H.A.E., “An Hour in Trinity Church Yard” (New-York Spectator, 07 Nov 1839)

From the N.Y. Mirror

An hour in Trinity Church Yard.

TIME—ceaseless, corroding time—nations, empires, pyramids, and temples, crumble—yea, DEATH itself fades before thee: semblance of eternity, all [has!][?].

Stranger, I fyou mourn the march of this mighty conqueror when he lays his [illegible] hand upon relics long revered, stand with [illegible] your last upon [illegible] attacks of the Vandals who have [illegible] destruction. The walls have already fallen, and lie in mingled heaps amid the tomb-stones, and above the graves which they once overlooked; and now, piece by piece, falls the spire. I watch its demolition as feelingly as I would the last moments of an old companion; it is associated with the recollections of my earliest boyhood, and I cannot witness its destruction unmoved. Manya [sic] Saturday’s afternoon have I, one of a ‘school-boytroop,’ frolicked in innocent glee over the old tombs with our childish games, until the shadow of the old spire grew fainter and fainter across the churchyard, warning us that our sport was over; then, with a shout and a bound, would we clamber over the old fence of wood into Broadway, and disperse to meet again at the same place the next holiday. On Sabbath mornings, too, how often have I listened to its chiming bells with delight, until it seemed to me that there was a mysterious connexion between religion and the sound of those bells. And on every Fourth of July, ‘old Reynolds,’ with patriotic fervor, would leave his beershop in Thames street, and ring a merry peal at morning, noon, and night. But they are gone—church, spire, bells, and ah—OLD TRINITY is leveled with the dust!

“We ne’er shall look upon its like again.”

One bright afternoon, a month or two bygone, (I think it was in June,) I strolled into the old churchyard, to ponder an hour or two over dilapidated monuments and mouldering hatchments, where, as Horace writes,

“Pallida mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas regumque turres” [“Pale Death, with impartial step, knocks at the cottages of the poor and the palaces of kings.”]

The swelling mounds were dressed in nature’s greenest livery, the elm trees and sycamores were in full bloom, and the horse chestnut was in blossom. The chirp of the grasshopper [illegible] …ly as he leaped out of my path, and the occasional note of some tiny bird, from the branches of the tall trees, mingled with the faint hum that swept from the busy crowd without, and added to the harmony of the scene and senses. It was the resting-place of the dead, surrounded by the living. Numberless thousands were here reposing in the long sleep of death, whose footsteps had once beat as firmly as those which now fell upon my ear, and probably trod the same broad pavement with as high hopes, and as brief anticipation of death. How little we think of the certain end that awaits us, when we pass the graveyard in the populous city. It is in the hamlet, surrounded by nature undisturbed, where the murmuring brook flows gently, and the forest rears its majestic beauty—where the birds sing their blithesome tunes, and the flowers spring up in prolific loveliness, that the graveyard awakes contemplation. There we can ponder deeply, and wisely, if we will, upon the mysterious gloominess of death. Remember, this, ye denizens of cities, and pass not the tomb without a thought.

I entered the enclosure to the left of the gate toward Rector-street, which is here filled with numerous vaults running the whole length of the church, and comparatively of modern construction, for I scanned over the tablets bearing the inscriptions of their owners, without observing any of the Knickerbocker names of the ‘olden time.’ Outside of these commence the graves. I wandered slowly along, reading the various inscriptions upon the headstones, some were to the memory of tiny infants—others sacred to the ashes of octogenarians, many of whom had been buried near a century. —There was a handsome monument some three feet square, and of proportionable height, open at the four sides, containing a marble urn. On the base of the tomb was an inscription to the memory of MRS. GRACE LYDE. A plain slab, “Sacred to all that could be lost in a friend and a brother,” marked the grave of a Midshipman Carpenter, who was unfortunately drowned in the discharge of his duty. Some of the stones had sunk so deep in the sod, that the inscriptions were obscured, and the rudely carved death’s head was alone to be discovered. A plain oblong monument, slightly elevated, next attracted my attention. I advanced and read the following:


“The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised.”

Touching and simple epitaph—“My Mother!” No other inscription was on the tomb to tell the name of the sleeper, or when she died—filial affection had reared the marble—filial affection had dropped many a tear over the nameless grave. As I stood by the tomb, I thought of my own remaining parent—long, long may it be before I shall be called to write, or read, the inscription upon her monument. A little beyond, lay one who had died before the revolution. I could not help copying the name, for it bespoke a countryman of the first settlers, from the land of Van Tromp and De Ruyter.


