Next to the graveyard of the First Reformed Dutch Church of Brooklyn, the burial ground attached to the Dutch Church of Flatlands is, perhaps, the oldest in Brooklyn. The area was settled in 1616 and Flatlands twenty years later, in 1636. There is no data at hand giving the date of the building of the first Dutch Church of Flatlands, but it must have been some years prior to 1655.
In that year the people of Brooklyn and Amesfort (Flatlands) were ordered by the Dutch Governor to aid the people of Midwout or Flatbush, in erecting a house of worship sixty feet in length by thirty-eight in breadth, the whole to be fourteen feet in height below thebeams. The cost of erecting the Flatbush house of worship was 4,637 guilders. The first church built in Flatlands was octagon in shape and less than one-third the size of the present edifice. One pleasant Sunday morning recently I paid a visit to the old Cemetery, where for centuries generations on generations have peacefully slept.
Commodious carriage sheds occupy a position in the rear of the church. There was a tradition among the first settlers of Flatlands that the space between the church and the sheds was at one time used as an Indian burial ground. Garret P. Wyckoff who died recently (1886 approx.) aged 96 years, said that his father had said that the plot of ground mentioned was, prior to the building of the church, used as an Indian burial ground. So far as known there is nothing in the early Dutch records of the town to substantiate this statement.
Many of the mounds in the graveyard have been washed away or trampled down, and nothing remains to show the resting place of many of the first settlers but scraps of stone, the lettering of which has long since fallen into decay. The early inscriptions were in Dutch, but are easily translatable. Peter and Willimple Ammerman’s three children were buried in the churchyard in 1707. Their headstones are the oldest that can be deciphered. Here is a specimen of the earlier Dutch inscriptions:
“Hier Leyt Begraaven Her Lighhaan Van Adine Lucassen.”
“Huys Vrouw Van William Kouwenhoven, born April 25, 1686, overleeden September den 30, 1774, in her 89 Gaer Hares Levens.”
Many of the headstones in good preservation bear roughly hewn faces to represent angels. A stone of this description was placed over the grave of “Van David Sprong, soon of Van Folken Sprong overleeden 20 September, 1766.” The earlier settlers of Flatlands were buried in the churchyard with no headstones to mark their graves. Even had stones been erected it is unlikely that they would be in a legible condition at the present day. Moss from the trees has completely hidden the inscriptions on many of the tombs. The stone used for monuments prior to 1800 was of a kind not found in Brooklyn, and was probably brought from stony parts of New York State.
The churchyard attached to the Reformed Church of Flatbush is in excellent repair, but no interments are now made there. Early settlers were, no doubt, buried in the cemetery soon after the erection of the church in 1655, but owing to the custom of the time in not placing headstones over the remains of the dead, their graves cannot be located. Many of the headstones which have been erected since 1800 tell pathetic stories. Two of these certify to the deaths of Charles and Elizabeth Clarkson, man and wife, who died within two months of each other. The inscription on the tomb of the husband is as follows: The Dutch settlers of Flatlands brought many, if not all, the customs of the Fatherland, with them. They were inveterate smokers, the pipe playing an important part in all their funeral ceremonies. It was the custom not so very many years ago at a funeral in Flatlands to hand around liquor and pipes to visitors to the house of mourning. Personal invitations, by word or letter, to funerals are even issued to this day by families who are loath to give up the customs of their forefathers. It was also customary to provide a hearty luncheon for those who sat up with the corpse. Both the last named customs and those of passing around liquor and pipes have fallen into disuse. Residents of Flatlands many years ago raised tobacco for home consumption and cultivated peanuts in small quantities.
“In memory of Charles Clarkson, who, in the prime of life and in full health, was suddenly cut off, on the 2nd day of October, 1802, in the 33rd year of his age, leaving a wife and three small children.”
Within a few feet of the stone is the grave of Elizabeth Clarkson, his wife, who died on the 24th of December, 1802. Who knows but that the young wife died of grief? On the tombstone of John Vanderbilt it is stated that he was a merchant and a true patriot.
Source: Miriam Medina – Brooklyn Daily Eagle 8/29/1886 as reproduced in the History Box.
(The church and the graveyard were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.)