Burial Discoveries at Schuyler Flatts in Menands
From The Freedom Seeker, Vol 4, Issue 4, Winter 2008
Hidden in an unlikely location in a grassy area at the entrance to the Federal Express facility along Route 32 in Colonie, the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground is a singularly important record of African American history. Unearthed during sewer construction in 2005, the unmarked burial ground had not been used in nearly 200 years and was unknown on maps and other historical documents. State historic officials have mapped all known historic burial sites. This one was unknown. Archaeologists from Hartgen Archaeological Associates, Inc. excavated the graves that were in the path of construction and bioarchaeologists from the New York State Museum helped to learn their identity.
Studies of the human remains identified several individuals of African ancestry. Handwrought iron nails and small pins that were probably used to fasten burial shrouds date the graves to the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Historical records indicate the majority of Africans living at the Flatts during this time were enslaved by wealthy landowners like the prominent Schuyler family who owned the property where the burial
ground was located.
The bones of the Schuyler Flatts people bear witness to their lives and the realities of enslavement in colonial Albany. Six women and one man showed signs of hard work with heavy muscle development and widespread osteoarthritis even in their hands and feet. They suffered from very poor dental health and the presence of five infants and two children is a poignant reminder of the fragility of life, particularly under slavery. The Schuyler Flatts people have much to tell about life before emancipation. Once the studies are completed and their stories are told, they will be reburied at Albany Rural Cemetery. A suitable marker will be provided and the broader community will be invited to help provide a fitting
A specialist in facial reconstruction for the New York State Museum, Gay Malin, has examined the remains and created models which tell us something of what the Schuyler Flatts people looked like. One reconstruction is of a 30 -35 year old woman. The facial reconstructions are done in clay and provide a realistic image of what some of the people might have looked like.
Results from the bioarchaelogical examination of the remains have been made public through papers offered at area conferences such as the Underground Railroad History Project Conference in 2007, through poster displays and discussions, and through a presentation held in 2006 at Russell Sage College in Troy where a workshop detailed the discovery and experts spoke on the interpretation of the discoveries. Papers have also been given at the 2006 Northeast Anthropological Association meeting.
The story of these remains is an important part of the region’s history and deserves wider exposure.