Unveiling of Historic James Jackson Tombstone in Washington Square Park on Anniversary of His Death in 1799




James Jackson Headstone. Image credit NYC Department of Parks and Recreation

On Friday, September 22, 2023, NYC Parks will host live music and lectures for the unveiling of the historic James Jackson tombstone in Washington Square Park. The event will take place at 11am at Park House, 200 Washington Square, with a host of attendee’s including NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner Anthony Perez and NYC Parks Art & Antiquities Director Jonathan Kuhn, who will join 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 JoanGeismar, Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission Sarah Carroll, Irish singer Guen Donohue, NYU Student singer Clare Martin and members of the community, all honoring the unveiling of the historic James Jackson Tombstone. 

Image credit: NYC Parks

It was On This Day, September 22nd, in 1799, that James Jackson passed away.

The finding of the Jackson tombstone happened shortly after the Phase II redesign construction that began in early Fall of 2009. The headstone, dating back to 1799, was unearthed during archaeological testing prior to renovating Washington Square Park’s Sullivan Street entrance. It is a three-foot-tall sandstone marker, and 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.

Image credit: NYC Parks
Washington Square Park was constructed in the 1850s at the site of the City’s former potter’s field. From 1797 until 1825, thousands of people — including the unidentified, the indigent, and those who died of yellow fever — were buried there, with several church burial grounds also located in the northeast portion of the site. Many died of yellow fever.

Image credit: NYC Parks
In 2021, NYC Parks reinterred the fragmentary remains of early New Yorkers found during construction in and around Washington Square Park. Green-Wood Cemetery volunteered their services for excavation, which was overseen by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Director of Archaeology. The human remains were placed in a wooden box and buried five feet below grade within a planting bed in the park. An engraved paver marks the site, near the Sullivan Street and Washington Square Park South entrance.

Image credit: NYC Parks

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.

Image credit: NYC Parks

Here lies the body of James Jackson,” the inscription declares, “who departed this life the 22nd day of September 1799 aged 28 years native of the county of Kildare Ireland.”

Read a short history of Washington Square Park

Read about the Public Burial Ground in Washington Square Park by New York City Cemetery Project.

The Washington Square Park Blog asks the question, Should Washington Square Park Identify 20,000 Dead Bodies Beneath it?