by Kevin Walsh

I haven’t spent a lot of time in the St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard, between Broadway and Church, Vesey and Fulton Streets, in back of the oldest remaining building¬†church in Manhattan (1766). In part, that’s because Trinity Cemetery a few blocks to the south has more superstars in it, like Robert Fulton and Alexander Hamilton. However, St. Paul’s has charms of its own, as some of the tombstones are as old as the church, the mid-1760s.

I noticed this pair, which are presumably for a husband and wife, John and Mary Cumings. Both died young in 1814, John at 39, Mary at 29, and Mary followed John into the grave just a few months after his death. Both had immigrated from Ireland.

John’s stone:

Weep not for me my children dear
I am not dead but sleeping here
My debt is paid, on this you see:
Prepare for death and follow me

Mary’s stone:

Afflictions (for a) long time I bore
Physicians were in vain
Till God was pleased to give me ease
And free me from my pain.

There are some archaisms in the lettering, as the inscriptions use the old “long s” form that had died out elsewhere around 1800. Within a few years, marble and limestone would become favored tombstone materials, and while the lettering on those stones has deteriorated severely, older stones like this are readily decipherable.



Jim July 31, 2013 - 9:39 am

I believe you’re mistaken, the oldest building remaining in Manhattan is the Morris-Jumel mansion, built a year earlier than Saint Paul’s, in 1765

NY2AZ July 31, 2013 - 9:53 am

I worked at the original WTC from 1974-80. I often used to spend part of my lunch break reading these headstones. I realize now that literacy has become an almost lost art.

Pat July 31, 2013 - 12:55 pm

Aren’t Fraunces Tavern & the Morris-Jumel Mansion technically older, or did you mean oldest church?

Chris Egan August 1, 2013 - 7:40 am

Very interesting. One does not see doggerel one gravestones anymore. There is a organization called the “Association for Gravestone Studies” .

June October 4, 2013 - 2:46 pm

Just correct the building/church thing without the line through the word building. ack That looks unprofessional.

June October 4, 2013 - 2:47 pm

Your site is always sooooooooooooooooooo slow.

Kevin Walsh October 5, 2013 - 8:00 am

So am I.

Margaret January 5, 2014 - 5:32 am

What a shame that they didn’t stick with brownstone! I also have spent more time at Trinity, I will male it a point to check out St. Paul’s/ Thank you!


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