Westbury Friends Cemetery
Summary of History 1700-2001
In preparation for celebration of tercentenary of Westbury Friends Meeting, I have undertaken a review of documentation of history of Westbury Friends Cemetery as available in the Cemetery Office and in historical records of the Towns of North and South Hempstead, edited by
Benjamin D. Hicks, 1898.
Jane Ann Smith, March 2001
Chronology and Documentation
There has been a cemetery (also referred to as a "grave yard" or "burying ground") in close proximity to Westbury Friends Meeting House since almost immediately after the Meeting House property was bought from William Willis "at or near 1702" (no direct documentation of this purchase found, but 1700, 1701, or 1702 are repeated as the date by a number of writers in the late 1800's).
This first burying ground extended to the east of the first Meeting House which stood near the east side of the current middle entrance to the cemetery, about 100 feet to the south west of the 1801 Meeting House. Tradition has it that this burying ground, or at least the part north of the current iron fence, was smoothed off and incorporated into the yard and driveway of the second Meeting House. A 1952 note from Henry and Grace Hicks says "Edwin W. Weeks recalled that his grandfather would not drive around the Meeting House of the 1800s over his ancestors".
By 1748, apparently there was need for more space in the cemetery. At the General Town Meeting held in Hempstead the fifth Day of April 1748 "on The Application of Richard Valentine and John Willis It Was Voted and Concluded By all the freeholders their and then present That the
Said Richard Valentine and John Willis Shall and they heirby have Liberty Granted to them and their Heirs To Take up upon their own Rights one Acre of Land for the Use of a Burying place ajoyning to the South Side of the Meeting House Ground Att Westbury that is Now Within fence the Same to
Remaine to them their Heirs and assigns forever for the Use afforesaid." ( Records of the Towns of North and South Hempstead, Vol III, Liber E p.476). And again in 1764, another acre and ninety-two square rods were added to the south end of the cemetery, extending southward from where the old fence did stand. This land came from patent rights of several tenants in common of Hempstead plains: Richard Valentine Senr, Henry Willis Sen, Samuel Willis, Richard Osbourn, Jacob Seaman. (October ye 12th day 1764) (Records of the Towns of North and South Hempstead, Vol IV, Liber F, p.4-5.) This land comprises the areas known as "Old Ground" and "Row 3" on 19th and 20th century maps of Westbury Friends Cemetery.
We have no records of specific burials before 1800.
In 1828 the Orthodox meeting split off and their Meetinghouse was built in 1830 on the west side of the road connecting Westbury Station and Westbury Pond (that road went through what is now the west gate into the cemetery). It was minuted in 1867 that the Orthodox members continued to be admitted to use of the cemetery on the same basis as our own members. In the 1880s, when family plots were assigned some of the recipients are listed as "Orthodox".
In 1855, a two-acre strip of land on the east side of the cemetery from Jericho Turnpike to the current southeast corner was bought from Elizabeth P. Willets (Westbury Preparative Meeting minutes 5th month 16 and 10th month 1855). (The exact dimensions of the property, exact date of sale, and even the name of the seller are recorded diversely twenty-five or more years later.) Henry and Grace Hicks (1952) note that there were no original forest trees in this strip; all of the trees were planted by Isaac Hicks. This strip of land makes up Rows 1 and 2 on the east side of the present cemetery.
In 1867, a minute of 10th month 16 records the wishes of some Friends in regard to having a portion of the burial grounds laid off in plots for family interment. Apparently action was taken promptly; there are a number of references to an 1867 map which began to assign plots. This information comes from three different Registers, similar in style, begun in 1885, 1886, and 1890 which provide sketch maps of the whole cemetery (with new plot numbers), assignment of plots to members, sale of plots to non-members, rules for burials, charges, and records of burials. In these registers the recorders made their best efforts to document burials which had taken place in earlier years. The earliest burials of which they felt certain were Phebe Titus in 1818 and Mary Titus in 1821; they could document only six other burials before 1840.
In 1874, quite soon after plots in Row 1 had been laid out, "about 2000 remains not identified from the graveyard in Houston Street New York were deposited in Plot 21 in 4th month 1874"; $150 was received for space and future care. While this fact is recorded in several places, cemetery records do not provide any explanation.
The West part of the cemetery was bought from Richard Willets and his wife, Mary M. Willets, May 1, 1875. One reference says the amount of land bought was 4 acres and 678/1000, $1637 was paid @ $350/acre. Another reference says the amount of land was 3 acres; this may refer to the section west of the old public highway (gate 3).
By 1886, Rows 1-8 had been laid out, but Row 3 "old ground" plots were not assigned. The 1886 Register first records the issuance of "Certificates for the privilege of burial" which did not include any "interest in or to Title or Fee of Said ground". In 1887 the regulations (p.80 of 1886 Register) were as follows: "The members of Westbury Preparative Meeting have plots if desired allotted free for members of the society. All persons not in membership with this monthly Meeting laid in allotted plots or unpaid for plots are to pay 5 dollars for a single grave or 2 1/2 dollars in commutation for a plot or for the spaces of 4 feet by 9 or 10 feet in each plot purchased unless their circumstances make it best to make a reduction in price Except in the unimproved old ground when a reduction is made according to the situation of grave".
The records of payment in all three registers seem sparse. 1887 ledger (which seems to be a record started by John D. Hicks, Treasurer) says actual certificates of allotment were not issued until June 14, 1894. Income was very modest; when the Westbury Literary and Historical Society incorporated in 1894 (see below), Westbury Preparative Meeting on 4-11-1894 gave the cemetery $760 for its upkeep, presumably the total assets of the cemetery committee.
