The Martyrs Monument

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The monument today

Walt Whitman, writing for The Brooklyn Standard from 1861 to 1862, penned a series of articles accompanied by original engravings illustrating the early history of Brooklyn.  In one article, he speaks of the reference with which the local residents held the sacrifices of the prison ship martyrs.  Writing in 1862, Whitman notes that“…all the terra firma of the present [Brooklyn] Navy Yard, and much of the land adjoining it also, has since been reclaimed from the dominion of old Neptune – that is, it has been filled in.  Of course, the whole scene has been completely changed from what it was in the times of the Revolutionary War when the ships lay here.  At that period, the spot that is now just west of the wall along Flushing Avenue was a low-stretching sand hill, and it was in and adjacent to the spot that the thousands of the American martyrs were mostly buried.”

Carolee Inskeep, who relates this passage in her The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries1 Inskeep, Carolee; The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries; Ancestry Publishing, 1998;ISBN 0916489892, 9780916489892, adds;

“In 1791, John Jackson acquired the Remsen property [which contained the burial sites].  As the tide eroded the beach, and bones were exposed, Jackson collected the remains.  In 1808, they were placed in thirteen coffins, representing the thirteen colonies, and laid to rest in a vault on Jackson’s farm outside the Navy Yard wall, at the corner of Hudson and York Street.

“Benjamin Romaine, a former prisoner of the British, purchased Jackson’s farm in 1839 and erected an antechamber over the vault, caring for it at his own expense.  He was buried there in 1844, having adopted the spot as his own family burial ground.

“The Martyrs’ Monument Association formed in 1855.  They selected a site in Fort Greene Park where, in 1873, a brick vault was constructed for the soldiers’ remains.  A monument was erected over the vault.  Designed by Stanford White, and dedicated in 1908, the 148-foot granite shaft supports a large bronze urn that was intended to house an eternal flame. A stone staircase, one hundred feet wide, leads from the street to the column.”

Benjamin Romaine was a Revolutionary War soldier and Tammany Hall politician who operated a school for both boys and girls in New York, among whose more famous attendees were Washington Irving.  In his later years, he would engage then-Vice President John Calhoun in debate over the issue of state sovereignty.

In November, 2008, the 100th anniversary celebration of the erection of the Martyrs’ Monument was held in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn.

Endnotes

Endnotes
1 Inskeep, Carolee; The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries; Ancestry Publishing, 1998;ISBN 0916489892, 9780916489892