Mt. Hope Cemetery

Mt. Hope Cemetery is a historical cemetery in the Highland Park neighborhood in Rochester, NY.

Source: https://www.cityofrochester.gov/assets/0/117/8589934988/8589934999/c3c1c299-ec25-496c-8cab-cc5c303fde3f.jpg

The adjacent Highland Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1888. It is an outdoor arboretum that exemplifies Olmsted’s vision of “pastoral” landscaping. (https://www.cityofrochester.gov/article.aspx?id=8589938235)

Picture source: https://media.democratandchronicle.com/retrofitting-rochester/frederick-douglass-monument

Picture source: https://www.rochestercitynewspaper.com/rochester/area-will-celebrate-douglasss-200th/Content?oid=5130594

Today Highland Park is home to a statue of Frederick Douglass, self freed black abolitionist who settled in Rochester, NY, where he published his abolitionist newspaper North Star. The statue, originally erected in front of the New York Central Train Station on the corner of St. Paul Street and Central Avenue on June 8, 1899, was the first in American history to memorialize a black man. In 1941 it was moved to Highland Park. Emily Morry , historical researcher for the city of Rochester writes:

Though the corner of Central Avenue and St. Paul Street once marked a “great portal” of the Flower City, it proved an inhospitable home for Rochester’s “most illustrious citizen.” The land on which the statue stood was plagued by noise and congestion, even after the train station was replaced with a new depot a block away in 1913.

A letter to the editor of the Democrat and Chronicle in 1941 described the area as “grimy and sooty” and commented, “it is a puzzle as to how the city fathers ever picked such an outlandish place for any statue, much less that of Frederick Douglass.”

Other locals concurred that the monument merited a more pastoral and peaceful setting. A committee of city officials decided to move the statue to Highland Park in 1941.

Greeting Highland Park patrons for the past 73 years, the Frederick Douglass Monument now fittingly resides less than 300 yards from the site of the South Avenue home where the abolitionist offered safe passage to enslaved Americans on their road to freedom. (https://media.democratandchronicle.com/retrofitting-rochester/frederick-douglass-monument)

Mt. Hope Cemetery’s Gazebo and Chapel, 1872. Photo source: Mary Woodbury Strong Collection

Across Mt. Hope Ave. from Highland Park is Mt. Hope Cemetery. It was dedicated in 1888 by Rev. Pharcellus Church. In his dedication address Church remarked on the natural beauty of the site:

At few points on the surface of the globe has nature been more liberal… rural scenery, ponds, undulating surface uniting features both of beauty and sublimity that may be easily cleared and made to present a smooth and shining surface expanse of molten silver, a dry and light soil peculiarly favorable alike to the opening of graves and the preservation of them from the intrusion of water, and a location retired and yet sufficiently contiguous to our city and some of the advantages which conspire to make Mt. Hope one of the most inviting cemeteries in the world. Good judges who have visited both, pronounce its scenery even more bold and picturesque, than that of the celebrated Mount Auburn… (Thomas/Rosenberg-Naparsteck, 8)

Mt. Hope’s hills, ponds and winding contours were created by glaciers thousands of years ago (Thomas/Rosenbers-Naparsteck, 8). The unique geology of the area made it a logical choice for an urban open space.

Mt. Hope Cemetery is part of the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. According to their website:

Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY is the final resting place of abolitionists and figures associated with the UGRR [Underground Rail Road]. Due to its location, waterways and close proximity to Canada, Rochester became a bustling hub of UGRR activity. Many fugitives were ushered through Rochester on the path to freedom, and some chose to make Rochester their home, including Reverend Thomas James, Georgiana Sims, Charlotte Bristol, and William Thomas. Austin Steward lived in Rochester for a time, leaving 3 infant children in the cemetery. Many citizens of Rochester operated stations, including George Avery, John Kedzie, Samuel Porter, Henry Quinby, David Richardson, David Stanley and the families of Asa Anthony, Daniel Anthony, Elias DeGarmo, Lester Dolley, Samuel D. Porter, and Issac Post. William Falls, Edward Williams and Jacob Morris helped the cause by soliciting funds to aid escaping slaves. Susan B. Anthony and Henry Selden were acquainted with John Brown, and aided the cause after the failed Harper’s Ferry raid. Frederick Douglass belongs in any and all of these categories, as he spent a great portion of his adult life in Rochester, raising his family, publishing his paper, aiding fugitives and fighting the injustice of human bondage. (https://www.nps.gov/subjects/ugrr/discover_history/underground_map.htm)

Among the abolitionists buried in Mt. Hope cemetery are Amy and Isaac Post, Hicksite Quakers who founded the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society (WNYASS) and were involved in many causes throughout Rochester in the mid 19th century.

