in active use in well over a century (the uptown Cemetery & Mausoleum having been established when it ran out of room). Many of the graves are quite old and difficult to read.
Remember when I mentioned Hamilton? This imposing monument is the final resting place of Alexander Hamilton, our first treasury secretary. In front of it is buried his wife Eliza, née Schuyler.
Also buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery are Philip Hamilton, Alexander and Eliza’s oldest son; Angelica Schuyler Church, Eliza’s sister and Alexander’s sister-in-law; William Bayard Jr., in whose house Hamilton breathed his last; and Hamilton’s good friend Hercules Mulligan.
The most prominent memorial, however, is to John Watts — a New York politician I’d never heard of and had to look up. Apparently he was a prominent New York politician in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Watts was also connected to (at least) three prominent New York families: the Schuylers (yes, the ones mentioned above), the Van Cortlandts, and the DeLanceys. If you’ve spent much time in the city, you probably recognize those latter two names.
My bio says right there that I love cemeteries, so it’s no surprise that I enjoy wandering this one so much. If you’re going to visit any cemetery in New York City, and if you’re going to limit it to only one, this is probably the one to pick, the intersection of historical notability and ease of access.
(But why would you want to limit it to only one??)
Location: 75 Broadway, Manhattan
Nearest Public Transit: 1 at Rector Street; N/R/W at Rector Street; J/Z at Broad Street; 2/3/4/5 at Wall Street
Estimated Timespan: 30 minutes to an hour, depending how much time you spend in the church itself