Author Archives: Spring Street Archaeology Project

Descendants Speak: Mr. Frank Nattrass

This post is the first in our series Descendants Speak, in which I interview descendants of those buried at the church.  Mr. Nattrass’s interview is particularly moving, as he talks about what it means to him to learn about the life of his great great grandmother who is buried at the church.  If you think you might be related to an individual who was buried at Spring Street, please contact us.  –Meredith A.B. Ellis

Mr. Nattrass, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born Frank Peter Nattrass on November 19, 1932 in Brooklyn, Kings, New York. The Nattrass family had been living in the area since my gg grandfather John Nattrass and his family moved there from Dutchess County, NY in about 1828. John is listed in the directory as a grocer at 204 Varick corner Hamersley from 1828-1837. In the 1830 Census the family is enumerated on Hamersley. My gg grandmother Sarah (Sally) died January 19, 1836 and was buried at the Spring Street Presbyterian Church. Since I suspect that the business was probably a Ma & Pa type grocery business he found that after her untimely demise that he couldn’t run the business without her, and the next reference I found for him is in the 1850 Census where he is living with one of his sons who is in the business of manufacturing and repairing stoves in Brooklyn. My gg grandfather John died on April 30, 1851, and was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Shortly after my birth, my parents moved to New Rochelle, Westchester, NY, which is where my Nattrass grandparents had moved previously. My father was a music publisher and would commute to NYC to his office at 145 W. 45th St.

I graduated from New Rochelle High School in 1951 and went on to The Art Institute of Chicago Goodman Memorial Theater on a scholarship. From there I served 2 yrs. in the United States Army during the Korean War. I have lived in the Los Angeles area and the San Francisco area of California, Minneapolis area of Minnesota and now the Phoenix area of Arizona. I have had a colorful and wonderful life so far and am happily married to my wife Sherrie who you met.

Why did you get involved with your family’s genealogy?

I have been interested since childhood. My mother told us stories about our grandfathers both of whom had died before I was 3 yrs old. In 1973 I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and began doing research in earnest. In the Church we believe that families can be sealed together for eternity. So as members of the Church we search out their names and perform sealing ordinances for them in our Temples.

What have you learned about your family, particularly about your relatives buried at the Spring Street Presbyterian Church?

Sarah (Sally) Nattrass was born Sarah Nelson on 9 Aug 1777 in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess, New York to Thomas Nelson and Sarah Wright. Sarah is the only ancestor who was buried at the Spring Street Presbyterian Church. I have a good deal of family history on the Nelson line with that lineage traced back to the 1620’s.

What favorite stories have you learned about your ancestors during this time period?

Recently I was very interested to learn that the Spring Street Church was an abolitionist congregation and that the Sunday School and other services were multiracial. This information gives me new feelings of pride for my heritage knowing that they stood up for what was right in spite of the political correctness and social stigma of the time.

How did you find out about the Spring Street Archaeology Project?

I knew where the other members of my family were buried but I had no idea about the location of the Spring Street Church. In my mind, I pictured a quaint old church with a graveyard adjoining. I decided to find the address of the church so I did and online search and got the surprise of my life!

What did it mean for you to attend the memorial for the Spring Street congregation?

It was an honor to be in attendance and to celebrate the lives of those brave people who believed that all men are created equal in the eyes of God.

Why does this archaeology and history project matter to you?

It is a search for truth. Uncovering truth is a way to understand our past and gives us a sense of our heritage. For me especially, I received a great feeling of pride in my ancestors who risked everything to follow their conscience and stand firm on their beliefs regardless of the type of persecution they must have endured.

Why is important to you, as a descendant, to be a part of a project like this?

I have learned that my direct ancestors turned out to be heroes. It gives me an incentive to be a better citizen and a better person.

Frank Nattrass pictured with students and Dr. Shannon Novak at the Spring Street Memorial Service Reception, October 2014.

Project Update!

Hi all! Occasionally I will post project updates here as new information, press releases, or events come along. Here’s the latest from us! –Meredith A.B. Ellis

New in the news:

Return from obscurity: NY’s Spring Street Presbyterian Church, by Jim Nedelka

New Media:

The first videos from the Memorial are up!  You can view all three eulogies here. More clips to come!