The Posts moved to Rochester in 1836. Isaac Post became moderately successful as a pharmacist and drugstore owner. They helped found the WNYASS in 1842. By 1845 the Posts stopped attending Quaker services. The Posts were also active in women’s and workers’ struggles. In 1848 Amy Post helped found the Working Women’s Protective Union of Rochester that agitated for equal pay for women. Amy Post was also a suffragist. She joined the Equal Rights Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association in the 1860s. (https://rrlc.org/winningthevote/biographies/amy-post/)

Also buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery are Benjamin and Sarah Fish, friends of the Posts and “Friends” in the Hicksite Society of Friends of Rochester. Fish was a devout member of the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers. In 1817 Benjamin Fish moved to Farmington, NY from Rhode Island. There he met his wife Sarah Bills in 1822. Sarah would become a feminist activist in her own right (Hewitt, Radical Friend, 62). In the 1840s Fish became interested in putting the philosophy of French socialist Charles Fourier into practice. He moved his family to the Sodus Bay Phalanx, a utopian commune near Rochester based on Fourierist principles.

Myron Holley is another of the prominent abolitionists laid to rest at Mt. Hope. Holley was a politician in Rochester. From 1810 to 1824 Holley worked with New York governor Dewitt Clinton to secure funding for the Erie Canal and became Erie Canal Comissioner (Wright, 46).

He gained political experience in the Anti-Masonic Movement. In 1839 Holley sold his farm to fund his new venture Rochester Freeman, an antislavery newspaper (Sernett, 107). In 1840 he became one of the founders of the Liberty Party, the first abolitionist third party movement in the United States, along with prominent abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison (Sernett, 112). Holley was instrumental in shifting abolitionist tactics from moral suasion to political action. The town of Holley, about five and a half miles from Brockport, is named after Myron Holley (http://www.epodunk.com/cgi-bin/genInfo.php?locIndex=868).

Among Mt. Hope’s more famous buried resters are Frederick Douglass, once one of the most photographed men in the world, Susan B. Anthony and Lewis Henry Morgan (https://www.npr.org/2015/12/13/459593474/picture-this-frederick-douglass-was-the-most-photographed-man-of-his-time).

Douglass was one of the most photographed men of his time, a time when photography was a fairly new invention. Picture source: https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2018/spring/feature/frederick-douglass-once-turned-fiction-describe-what-he-considered-true-heroism

Frederick Douglass is buried near the front of the cemetery. His first wife, who died while he was away in England is buried on the same plot as is his second wife. Douglass became famous for his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, a devastating account of the horrors of slavery and for his abolitionist newspaper North Star, which he published in Rochester. In 1843 Douglass wrote to Amy Post, “I have finally decided on publishing the North Star in Rochester and to make that city my future home (Sernett, xiv). Douglass did make Rochester his home until his death. In 1865 Douglass died of a heart attack in Washington, DC. His body was brought back to Rochester. His funeral was held at the Central Church, today home to the Hochstein School of Music, and a procession went from there to Mt. Hope Cemetery (https://freethought-trail.org/trail-map/location:central-church-hochstein-music-school/)

Hochstein School of Music, formerly Central Church where Douglass’ funeral was held. Picture source: https://freethought-trail.org/trail-map/location:central-church-hochstein-music-school/

Susan B. Anthony, pioneer of women’s suffrage is also buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Anthony was acquainted with Douglass and was an abolitionist as well as an advocate for women’s rights.

Not far from Susan B. Anthony is E. J. Keeney, the deputy marshal that awkwardly arrested Anthony for illegally voting on November 28th, 1872. Here is the story according to journalist Jamie Lutz:

On Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 28, an imposingly tall, impeccably attired, and very fidgety gentleman presented himself at the Anthony family’s front door. After a few nervous comments about the weather he began hesitantly, “Miss Anthony,” but could not continue.