All three registers of the 1880s show a large plot south of the south road in the cemetery, Plot 79 (now Section H), designated "for colored people". There were burials there starting in 1885 or earlier and some are identified in the records as colored. Some of the original families are still using these plots for burials. However, it should be noted that as of 2000 there are burials of African-Americans in all parts of the cemetery.
In the early 1890s there was a concern for the future care of the cemetery. At least some influential members of the meeting believed that the Westbury Meeting itself might not survive. The action taken was to incorporate The Westbury Literary and Historical Society on March 22, 1894 with John D. Hicks, Benjamin D Hicks, George P. Titus, William Post, William H. Willits, James R. Willets, and Isaac H. Cocks as the first trustees. The Certificate of Incorporation says that they intend to collect and maintain records of the Society of Friends and maintain a library; it does not mention operating the Friends Cemetery at Westbury. It is not clear whether the Trustees felt that they had good legal advice in using this device to assume operation of the cemetery, although it appears that at least Trustee William H. Willits was a lawyer. Whether serious questions were raised in the 1890s about a Literary and Historical Society operating a cemetery, such questions were raised by John J. Carle (appointed Trustee 11-14-1903) in 1912. Carle received a legal opinion from Daniel Underhill, apparently also a Friend, who wrote "I can find nothing to indicate that such Societies are or have ever been empowered to maintain a cemetery" (December 17th 1912). However, Daniel Underhill wrote again (February 5, 1913) that Chapter 318 of the laws of 1840 did seem by inference to allow a college or literary incorporated institution to "provide and keep in repair a place for the burial of the dead". Underhill recommended that Westbury Literary and Historical Society should do more with respect to the literary purpose for which it was incorporated.
When the Westbury Literary and Historical Society began to operate the cemetery, charges were immediately increased, contributions were solicited, and plots in Section B seem to have been actively sold to non-Friends, particularly from the neighboring Church of the Advent after it was built. They published rules for burials, including permissible size and shape of headstones and of types of plantings. Annual contributions for maintenance were expected unless the heirs made a significant contribution to the Permanent Fund.
In 1915 and 1918, Harold E. Hawxhurst, a Civil Engineer and a Trustee, made the first formal maps of the cemetery property (first Section 2, then Section 1). In 1921, he proposed the system of plot maps for record keeping that is still in use, with a separate book for the registration of plots. These maps were amended and updated periodically. They include a 1937 map for Section 3 where the Orthodox Meeting House stands; this area was never developed as a cemetery. Later updates were made by Nelson and Baldwin (1951, 1953, 1954), by Barrett, Bonacci, Hyman and VanWeele (1994) and by Donald W, Smith (1994, 2000). All of these maps are available in safe in cemetery office. A Planimetrics map of the whole property was made in 1998 showing trees, roads and buildings, as well as cemetery lay out. The cemetery portion of the map is in the cemetery office; a reduced version has been made for demonstrating how the cemetery property will be used for environmental education at Westbury Friends School. The cemetery property inside the iron fence is 8.6990 acres.
Management of the cemetery by the Westbury Literary and Historical Society continued with improving financial resources, generally improving record systems, and satisfactory maintenance of the cemetery grounds. In May 1928, the Society received the property of the Westbury Monthly Meeting (Orthodox), which had been abandoned about 1923. The trustees were a continuing parade of weighty Friends from Westbury, Manhasset, and Matinecock Preparative Meetings. Their minute book and financial records from 1939 to the dissolution of the society and return of the real estate and financial assets to Westbury Meeting in 1950-1 are available. Edmund Post, Treasurer, reported assets of $19,804.18 in 1914; in 1939, Arthur W. Post, Treasurer, reported assets of $143,101.
Dissolution of the Westbury Literary and Historical Society came rather unexpectedly. In 1949, New York State passed a law to exercise new controls over cemeteries, which were not operated by a religious corporation. The law was to take effect on September 1. Edwin W. Weeks received an opinion from the Attorney General that it would apply to the Westbury Cemetery. This opinion led to several special meetings in August, two of the Literary and Historical Society and one of Westbury Monthly Meeting. The outcome was a decision that the reason for the existence of the Westbury Literary and Historical Society had passed and that it was appropriate to return the property and assets to Westbury Preparative and Monthly Meetings. A petition of dissolution was filed with the Supreme Court, Nassau County on August 31, 1949. There followed a series of legal documents and an accounting of assets ($163,150.97 as of 9-1-1949) which culminated in a final authority to transfer all assets on 3-19-111951. The cemetery was back in the control of Westbury Meeting, with the stipulation that financial assets which were transferred must not be co-mingles with other assets of Westbury Meeting. These funds were to be used for maintenance of all the property formerly owned by the Literary and Historical Society, including the former Orthodox Meeting building and property. The Meeting appointed a Cemetery Committee, including most of the people who had recently been trustees of the Literary and Historical Society, to manage the cemetery. (A folder containing all of these records can be found in file cabinet in Cemetery Office).
Soon after the Cemetery Committee was formed, the preparative meetings were laid down and the old Westbury Monthly Meeting was broken up into Westbury Monthly Meeting, Manhasset Monthly Meeting, and Matinecock Monthly Meeting (1960). Westbury Monthly Meeting was incorporated (date?). However, for as long as their members were interested, Manhasset and Matinecock were invited to appoint members to the Cemetery Committee.
Currently, the Cemetery Committee contributes to what is known as the "Shared Costs Budget" of the Westbury Monthly Meeting by which the Meeting, Westbury Friends School, and the Cemetery cover all buildings and grounds costs. The Cemetery continues to identify assets which were transferred from the Literary and Historical Society and use them only as decreed by the Court in 1951.
Jane Ann Smith, april 4, 2001