Tiny Slave Cemetery

How many times over the past years I have thought of the residents of the tiny cemetery nestled near the pond and woods that used to be behind my childhood home?

The local legend (1) was that it had been a slave cemetery sometime between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  There was a black slave cemetery here with the first mentions of it in articles (August 26, 1937 and another in 1938) by Charles Bodine, local Walden historian, in his “Historic Walden” column in the Walden Citizen Herald.  He says  “the earliest burial place in our village was a negro graveyard at Liberty Street on the West Side.”(2, 2a)  Thank you to Walden resident, Ruth O’Reilly for putting me on the track of Bodine’s mention.  Ruth (a long time neighbor and cousin) has published an interesting letter (3) about the cemetery and some early statistics about slaves and free blacks in the Town of Montgomery.   My mother, Dorothy Yeaple, who passed away in 1986, found several stones at the edge of the woods in the 1970s.  The area was grown over, filled in with decaying leaves so that only the tops of a few stones showed above ground.  My father, Lawrence Yeaple, carefully removed one, cleaned it with water but found no markings and replaced it.  He methodically checked the area as much as a concerned individual could at the time and found what appeared to be 6 grave stones and became an unofficial care taker.  They were “slabs of irregular size, guessing slate, approximately 2 feet tall by about 10″ wide and 1-1/2 to 2” thick,” my Dad recently confirmed to me (my first size and location notes made while visiting are dated Feb 6, 1999).

During the 25 years between finding the graves and land development, my father showed the graves to a number of different people, among them Sam Phelps (of Feathers and Fur fame, who also wrote about them in his column in the Wallkill Valley Times on Feb 12, 1997)(4), and to family and friends. When showing them to Walt Sweed of Walden, Walt found more stones –12 stones in total—possibly 6 graves with foot stones but more likely 12 graves.  A number of reporters visited including Alan Snell of the Times Herald-Record who wrote an article that appeared on Feb. 12, 2002 (5).  My Dad had a number of visitors at the house asking about the graves including representatives on several occasions from the NAACP.  But sadly, it was deemed too small for them to be able to investigate further.  So, without written record of the cemetery (this was before finding Bodine’s mentions (2 & 2a)), it seemed nothing could be done.

Primarily wetlands, a natural gorge (about 6 ft deep when I was a child), runs down the hillside above and to the right of us and delivered fresh natural spring water directly into our pond, creating a beautiful babbling brook during the high water months.  Early in my lifetime this pond became the local skating rink in winter and the best pollywog/frog source with “peepers” to serenade us in spring.

When a developer built two houses on the last bit of undeveloped land between us and a tall wooded hill, the wetland included the pond and cemetery, the DEC was luckily on hand to step in and protect the cemetery.  I lived in California during this time and recall visiting during the construction and seeing tape cordoning off a remaining small cluster of trees–protecting the small cemetery area.  The rest was cleared, filled in and leveled.  The developer probably had no idea when buying the land of the obstacles he would encounter. The natural water source flowed directly into the middle of where he intended to build.  (Water still flows from this natural spring and has since been diverted into a culvert added at the end of the street.)I know it must still be here, but today there is no trace of the elusive little cemetery–most of the trees are gone, no noticeable stones, and still no account of who the occupants might be or how many souls rest here. Many people don’t even realize that New York State had slaves. While not the preferred solution for the early New York province, a farm labor shortage in the Hudson River Valley, brought the first 11 slaves to our area as early as 1626.(6)  Early Statistics are surprising.  “The Black Minority in Early New York” states that there was phenomenal population growth [in New York State] in the years directly before the American Revolution–total New York State population of 18,067 (2,170 Negro) in 1689, to total population of 168,007 (19,873 Negro) in 1771.(7)  In 1781 a law was passed promising freedom to any New York slave in return for 3 years of military service in the American Army.  It is important to note that many of the black population of early New York State were free citizens… and never slaves.