I next endeavored to decipher the inscription upon [?] the outlines of a family crest and coat-of-arms ; age and frequent footsteps had so defaced the Latin motto and title, that I could interpret nothing definite, though I believe it belonged to one of the early bishops or rectors of the church.

Yonder is a monument of more pretensions to the name than any that surrounds it. It evidently covers the remains of some personage distinguished while living, or wealth has attempted to leave a name in marble, which naught else could perpetuate. Not that it is lofty, or gorgeous, for it is neither, but it occupies a large space for a crowded churchyard, and its materials are costly. The base is oblong, broad and high, with its corners surmounted by urns. A pyramidal shaped block nearly covers the base; the whole is of white marble, surrounded by an iron railing. It is the grave of one who filled a large space in the early history of the republic, both as a soldier and a statesman—of one who fell in the zenith of his fame, revered and lamented by his countryman. In the language of one of our own poets, of hi it might be truly said,

——“a nation stood

Beside his coffin with wet eyes.”

That monument covers the remains of General Alexander Hamilton. Approach and read the inscription:

To the memory of ALEXANDER HAMILTON,

The Corporation of Trinity church has erected this


In testimony of [?]

The PATRIOT of uncorruptible INTEGRITY,

The SOLDIER of approved VALOR,

The STATEMAN of consummate WISDOM,

Whose TALENTS and VIRTUES will be admired


Grateful posterity,

Long after this marble shall have mouldered into


He died July 12th, 1804, Aged 47

His was no common fall,—in the full maturity of his intellect—possessing a noble ambition—the acknowledged head of a powerful party—fame with all her honours beckoned him on. But the shadow of his greatness darkened the path of one equally ambitious—the rivals met, nor separated until the funeral pall obscured for ever the high hopes and burning thoughts of Hamilton, and the scorn of an indignant world crushed forever the wild ambitions of the living Burr.

We are now at the rear of the church, and the vaults grow more numerous. Here, from the inscriptions, lie the Desbrosses, De Peysters, Jaunceys, Ludlows, G[?]elets, Laspenards, Nicolls, Livingstons, Clarksons, names familiar in the early records of the city and province, whose descendants still remain, with a pride of ancestry equal to the most aristocratic families of the mother country. They were a good old stock these first settlers, yet it must be acknowledged that the race was not injured by the New England intermixture. But I forget myself, such reflections are not for the churchyard.

Here are some ten headstones in a cluster—they arkt he graves of a family named Price.

“The gray-haired man

Beside the infant sleeps.”

There is something sacred in the burying of families together; their dust mingles in decay, and in death they are not divided. Wandering a little farther, I espied a humble sandstone. “The grave of John Smith, who died June ye 17. 1764.” Requiescat in pace, honest John Smith, thy name shall live for ever. Here is a vault bearing the name of that brave old veteran soldier, Colonel

Marines[?] Willett,

The hero of Fort Stanwix ; he died a few years since, ripe in age and honours. I saw him laid in the earth, and heard the last volley fired over his grave. Next comes a stone covering the dust of several distinguished men, bearing this inscription:

Vault built in 1735

By JMES ALEXANDER and his descendants,

And his son WILLIAM Earl of Sterling

And his daughters


In that vault lie the remains of Lord Sterling, the revolutionary general,—William Livingston, the patriotic governor of New-Jersey, at the same period—and, also, the body of his son, Judge Brockholst Livingston, of the Supreme Court of the United States. Distinguished and revered names all.

Yonder, in an angle of the churchyard, stands a pillar so dilapidated that we would imagine the stroms of one or two centuries had swept over it. The capstone lies broken within the enclosure, but two slabs remain on the base, the others are in pieces, and the whole looks desolate and drear. Yet, that monument was erected only twenty-five years since to over the remains of a most gallant but unfortunate naval hero—Captain James Lawrence. Shame! To the citizens of New York, who can open their purses for the purpose of gorgeously entertaining their favourite political partisans, and neglect the shattered tombs of their gallant dead! One of the slabs bears this inscription.

The Hero

Whose remains are here deposited

With his expiring breath

Expressed his devotion to his Country.

