Stormville - It might be a small cemetery, but its signifigance just got a great deal bigger.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, in the Town of Stormville, on Philips Road, at The Slave Cemetery of the Storm Family close to 75 people gathered. Here, under a tent, guests paid tribute in a Rededication Ceremony to approximately 90 lives which left indelible marks on those they touched. The Storm Family locale contains gravesites of slaves who were buried as far back as 1760; the most recent date reads 1848. The historic cemetery began with General Storm, who buried his slaves at the spot. Several branches of the Storm family’s slaves exist in the cemetery.
In fact, one of those Storm servants, thought to be buried at the cemetery, bears a heroic stature. Her name was Epye Schouten, and she resided with the Garett Storm family about a quarter mile from the cemetery. Garett, a Patriot during the Revolutionary War, was tied up by a group of Tory Soldiers, who further ramshackled his house. As records indicate, one of his servants, Epye Schouten, saved Garett’s life, untying the rope that would have hung him. History further indicates that Garett mentions Schouten in his will that he drafted 20 years later.
Despite the once relatively acceptable conditions of the cemetery, time had a way of deteriorating its status, dubbed in "bad condition" in 1924 by the "Old Gravestones of Dutchess County." This decline could readily be observed in the disappearance of the once visible fieldstone markings Eventually a series of restoration efforts took place. They were capped off with a 1985 Memorial Marker, commemorating the completion of the first project. Although that initial, uncemented stone was stolen, its replacement, a granite marker, set in a stone wall, remains securely situated and safe. Further restoration efforts have included several field studies.
More recently, a wave of restoration kicked off in 2006. At that time, the developer of the housing complex, Four Corners, was told by the Town of Stormville that restoration to the nearby cemetery was one of the necessary requirements for them to move forward with their work. That developer of WCI Communities Inc. soon made some phone calls, and it wasn’t long before both the Dutchess County Historical Society and the East Fishkill Historical Society got on board. After three years, WCI left the project; however, Toll Brothers took over to finish the year of remaining work. In total, that restoration includes; a metal railing encircling the gravesite, a stone wall along the nearby road, lying adjacent to the road site and some site clearing work. A historic marker, sporting a blue blackground and yellow engraving, has also been erected close to the cemetery site.
"This Rededication is a good example of how the Town of East Fishkill used its influence to persuade a developer to preserve and restore this historic slave cemetery," said Malcolm Mills, Director, East Fishkill Historical Society. "This is the only known slave cemetery in East Fishkill."
Guest Speaker, the Honorable Albert M. Rosenblatt (Retired), a Dutchess County Court Judge and Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court of Appeals, was well aware of that distinction, as he spoke to the large, huddled crowd as the rain continued to pound away at the tent’s covering.
"It’s so nice that we can all come out here together in this way and truly honor regular people with the dignity they deserve," said Rosenblatt, who referred to the occassion as a truly memorable one. "Today is a day we can see how very far we have evolved as a country; it’s events like this that allow us to be introspective, and truly see that there can be a better world, political decency and a good that will govern."
And so it was that tone that highlighted Sunday’s event. Rather than dwell on the details of one of our country’s "darkest periods" as alluded to by Rosenblatt, the Rededication ceremony was about hope, growth and joy. Lorraine M. Roberts, Chairperson of the DCHS Black History Committeee, spoke of that focus.
"Today is a celebration of a series of ‘happenings’ when bound together represent achievent."
Mills too reflected upon the positives to be gleaned from the event.
"The slaves did not choose to live in our town," stressed Mills. "We can only hope that the time that they did spend here they came to enjoy it in some way."