One significant “effect of the Revolution in New York State removed the economic benefits of slavery as a labor institution: The influence of the natural rights philosophy, the realities of war-induced changes, and the demographic and economic transformations of the war years”–and “…after 1817 no New Yorker could own a slave.”(8)

Slave or free, native or pioneer, or all–just who is buried in our little cemetery?  We may never know for sure…but with newer modern technology, especially GPR (ground penetrating radar) (9,10) would show not only the exact location but also the number of graves.  Hopefully others will have interest and ability to conduct this type of survey to find out and this tiny obscure cemetery will not be totally forgotten.




1)   I personally first heard the legend of a slave cemetery as a youngster in approx 1960 from an elderly Uncle, Jesse Terwilliger (b. 1903-d. 1971) who was raised in a house on Liberty Street at Seeley.  My Dad, Larry Yeaple, built our house beginning in 1950 on the extension of Liberty Street and we moved in during the summer of 1952 and remained the last house on the cul-de-sac street until the 1990s.

(2) Charles Bodine, Citizen Herald, August  26, 1937.

(2a) Charles Bodine, Citizen Herald, 1938  [References updated, 6-20-16]

(3) Ruth O’Reilly, Letter to Wallkill Valley Times, Feb. 2002
(4) Sam Phelps, Jr.,” Feathers and Fur” column, Wallkill Valley Times, Feb. 12, 1997

(5) Alan Snell, “Historians to study graveyard,” Times Herald-Record, Feb. 12, 2002

(6) David Kobrin, The Black Minority in Early New York, 1975.   (University of the State of New York, The State Education Department Office of State History, Albany 1971 and reprinted by New York State American Revolution Bicentennial Commission in 1975), Page 3.

(7)_____ ibid., 8, 9.

(8)_____ ibid., 41, 42.

(9) Personal communication, Oct. 10, 2002, John R. Lukacs, PhD (Professor of Anthropology, Director of Graduate Studies, UO), friend and former Walden Resident.

(10) Deborah Medenbach “Imaging, not digging, will unearth details of slave cemetery,” Times Herald Record, Jan. 31, 2002


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Icing on the Cake!

Jenny's birthdayMy littlest one arrived a couple of weeks before Christmas–29 years ago this week.  And what a present!

After having two boys first, I was really surprised to learn that boys and girls really are different… her personality was a treat that arrived with her, with absolutely no pink or blue coaching.  She has been herself from day one with a delightful yet outspoken way.  She was a content baby with a ready smile and very sociable.  She would quietly take take in all that was going on around her rather than being extra cuddly.  Even at pre-school, the older children used to run to greet us looking for Jenny as soon as we arrived.  All three of my children thrived at this wonderful pre-school in Los angeles, at the B’Nai Tikvah Temple.

She’s the one who because of her winter birthday attended a local Lutheran church kindergarten rather than  public kindergarten–because the public school said she was too young (within a couple of days of the cutoff date, sigh)–while with two older brothers and being very social we knew she belonged in school.  And she did; and thrived.  Her very first day of Kindergarten, lunch box in hand, she bolted from the car and ran to the door, turning back just long enough to say “Bye Mom” — and left me teary eyed at the curb!  But this also summarizes Jenny’s personality–a zest for life!

I wish our world could be filled with more young women like my daughter.  She’s beautiful, smart, charming, funny (a natural sense of humor–see the photos), very organized, hard working, loving, and patriotic.  What more could a mother ask?

First signs of her strong spirit and strength surfaced really early… the best example I can recall happened when she was about 4.   We had spent an afternoon at the beach and were walking back.  We usually took the walkway that angled along a steep incline to street level but this day we climbed through the ice plant up the steep sandy dune.  Jenny slipped in the sand and slid a couple of feet much to her annoyance.  Several teens walking behind us(oblivious to us) had the unfortunate timing of laughing at something they were discussing.  Jenny assumed they had laughed at her spill.  Well–hands on hips, then one accusatory finger pointed their way–and she absolutely let them have it!  “Don’t you stupid people laugh at me!” came the booming voice from my adorable and sweet 4-year old miss.  What surprised me most was their response!  They were apologizing, as though not apologizing would have dire consequences!

We still tease her about “the look,”  the one that flashes across her eyes; the one that involuntarily signals the observer they have crossed a serious line.  Be afraid, be very afraid!