“Won’t you sit down?” she said pleasantly.

“No thank you. You see, Miss Anthony …,” he stammered. “I am here on a most uncomfortable errand.” He hesitated again. “The fact is, Miss Anthony … I have come to arrest you.”

The unhappy deputy marshal, E. J. Keeney, seemed about to collapse, but he pressed on. “If you will oblige me by coming as soon as possible to the District Attorney’s office, no escort will be necessary.”

“Is this the usual manner of serving a warrant?”

Keeney blushed and drew the warrant from his pocket. It said she had violated an act of Congress.

The possibility of arrest had never occurred to Anthony, but she kept her composure. “I prefer to be arrested like anybody else. You may handcuff me as soon as I get my coat and hat.” Keeney refused.

(https://www.bustle.com/articles/121930-susan-b-anthony-voted-got-arrested-for-it-on-this-day-in-history-in-1872)

Lewis Henry Morgan is another of Mt. Hope’s prestigious resters. Morgan became famous for his book League of the Ho-de’-no-sau-nee (or Iroquois) published in 1851 (https://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/lewis-henry-morgan-at-200-reintroduces-a-landmark-scholar-355942/).

Lewis Henry Morgan, a father of modern anthropological theory, picture source: https://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/lewis-henry-morgan-at-200-reintroduces-a-landmark-scholar-355942/

He is considered a father of modern anthropological theory. He pioneered kinship studies, the theory of social evolution and coined the term “primitive communism.”

German communist Frederich Engels based his book On the Origin of the Family, Private Property and State on Morgan’s Ancient Society. According to a 1973 article in the New York Times:

His predictions of a nobler and more just social order to come and his emphasis on the revolutionary character of some cultural changes attracted Marx, who died before writing a planned hook about Morgan, and Engels, who credited Morgan with having independently formulated the Marxist materialist conception of history. (https://www.nytimes.com/1973/08/21/archives/marx-and-engels-studied-the-works-of-lewis-morgan.html)

The cover of the original 1884 German edition of On the Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State acknowledges Morgan’s influence on the front cover. Picture source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origin_of_the_Family,_Private_Property_and_the_State

Mt. Hope epitomized the progressive vision of the mid-19th century Rochesterians. Its beauty was meant to uplift the visitors and renew their spirit. Mt. Hope is the final resting place of many Rochester radicals and reformers, but the cemetery itself is a representation of the reform impulse in Rochester at the time.

Sources

“Amy Post.” Winning the Vote. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://rrlc.org/winningthevote/biographies/amy-post/.

“City of Rochester.” City of Rochester. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://www.cityofrochester.gov/article.aspx?id=8589938235.

Flynn, Tom. “Central Church / Hochstein Music School.” Freethought Trail. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://freethought-trail.org/trail-map/location:central-church-hochstein-music-school/.

“Frederick Douglass Monument.” Multimedia. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://media.democratandchronicle.com/retrofitting-rochester/frederick-douglass-monument.

Hewitt, Nancy A. Radical Friend: Amy Kirby Post and Her Activist Worlds. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

“Marx and Engels Studied the Works Of Lewis Morgan.” The New York Times. August 21, 1973. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/1973/08/21/archives/marx-and-engels-studied-the-works-of-lewis-morgan.html.

“Picture This: Frederick Douglass Was The Most Photographed Man Of His Time.” NPR. December 13, 2015. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2015/12/13/459593474/picture-this-frederick-douglass-was-the-most-photographed-man-of-his-time.

“Profile for Holley, New York, NY.” EPodunk. Accessed April 24, 2019. http://www.epodunk.com/cgi-bin/genInfo.php?locIndex=868.

Sernett, Milton Charles. North Star Country: Upstate New York and the Crusade for African American Freedom. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002.

Thomas, W. Stephen and Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck. “Sleepers’ City: The Susquecentennial History of Mt. Hope Cemetery.” Rochester History (1988): 1-24.

“Underground Railroad Map.” National Parks Service. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/ugrr/discover_history/underground_map.htm.

Wright, Elizur. Myron Holley: And What He Did for Liberty and True Religion. Boston: Printed for the Author, 1882.

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