By Bob Marrow
Endless Hudson was born in 1913 and died in 1950, four years after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He is buried at the African-American Cemetery in Rye, as are veterans of World War I, the Spanish-American War, and the Civil War. Samuel Eshmond Bell served in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War. He participated in the assault against Fort Wagner, S.C., dramatized in the motion picture, “Glory.” Edwin Purdy served on an ironclad ship during the Civil War. Frank Woods participated in the Civil War assault on Port Hudson, La., in Company E, 20th U.S.C.T. Their commanding general said of them, “They answered every expectation. Their conduct was heroic. No troops could be more daring. They made during the day three charges upon the batteries of the enemy, suffering heavy loses and holding their position at nightfall…. The highest commendation is bestowed upon them….”
Robert Purdy, a runaway slave from Louisiana who arrived in Westchester, saved enough working as a laborer to purchase 12 acres of land for $270 in Scarsdale, which he farmed with his family. He became one of the most successful African-American businessmen in the county and, in 1852, co-founded the Barry Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church. In 2012, his achievements were commemorated by Scarsdale’s mayor who declared August 11th “Robert Purdy Day”.
The cemetery is an essential link to the lives of African-Americans in Westchester County and their role in the story of our country. Sarah C. Smith was the first person buried at the cemetery in 1840. There are two former slaves interred there along with 35 documented veterans, 22 of whom fought in the Civil War. Of more than 290 documented burials there, only 79 headstones have been found.
<“Each person here was like a tiny wildflower — beauty unnoticed and worth unappreciated. Yet in their individual quiet splendor through humility and courage toils and love they left an indelible mark and the world is forevermore a better place.”> William Sutherland
A detailed history of the cemetery and the stories of many of those buried there can be found on three informative signs posted at the entrance located at the end of a winding footpath in the southeast quadrant of Greenwood Union Cemetery. The cemetery encompasses 1.4 acres of meadow bordered by wetlands and a pond. It is a serene site with trees, flowers, butterflies, chipmunks, birds, waterfowl, turtles, and, of course, an occasional deer.
A number of interested Rye and Port Chester residents, including Doris B. Reavis (whose relatives are buried at the cemetery), David and Joan Thomas, David Parsons, Peter Rolland, Louise Perette, Maurio Sax, and myself and my wife Ellen, met recently at the home of Ann and Tony Spaeth to discuss future plans for the cemetery, which, while located in the City of Rye, was deeded to the Town of Rye in 1860. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, the cemetery needs more friends to help restore gravestones, maintain the bucolic nature of the site, fund a project, using ground-penetrating radar, to identify unmarked graves, and build a permeable gravel roadway to replace the unpaved path leading to the entrance.
<The Friends of the African-American Cemetery is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Its founder, David Thomas, can be reached on the Facebook page “Friends of the African American Cemetery” or at email@example.com.>