I love you and I love “the look.”   To my little one who is now a wonderful young woman, all grown up, professional, and married to the most wonderful guy.  I wouldn’t change a thing about you!  You will always be the Icing on my Cake!  Happy Birthday, Jenny!

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The Money Crisis by Judge Alfred Yaple

First Published August 7, 2011

The Money Crisis: Its Causes and Remedy was written by Judge Alfred Yaple in 1873 (original source: Library of Congress).  Today is a good day to make a PDF of this little book available! (Use the title to go to the PDF.)Judge Yaple is a distant relative–descended from another son of our common immigrant ancestor, Philip Henrich Yaple and his second wife, Susanna Vesqueau Heimbach, widow of Matthias Heimbach.Judge Yaple was a teacher, a lawyer, a Judge, served in many legislative capacities, and well loved and respected.  I can only find brief description from the Resolution issued at his death on Jan 26, 1895 (ae 65) giving a glimpse of Alfred Yaple, the man.

“…he loved to read, speculate, ponder upon religious subjects as well as general sciences, indeed his restless mind was ever engaged upon some abstruse problem, legal, scientific or moral.

“…Very few men, however, could so universally reward … attention with imparted intelligence, novel thoughts and striking suggestions.

“… his ashes were cemented in a tombstone at the home of his childhood, Pike Run, Eagle Township, Vinton County, Ohio and so has passed from among men, one of the most unique and interesting persons of Ohio.”  ~Members of the Bar of Ross County, Ohio

In this nearly 140 year old booklet, simply put, Judge Yaple lays out the remedy for: The Money Crisis.

Posted by at Sunday, August 07, 2011

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Happy Summer Birthdays to my Boys!

First Published June 21, 2011

I am blessed.  Three healthy, handsome children, all now grown — but ALL for a brief time that felt like eternity under the age of five, ALL in car seats at the same time, and for a very short while all in diapers. Going anywhere was an event, taking longer to pack and get ready than whatever it was we were supposed to do!  One new baby in my arms, a toddler under 1-1/2 holding my hand–meaning my oldest (still under 5) was loose! Two cars required when we went anywhere as a family… but ALL so worth all the early commotion.Son number one was actually unnamed for two days because although we had picked names long in advance of the big event, the name just didn’t fit when he arrived!  Finally, we agreed on Brian (hard to choose a good first name to go with a one-syllable last name). I felt like a bad mother already:  No name when the big day arrived and no experience with babies!  I certainly learned fast. Two years later, second son, Michael, arrived and really couldn’t have been named anything else.  He was definitely, Michael.  Just under a year and a half later, Jennifer joined the crowd.  She was wonderful–such a treat and so different in personality after having two noisy, squabbling boys (and I still tell her she’s the icing on the cake).  All bright, all so individual, and to my delight all friends now that they are adults.

But this is really about the boys.  They were a real handful. That’s an understatement.  They were busy, perpetual motion machines, non-stop commotion, and did I mention all the commotion?  I always worked full time and if not for some wonderful au pair help over the years, I would have surely gone crazy, especially after a divorce when my daughter was just three.

A few years later I was reading a survey on popular names in the U.S. during the years they were born…I guess I shouldn’t have been a surprised to read an affiliated survey result stating that difficult and disruptive preschool boys were most often named, you guessed it:  Brian, followed by Michael!

I love you all and I wouldn’t change you for the world!

Posted by at Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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Great Uncle Jacob–Civil War POW

First Published April 24, 2011

In honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War this month…

Our family learned some time ago that our great grandfather’s brother, Jacob Yeaple, died in captivity during the Civil War.  A sad fact, but just a cold fact until our cousin Terry Moran recently found a detailed record.  It turns out Jacob died at Belle Isle (Richmond, VA).  Our relative came alive for me as I continued to read about Belle Isle.  We learned that he had been taken prisoner of war on October 10, 1863 and died the following year while still in captivity at 44.  He really came to life, as I envisioned him proud in his uniform as I continued to read information we didn’t know before.  Jacob was born in Marbletown, NY in 1818 and had gray eyes, sandy-gray hair and was 5′ 10.”  My Dad born well over 100 years later, has gray eyes and had sandy hair as a young man too.