Upcoming talks:

At the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, December 3-7th, 2014, in Washington, DC:

Enamel, Stone, and Gold: Probing Composite Mouths and Personhood in Nineteenth Century New York City. Alanna Warner (Syracuse University) Lauren Hosek (Syracuse University)

Extensions and Articulations: The “Generation Problem” in Jacksonian Manhattan.  Shannon Novak (Syracuse University) and Meredith Ellis (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)

An Interview with David Pultz: The Spring Street Story: A Documentary Film

I recently had a chance to interview David Pultz.  Here is our conversation about his work creating The Spring Street Story: A Documentary Film. –Meredith A.B. Ellis


Tell us a little about your involvement with the Spring Street project. How did you get involved?

I was asked by the Presbytery of New York back in January 2007, along with a couple of others from First Presbyterian Church to visit a construction site where some burial vaults with human remains were found that were part of a former Presbyterian Church. The Presbytery had been contacted by the developer of the site, asking if they would take custody of the remains for eventual reburial. I believe First Presbyterian was subsequently contacted with the idea that perhaps the remains could be re-interred in its vaults. I was then asked if I would become part of the Presbytery’s Spring Street Committee, which I did. I’m assuming I was drawn into this project because of my position as Archivist at First Presbyterian and general interest in history.

(Read more about David Pultz’s involvement here: Eulogy by David Pultz)

Where did the idea come from to do a documentary film about the site and its history?

It generally evolved in my mind as I began to learn more about the history of the Spring Street Church, and in particular its abolitionist pastors and the fact that it practiced what it preached by accepting free African Americans into full membership.

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Spring Street Memorial: Eulogy by Meredith Ellis

This is the third eulogy that was delivered at the Spring Street Memorial, held on Sunday, October 19th at 4pm at the First Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Spring Street Memorial
Sunday, October 19th, 2014
Meredith A.B. Ellis

In the early spring of 2007, when I was working as a writing and composition instructor and volunteering in the laboratory of Dr. Shannon Novak at Syracuse University, Dr. Thomas Crist at Utica College contacted her and asked if she might be interested in helping with some skeletal analysis. And so the first set of remains from the Spring Street Presbyterian Church arrived at Syracuse University. I had been toying with the idea of returning to school to pursue my PhD in Anthropology, but I had little experience and no project in mind. When we began to work on this population, we had no idea how important it would turn out to be, no idea how much we would learn about life in the 19th century in New York City, and no idea how many people we would have a chance to study. And, I had no idea that it would launch my career in Anthropology. By the fall of 2008, I was back in school full time, working through the collection with Shannon Novak and the other student volunteers who would come to know these people so well.

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Spring Street Memorial: Eulogy by Shannon Novak

This is the second of three eulogies that was delivered at the Spring Street Memorial, held on Sunday, October 19th at 4pm at the First Presbyterian Church of New York City.

Spring Street Presbyterian Church Memorial Service
Shannon A. Novak, Syracuse University
October 19, 2014
New York City

As a young boy, Samuel Hutchings was left homeless after his family’s grocery on North Moore Street was destroyed by a fire that spread from an adjacent bakery. In the winter of 1816, he remembered, “we removed to Greenwich Village, as the upper part of the city was then called. It was quite out of town,” he added (1894:9). Here the bucolic countryside was known for its clean airs, and served as a temporary refuge when epidemics swept through the city. Indeed, during a yellow fever outbreak in the summer of 1822, the Hutchings family was joined in the Village by thousands of other city-dwellers fleeing north. This time, many stayed and built a new community—a bustling neighborhood of working- and middle-class households of both European and African American descent.

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Spring Street Memorial: Eulogy by David Pultz

This is the first of three eulogies that were given at the Spring Street Memorial Ceremony, held on Sunday, October 19th at 4pm at the First Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Remarks by David Pultz at the Memorial Service for The Spring Street Presbyterian Church
The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York
October 19, 2014, 4 P.M.

In early January 2007 I was asked to be part of a small contingent to visit a construction site at the south-east corner of Spring and Varick Streets. It was a bright, crisp sunny day. As digging began the previous month for the foundation of a new building, old burial vaults with human remains from the early half of the 19th century had been discovered. It was the site of the former Spring Street Presbyterian Church. There were shelter tents covering an area in which four vaults contained the remains. They were being studied and catalogued by archaeologists for eventual removal.

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