SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — With the help of technology, nearly 2,000 unmarked graves have been discovered in Southampton, shedding light on what happened to some of New York’s earliest settlers.
Roger Tollefsen and the Southampton Burying Grounds Committee wondered why one of New York’s oldest colonial burial grounds had so few graves.
“There were so few stones visible,” he told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff. “We wondered what the heck happened to the people who had been buried here.”
Headstones date back to the mid-1600s when English settlers arrived by the hundreds.
“How could so many of them have disappeared? And something could have happened to them potentially,” Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer said.
They recruited the help of a cemetery mapper equipped with ground radar technology. The high-tech machinery detected long-forgotten history.
“When he started using it, it was amazing what popped up because you couldn’t go more than five or six feet without seeing the obvious signs of a burial ground,”
Underground voids were sure evidence of Southampton’s first colonial generation.
“We found that there were approximately 1,700 grave sites here even though we could only see 48 signs above,” Tollefsen said.
Headstones were lost, perhaps in neglect, then tossed away by an 1800s farmer.
Town officials hope to make up for age-old mistakes. They will soon post 17th century census data so descendants can infer if their ancestors were buried there.
“This is an historic, sacred burying ground. It’s not a dog park, it’s not open space,” Schermeyer said.
The town is working to create a permanent marker, possibly a monument, so the people buried there will always be remembered.
It is also seeking a grant to look for the discarded headstones, which it believes may also be buried on the property.