Photo: NYC Parks

Live music and lectures will accompany the unveiling of the headstone, unearthed in 2009 during archaeological testing prior to park renovations 

Today, NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner Anthony Perez and NYC Parks Art & Antiquities Director Jonathan Kuhn joined Washington Square Park Administrator William Morrison, City Council Member Christopher Marte, Chair of Community Board 2 Susan Kent, Consul General of the Irish Consulate Helena Nolan, Executive Director of Village Preservation Andrew Berman, New York University faculty member Marion R. Casey, Consultant Archaeologist Joan Geismar, Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission Sarah Carroll, Irish singer Guen Donohue, NYU Student singer Clare Martin and members of the community to honor the unveiling of the historic James Jackson Tombstone. 

“This exhibit gives New Yorkers an opportunity to learn and share the rich history of our greenspaces,” said NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner Anthony Perez. “Washington Square Park has served untold numbers of New Yorkers over the generations, and we are grateful that we are able to amplify the importance of remembering and respecting the history of the space.” 

“The richness and variety of layers of history found in Greenwich Village, and particularly Washington Square, cannot be overstated. The square has been the site of everything from millionaire’s mansions to the final resting place for the destitute, huge public celebrations of great moments in history to the state-sanctioned taking of lives,” said Andrew Berman, Executive Director of Village Preservation. “We’re grateful that this project memorializing James Jackson has been completed. We hope it will give all New Yorkers a slightly fuller and more accurate picture of how we got here and came to be who we are, and of what an invaluable resource Greenwich Village and Washington Square are for remembering and learning from our history.” 

“James Jackson’s tombstone proved to be an extraordinary find that changed the concept and the history of the Potter’s Field once located in Washington Square Park,” said Joan Geismar, Consultant Archaeologist. 

“History often obscures the quiet actions that derive from friendship, kinship, and empathy. Whoever arranged and paid for James Jackson’s headstone was cognizant of the ways in which the phrase ‘native of the county of Kildare Ireland’ would distinguish him from New Yorkers generally, and among his fellow Irishmen in particular,” said Marion R. Casey, Clinical Professor of Irish Studies, New York UniversityHe was a young man from a part of Ireland convulsed by rebellion in 1798 who died in a city ravaged by a deadly epidemic in 1799. Now, this 18th century stone is a 21st century palimpsest and Jackson can represent all the people for whom our remarkable city is home.” 

James Jackson’s headstone dates to 1799 and was unearthed in 2009, during archaeological testing prior to renovating Washington Square Park’s Sullivan Street entrance. It will now be displayed securely at the park house in a window bay visible to the public along with an explanatory sign, not far from where it was excavated. 

A large portion of Washington Square Park was historically used as a “potter’s field,” in which thousands were buried including the unidentified, the indigent and many who died of yellow fever. Historical research identified that Jackson, an Irish immigrant born in County Kildare, resided at the time of his death in 1799 at 19 East George (now Market) Street. He was employed as a watchman and died of yellow fever at age 28. The precise circumstances of how Jackson’s headstone wound up at this park location remains a mystery. 

In 1825 the burial ground was converted to a parade ground and subsequently a public park in 1827. The park dedication coincides with the date that Jackson “departed this life,” as the tombstone says, 224 years ago. 

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