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19th-Century Diary Suggests Slaves Are Buried in Brooklyn Lot

A page from Gowanus landowner Adriance Van Brunt’s diary, kept from 1828 to 1830. The entry at the top refers to the death of 12-year-old “Nancy (Black girl).” The diary can be viewed at the New York Public Library, in the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room.

From 1828 to 1830, a Gowanus landowner, Adriance Van Brunt, paused several times a week to record in a diary the events of that day he deemed worthy of mention. The diary, in neatly inked handwriting stretching from edge to edge, offers a detailed portrait of farm life near what was then the Village of Brooklyn.

There is a summary of a preacher’s Sunday sermon — “ye are my witness” — and the dutiful accountings of purchases and sales. “Little Albert took some potatoes and pears to market,” Van Brunt wrote one day in 1828. On another: “Rained first time since the 4th August.”

But other entries in the diary disturb the quaint veneer of a bygone era and remind the modern reader of how tangible and ingrained the legacy of slavery was in New York in the early 19th century.

More urgently, the diary may complicate the city’s intent to build a new school on part of what was the Van Brunt farm, with its hint at the possibility that slaves are buried in unmarked graves on the lot. Read the full story at the NYTimes

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