Town of Huntington works to ID those buried at hidden African-American cemetery

HUNTINGTON, Suffolk County (WABC) -- Historians in Huntington are trying to identify the people who may be buried at an old African-American cemetery in Cold Spring Harbor.

The plot appears to be the burial ground for at least three dozen people, based upon the placement of unnamed stone field markers.

The Jones Cemetery, located on a hill on Harbor Road just south of Lawrence Hill Road, was owned by the Jones' family -- a wealthy business family who owned much of the land in Cold Spring Harbor in the 18th and 19th centuries.

And those who are interred there are believed to be African-Americans who worked for the Jones family.

"Too often, we overlook the contributions African-Americans have made to the history of our community," Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes said. "We hope that with help from these families' descendants, we can identify who is buried here and make sure their story is not overlooked again."

Hughes said the cemetery was overgrown and littered with trash until about a year ago, when those with St. John's Episcopal Church located across the street became involved. A parishioner expressed she believed one of her family members may be buried in the cemetery.

Volunteers with the church and around 10 to 12 young people hired by Suffolk County quickly got to work cleaning up the burial site.

"It was hot, some days were cold, some days were raining," Kevin Thorbourne, the director of Minority Affairs for the Town of Huntington, said about the young workers. "They shoveled, they raked the leaves up, they cut bushes down, and they played a major role here."

Pastor Gideon Pollach, of St. John's Church, said the church will be involved in the continued maintenance of the site and the effort to identify the interred individuals.

"It seemed like a sort of holy calling," Pollach said. "To understand the history of this place, to understand the relationship to our church and to the life we're living now, and to understand a bit about the history of African-American people in our region."

Thorbourne said he hopes people will come forward, even if they have only the slightest bit of knowledge that their family members may be buried at the site.

"The people that are buried here worked in this area," he said. "So that's how we can track our roots and track the importance that African Americans played in our town."

The cemetery has only two marked stones, for Alfred Thorn and Patience Thorn, who is believed to be Alfred's mother.

Alfred Thorn, 55, died on February 3, 1900 at the home of Dr. Oliver L. Jones. He was an African-American who worked for Charles H. Jones and then for his son-in-law, Dr. Oliver Jones.

Alfred Thorn was highly respected, according to the obituary in The Long-Islander, and he lived in Pine Hollow in the town of Oyster Bay.

He worked as a coachman for the Jones family, according to the woman who lived at the house next to the cemetery in 1962.

The inscription on Patience Thorn's headstone is difficult to read, but it appears to indicate that she died in 1872 at age 72, which would mean she was around 45 when Alfred Thorn was born in 1844 or 1845.

Eyewitness News asked Hughes if he believes other members of the Thorn family may be buried at the site. He said it's hard to know, but one would assume it's possible because family members typically were buried near other family members.

"Almost everyone buried here only has a fieldstone marker, with no names, no initials," Hughes said. "We have no way of knowing who they are, and it's a shame that they get lost to history. These are the people who built Long Island, built our community in some small measure, and it would be nice to know who they were and keep their memory alive."

If you know who may be interred in the cemetery, you're encouraged to contact Hughes at 631-351-3244 or by email at rhughes@huntingtonny.gov.

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