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City officials, preservationists call for studies of Gowanus site believed to be slave burial ground

The city needs to dig deeper to verify the site is not a burial ground, city officials and preservationists say

The site is believed to be a mass burial ground for both slaves of the Van Brunt family and the Maryland 400.

An empty lot in Gowanus that the city is eyeing for a public prekindergarten may be the site of a mass grave for slaves of an 18th-century Brooklyn family. Preservationists, academics, and elected officials converged at the site on Thursday to advocate for more research on its historical significance before the city moves forward with construction, the Daily News reports.

The empty lot near the intersection of Third Avenue and Ninth Street in Gowanus has long been thought by to be the site of a mass grave for slaves of the Van Brunt family, owing to entries in a diary made by Adriance Van Brunt between 1828 and 1830 about the goings-on of the family farm in the Village of Brooklyn.

The through-lot that extends between Eighth and Ninth streets was chosen by the city as a location for the new prekindergarten in 2015, and soon after the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation hired consulting firm AKRF Inc. to bore several holes into different sites of the lot surveying for historical material.

That dig helped AKRF determine that the site was worth studying further. Now, the group that converged at the site on Thursday contend that the holes didn’t go deep enough and properly permeate the landfill underneath which bodies would be buried.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams along with state Senator Jesse Hamilton are calling for continued archaeological investigation at the site—though the state is still working on determining its historic significance.

“Our nation’s history is intricately linked with the abhorrent practice of slavery,” Adams said on Thursday. “At a time when the country is so bitterly divided on the appropriate approach to righting this historical wrong, it is imperative that New York stands for preserving history and protecting truth.”

The site is also believed by some (including Sir Patrick Stewart) to be the mass grave of the Maryland 400, a battalion who held back British insurgents allowing General George Washington to evacuate his troops under siege to Manhattan. That such a tiny site in Brooklyn would hold so many archaeological findings, however, seems unlikely.

“Our history, even though it might be painful cannot be overlooked,” Hamilton said. “It cannot be buried, and the burial sites, the sacred land should not be desecrated. So we're concerned that all the veterans that were here, and all the African Americans who were enslaved that are buried here, that their remains be respected and given honor; an honor that's due and long overdue.”