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African-American history

Pastor Gideon Pollach, of St. John's Church, and Denice Evans-Sheppard at Jones Cemetery. Photo from Town of Huntington

Huntington Town officials are seeking the public’s help in putting back together forgotten pieces of African-American history in Cold Spring Harbor.

Located off the east side of Harbor Road, there is a small plot of town-owned land that’s only known as Jones Cemetery. Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes said it is named after the Jones family that owned extensive pieces of land in the area in both the current towns of Huntington and Oyster Bay through the 20th century. They’re also famous for starting Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company.

“We knew he was most likely buried at that cemetery. We could not find it. There was a lot of brush covering up the graves and headstones.”

—Denice Evans-Shepard

Hughes said he believes most, if not all of those buried in the cemetery are African-Americans who once worked for the Jones family — some as slaves.

“The Jones Cemetery is one of 56 historic cemeteries located throughout the Town of Huntington,” Hughes said. “Unfortunately, many have become overgrown over the years. Other priorities often take precedence over cemetery cleanups.”

Hughes, Huntington’s director of minority affairs Kevin Thorbourne and volunteers from St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor cleaned up the cemetery grounds March 3. Their work revealed about three dozen graves marked only by simple field stones and two traditional marble headstones.

One of the marked headstone is for Alfred Thorn, an African-American who worked for Charles Jones, and then Oliver Jones as a coachman. Thorn died Feb. 3, 1900, at age 55. The other marble headstone is for Patience Thorn, who is believed to be Alfred’s mother, according to Hughes. The identities of the three dozen others buried in the cemetery are unknown.

Denice Evans-Sheppard, the new director of the Oyster Bay Historic Society, said she has reason to believe one of her ancestors is buried in Jones Cemetery.

“It’s like finding the missing piece to the puzzle,” she said.

Evans-Sheppard said growing up she was told her family originally worked on the Jones family estate. Her great-great-great-grandfather, Lewis Carll, once worked as one of the coachman for the Jones family. He’s the only member of her family not buried in Oyster Bay, according to Evans-Sheppard.

“To to learn who was buried at Jones Cemetery will help us put the missing pieces of Huntington’s history back together.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“We knew he was most likely buried at that cemetery,” she said. “We could not find it. There was a lot of brush covering up the graves and headstones.”

She was invited to tour the grounds with Gideon Pollach, pastor of St. John’s Church; Hughes and Thorbourne after the cleanup March 7.

“It was beautiful to finally make that connection,” she said.

Evans-Sheppard said she knows some descendants of other African-American families who worked for the Jones, including the Jacksons, the Seamans and her own, the Carlls. Many related individuals still live in nearby areas of Huntington, Oyster Bay and Amityville, she said. 

Along with Huntington Town officials, Evans-Sheppard is hoping families will step forward to help identify their remains.

“The Town of Huntington has a rich history of contributions from the African-American community, and to learn who was buried at Jones Cemetery will help us put the missing pieces of Huntington’s history back together,” said Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in a statement.

Anyone with information on individuals who may be interred in the cemetery is encouraged to contact Hughes at 631-351-3244 or email at [email protected]tonny.gov