Thomas A. Crist


The analysis of the skeletal remains of 85 people interred between ca. 1820 and 1846 in the vaults of the abolitionist Spring Street Presbyterian Church provides unique insights regarding the biological history of antebellum New York City unavailable from other sources. Even though the sample size is small, the remains reflect the prevalence of infectious diseases, metabolic disorders, nutritional deficiencies, premature deaths, and high infant mortality that characterized the rapidly industrializing city. Among the most remarkable discoveries were a rare case of abdominal cancer; a mother and her full-term fetus in utero buried together; two autopsied children; and a dental bridge made of gold that may have been buried with Nicholas Ware, United States Senator from Georgia, whose coffin plate from 1824 was unexpectedly found in one of the vaults. Although none of the individuals could be conclusively identified as being of African descent, skeletal evidence of possible admixture underscores the particularly active role of the church in the abolitionist movement of the 1830s.