Further information about Belle Isle found on Wikipedia brought tears to my eyes.
The island served as a prison for Union soldiers during the American Civil War. Between 1862 and 1865, the island was home to about 30,000 POW’s and as many as 1,000 died, though accounts vary with the South claiming the death rate was low, while the North claimed it was very high. [1]
…A list of prisoners who died at Belle Isle is available. The Battle of Walkerton was the result of a failed Union attempt to free them.
In April 1864, Peter DeWitt, Assistant Surgeon at Jarvis Hospital, Baltimore, received a number of prisoners recently released from the Prisoner of War camp at Belle Isle. He described the “great majority” of the patients as being:

“in a semi-state of nudity…laboring under such diseases as chronic diarrhoea, phthisis pulmonalis, scurvy, frost bites, general debility, caused by starvation, neglect and exposure. Many of them had partially lost their reason, forgetting even the date of their capture, and everything connected with their antecedent history. They resemble, in many respects, patients laboring under cretinism. They were filthy in the extreme, covered in vermin…nearly all were extremely emaciated; so much so that they had to be cared for even like infants.”[2]
May God Bless you Uncle Jacob for your immeasurable sacrifice.
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My Local History

First published Feb. 12, 2011
Blog #1:  Seems like a good first place to start is with my own local history.
I’ve always enjoyed history, especially local history, and never realized there was probably a very real reason for that strong sense of roots.  I have just returned to the Hudson Valley after living in California for a number of years.  I’m delighted to be back with family and old friends after so many years of missing home and the mountains.
And speaking of mountains… In 1975 someone from the Ulster County Historical Society contacted  my Aunt, to let her know an historical calendar was being produced for our Nation’s 200th Birthday year and in it they were using a photo of a log cabin built by our ancestor!  A log cabin?  Our ancestor?  It turned out our immigrant ancestor Philip Henrich Jäppel & Maria Barbara Hold Yaple’s son, Adam Yeaple and his wife Arriantje Hendrickson Yeaple built a log cabin in the Shawangunk Mountains near Mohonk.  The cabin still stands and has been dated as built in approximately 1771 by Adam for his new bride, Arriantje.  Adam fought in Cantine’s Regiment in Ulster County during the Revolutionary War, which is why it was featured in the calendar.  Adam returned after the war where they farmed on the side of a beautiful mountain and raised eleven children.  We have found the name spelled primarily 3-4 different ways, although there are other variations too.  Adam’s ancestors use “Yeaple,” with no idea why his spelling is different.In spite of my father building my childhood home less than 15 miles from Mohonk — fast forward 240 years later:  we had no knowledge of the cabin, of Adam and Arriantje, or our family origins, until that amazing call from my Aunt in 1975.  Since then, we have enjoyed many outings and hikes visiting the cabin–it is still in remarkable condition, so filled with pioneer spirit and history, it has been an inspiring and rewarding journey researching Adam and his family.
I’m loving that every new turn in our family history, reveals something further to explore.  Philip Henrich Jäpel & Maria Barbara Hold married, leaving Dörrenbach, Saarland (Germany), sailing from Rotterdam to Philadelphia aboard the Edinburgh, they arrived in Philadelphia on September 1, 1753 (another record shows they arrived Oct 2, 1753).  We’re not exactly sure if Philip spent most of his years in Upper Milford Township (then Northampton County) PA, or if he moved on into NY with his adult sons, although there is evidence of him in PA, VA, and in Delaware County, NY, we know that he visited Mohonk at least once –the home of Adam and Arriantje.  Adam is believed to have been born here in 1754 and we have a baptismal certificate for Arriantje dated 1753.
Back to today:  while I’m not telling when I was born (!),  I have had many years in advertising and print production, and switched to Web Design in 1997.  As AdProse, I’m celebrating my 20th year.  I live in the here and now, enjoy history, and look forward to the future.Godspeed!
Gail Yeaple
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