The gravestone of a man known only as "Ned" whose biography has been lost to history has been found and returned to his East Hampton Town grave site nearly 200 years after his death.
According to local historians, Ned was a former slave who died on Aug. 8, 1817, and was buried at the back of what is now a home on Morris Park Lane, in an area of East Hampton known as Freetown, where freed slaves and Montaukett Indians settled. His headstone disappeared about seven years ago and was found this summer.
All of what is known about him is on his weatherworn gravestone: "Ned, faithful negro manservant to Capt. Jeremiah Osborn." The stone was discovered leaning against a fence in the neighborhood close to the gravesite. Last week it was returned to its rightful place.
"We didn't ask any questions, we were just glad we found it," said Zachary Cohen, chairman of the East Hampton Nature Preserve Committee.
He said why it disappeared and under what circumstances it was found are not important. That it's back, honoring a former slave, is what counts.To celebrate the find, committee members arranged for a ceremony held Thursday at Ned's final resting place, the backyard of a home owned by Jose Ricardo Guichay since 1999. "We're very happy to have him here," Guichay's daughter, Maritza, 29, said. "We knew someone was buried here when my father bought the house. This is part of American history."
A new white fence was installed around the approximately 9-foot-by-12-foot plot and two trees were planted on either side of the headstone by the town, which owns a 5-foot easement on the property that includes the burial ground. The town will maintain the site.
"He deserves all the honor and all the dignity that we can give him," said Audrey Gaines, a member of the East Hampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force, who attended the ceremony along with about 25 community members and local officials.
Georgette Grier-Key, director of the Eastville Historical Society, said that Ned's burial ground being restored is important to everyone because it is part of "our collective history."
The Rev. Walter S. Thompson, senior pastor at East Hampton Calvary Baptist Church, said slavery's story is painful. He said Ned's name on a gravestone, even if that is all that is known about him, brought people together. "Good night, Ned, sleep and rest well," Thompson said at the ceremony.