Neither the fury of battle,

The anguish of a mortal wound,

Nor the terror of approaching death

Could subdue his gallant spirit

His dying words were


He fell in the action between the Chesapeake and Shannon, on the first of June, 1813, at the early age of thirty-two. Lieutenant Ludlow, who fell at the same time, lies buried in the family vault in the vicinity. And this is the end of ambition—a name remembered for a season—six feet of earth, and a broken sepulcher! Pass on. A plain red stone tells us that, “Here lies interred Peter Ireland, Sergeant Major of the Royal regiment of Artillery, who died Oct. 23d 1770, aged 26 years.” Some youth, perhaps, who was seduced from his home across the seas by the sound of the “alluring drum,” to abandon parents and relatives, in search of the ignis fatuus of fame ; and here he fills a forgotten grave, unknowing and unknown! Next comes “James Glassford Barrack master to the army of his Majesty,” in this city, during the revolution. Death at length, it appears, drew the soldier’s eternal “billet,” and here he lies “quartered” in peace.

“[…] he hears the last bugle.”

Here is a slatestone bearing an inscription as fresh as if made but yesterday, though more than a century old. It is the grave of a mother and her three children.

Here lyeth ye Body of Mary Arding

With her three Babes at Rest.

I hope the Lord her Cry did here

And granted her Request.

Dec’d Jan’y ye 3d 1732 aged 25 yrs.

A little beyond is a small granite stone with rude cut letters, erected one hundred and eleven years ago. “Here lyes ye Body of William Laight, aged 36. Dec’d Aug ye 7 1728.”

We are now at the north side of the church, where the tombs are so numerous that we can hardly clamber along. Most of the stones are of modern date, indeed it is the spot where the latest burials were made. Here is a slab, however, somewhat aged, surmounted by a skull, well carved in alto relievo:



Nameless dead! But, stop—what singular epitaph is this? It would seem to be the grave of a poet—let us read

Sidney Breese June 9th 1767

Made by himself.

[?] Sidney, Sidney

Lyest thou here?

I here lye

Till time is flown

To its extremity.

Ah! The wag—“made by himself.” He had no idea of a posthumous epicedium. He was right—one may as well know beforehand what is to be inscribed on one’s sepulcher, as to trust to the cold indifference of heirs or friends. Farewell Sidney—thou must have been “a fellow of most exquisite humour.”

As I pass along I am struck with the frequent [?] of the departed, engraved upon the old tombs [?] such a town and shire in “Old England.” The remembrance of the green hills and valleys they should see no more, was perhaps among the last thoughts of the dying, and the humble stone tells, to every passer by, the country and birth place of the dead!

Here is a tomb, with an inscription as follows:

“Here lies the Body of Mr. William Bradford, Printer, who departed this life May 23, 1752 aged 92 years. He was born in Leicestershire in Old England in 1660, and came over to America in 1682, before the City of Philadelphia was laid out. He was Printer to this Government for upwards of 50 years, and being quite worn out with old age and labour, he left this mortal state in the lively Hopes of a blessed Immortality.”

Beneath are a few lines in verse, and an inscription to the memory of his wife, who died in 1731, aged sixty-eight years. aAnd who was William Bradford? He was the first printer of note in the province—the founder of the gazette edited, a century afterward, by the lamented John Lang, and still flourishing vigorous and hearty under its weight of years. Franklin, in his own life, mentions Bradford, as the printer he first saw on his arrival from Boston, when a mere boy in pursuit of those fortunes afterward so celebrated. He described Bradford, at that time, as an old man, of venerable appearance. I believe he was several times imprisoned for publishing political matters offensive to the royal government. Peace to the ashes of the first representative of Faust in the loyal province of New York.

The shades of evening are gather around me—the crickets have commenced their nightly call from the crevices of old tombs, and the last rays of the sun are falling upon the tall spire. More rapid and hasty is heard the footfall of the traveller with out as he wends his way homeward, to rest from the fretting cares and toils of the day.

Hark! The organ is pealing forth its solemn strains, like a requiem for the departed. Fit association for the hour and the place! With a lingering look at the old tombs, I pass out of the gateway, and chrish among my recollections of time spent usefully and well, an hour in Trinity Church Yard.

H.A.E. [H.A.B.?]


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