Mark Daly, administrator and senior researcher in Green-Wood’s Green-ealogy program, was recently contacted by an individual inquiring about a Margaret Pine. Mark gets many inquiries, dozens a week, but this one was different: Margaret was described in the inquiry as the last slave in New York State. That caught Mark’s attention! Mark worked with Frank Morelli, head of Green-Wood’s Restoration Program—and they confirmed that Margaret Pine, the last slave in New York State, is in fact interred at Green-Wood.
On March 1, 1858, the Anti-Slavery Reporter headlined: “DEATH OF THE LAST SLAVE IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK.” Reprinting an article from the Brooklyn Star, it reported that Margaret Pine, born in Westchester County in 1778, had died late in 1857 at the age of 79. While still an infant, she had been given, as a slave, to Wynant Van Zandt by his father. In the ensuing years, she had served faithfully as a nurse to the Van Zandt’s 11 sons (remarkably, they had 11 sons and no daughters). However, in 1813, Wynant wrote a note from Little Neck, Queens, describing Margaret as “sober, honest, and faithful, but is averse to living in the country . . . .” He therefore was giving her written permission to work in New York City for wages. He continued that he wished and was willing to free her from slavery. However, she had refused his offer of freedom: “She told her master, when he proposed to do so, that he had had her services for the best part of her life, and that she wished him to take care of her for as long as she lived, and he willingly consented.”
Here is the full report from the Brooklyn Star, as reprinted in the Anti-Slavery Reporter:
This Brooklyn Star report also was reprinted in the Anti-Slavery Bugle of Lisbon, Ohio, on August 22, 1857. But, remarkably, on that same date, the Columbus Tri-Weekly Enquirer, of Columbus, Georgia, also ran this story, word for word, apparently without comment. However, ostensibly the Columbus Tri-Weekly Enquirer, whose banner read “The Union of the States, and the Sovereignty of the States,” did so for the opposite reason from that of the two anti-slavery newspapers. The anti-slavery newspapers clearly believed that it was newsworthy that the last of New York State’s slaves had died –and that, during her lifetime, she had been more than just property–she had been a faithful Christian and had asserted herself, negotiating with her master for sustenance and shelter late in life. On the other hand, the Columbus Tri-Weekly Enquirer was sharing the very same story with its readers–but, for it, ostensibly the story was of a slave who was satisfied with being a slave and refused to be freed. To a readership accepting of, and often heavily invested in slavery, apparently no commentary was necessary to make the point of the superiority of that system.
Mark Daly researched in Green-Wood’s voluminous archives. He discovered in Green-Wood’s Burial Search database an entry for a Margaret Pine, buried in 1857 in section 105, lot 6160. Checking further, he learned that that lot was purchased on July 31, 1852, by Dr. Charles A. Van Zandt of Smith & Schermerhorn Streets, Brooklyn. Charles was a son of Alderman Wynant Van Zandt. Margaret was the first person to be interred in the lot, and one month later, Dr. Van Zandt interred the remains of his daughter Julia Augusta, who had died on September 11, 1857, there. Two other burials in that lot followed later that year.
Further, according to Green-Wood’s records, Margaret Pine was born in Westchester County, New York. Her last residence was at 72 Thompson Street in New York City. She was unmarried and 79 years old when she died of “debility” on August 1, 1857, making her likely year of birth 1778–in the midst of the Revolutionary War. She was interred two days after her death at Green-Wood.
Mark also unearthed a century-old diagram of the lot showing the location of Margaret’s burial and gravestone as well as a transcription of the inscription. A diagram, dated July 9, 1914, shows a gravestone for Margaret Pine, inscribed with her date of death. The marker is shown at the head of a grave in the rear left corner of the lot. A foot stone with initials “M.P.” is shown at the same grave.
Meanwhile, while Mark wended his way through Green-Wood’s extensive records, Frank Morelli had gone out to lot 6160 and had located Margaret Pine’s gravestone. It was lying flat, broken off of its base. Though the stone was lying face up, and enough of it was readable that it could be identified as hers, much of the inscription could not be deciphered:
Based on years of experience, Frank thought that a rubbing of the inscription might make it readable. Here is the result of that rubbing:
This is the inscription that the rubbing made readable:
A SLAVE TO THE FAMILY OF
WYNANT VAN ZANDT
DECEASED FORMERLY OF LITTLE NECK
DIED AUGUST 4TH 1857
AGED 80 YEARS
Frank Morelli, having located Margaret Pine’s gravestone, and having successfully made a rubbing of it, now had one more task. As the head of Green-Wood’s cutting-edge Restoration Team, Frank is practiced in restoring monuments–he has worked on hundreds and hundreds of them, and has taught other Green-Wood workers how to fix them. So he and his crew put Margaret’s gravestone back in place, attaching it to its base. Here’s the restored stone and the Restoration Team:
Slavery ended in New York State in 1827. However, Margaret Pine died in 1857, 30 years later, still a slave. It was her choice to remain a slave–ironically, an exercise of freedom on her part. Here she lies, peacefully, at Green-Wood, beneath her restored gravestone:
When we launched our Green-aelogy program just a few years ago, we did so to offer the millions of people who can trace their family roots to Green-Wood access to the cemetery’s unique and vast archival records. However, we did not fully anticipate the extraordinary historical material that descendants and researchers would be sharing with us. This inquiry about Margaret Pine, the last slave in New York State, is another example of Green-Wood learning important stories from these inquiries. We thank all of your for sharing your stories with us!