The 14 bodies were found during work on water pipes, each of them aligned to the east. They were the remains of a man, six women, five children and two infants, and they were near land once owned by the father-in-law of Alexander Hamilton, a hero of the US revolutionary war. They were the family’s slaves.
On Saturday the community that survived them in Albany, New York, will see them buried again in a cemetery first dedicated in the run-up to the civil war for Irish Catholics, the unwanted immigrants of the 1860s.
In the late 1700s, the land on which the bodies were found was owned by Philip Schuyler, a veteran of the French and Indian war who built a sizable farming estate along the Hudson river. He became a general in the Continental Army and suffered a blow to his reputation when Fort Ticonderoga fell, but regained standing alongside Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Saratoga, the first major victory over the British in the revolutionary war.
During the war, Schuyler’s daughter Elizabeth found a match in another rising hero of the revolution: Alexander Hamilton, the young aide to George Washington who later became treasury secretary. Schuyler himself joined the government after the war, serving in the Senate until Aaron Burr won his seat.
The bitter election was one of the first conflicts between Burr and Hamilton, who wanted his father-in-law in Congress to support his ideas of a national bank and debt. Schuyler lived to defeat Burr in a later election, and to see his rival become vice-president and the killer of his son-in-law in a duel in 1804.
“We were bound together by a common purpose to bury these people with a common respect and dignity,” said diocese spokesman Jonathan Cohen. “It’s a corporal work of mercy to bury the dead. It says something about us as a community and as a nation that we can come together.”
Leaders of several faiths, including a Baptist minister and a Ghanaian Vodun priestess, will speak at the ceremony, Cohen said, and a gravestone with a Ghanaian Sankofa symbol will be placed over the site, with an inscription: “The wholeness of the living is diminished when the ancestors are not honored.”
Stewart hoped that Albany’s quiet example might resonate outside the city.
“There is a path that is respectful that we can take,” he said, when asked about how Americans might confront their knotted, painful history. “There’s a way to do it that gives the people honor and acknowledges who they were. Basically, give them the honor they deserve.”