Seneca Mission Indian Church Grounds Desecration

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Seneca Mission was a former Christian mission originally located on the Buffalo Creek Reservation in south Buffalo, New York. The church grounds were desecrated by City of Buffalo contractors both in the late 19th century and in 2009.

Seneca Mission Church and Church Grounds - in the middle of what is now Indian Church Road in Buffalo, New York

Contents

History

As the Senecas were inclined into selling most of their vast lands in Western New York, the Buffalo Creek Reservation was formed in 1797, southeast of what was then the small village of Buffalo. In the early 19th century, the New York Missionary Society established a school, and later a church, known as the Seneca Mission on this reservation.[1] Another missionary organization, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, took over the mission in 1826. The church building, finally built that same year with the help of the Senecas, was situated on Indian Church Road, in what is now South Buffalo.[2]

As was common for rural churches at the time, the 2.5-acre (10,000 m2) church yard (330 feet by 330 feet)[3] provided ample space for the burial of Senecas who converted to Christianity. The Reverends Harris and Wright, heads of the mission, would have encouraged church members to be buried in the consecrated grounds next to the church instead of the ancient native burial grounds located at Seneca Indian Park.

Seneca Indian Church Ground Location (2.5 acres) - as depicted in a 1880 Erie County Atlas, Indian Church Road dirt road crosses area with "dashed lines"
Seneca Indian Church Ground Location - square towards right portion of map - shown on 1886 City of Buffalo Map - Aurora Plank Road now named Seneca Street (Matthews, Northrup and Co., publisher)
Seneca Indian Church Ground Location (330 feet frontage) between Lots 19 and 28 - as depicted in an 1894 City of Buffalo Atlas, Indian Church Road has an alternate name of Winchester Ave. - water and sewer lines already in place (street later returned to the name Indian Church Road)

The exact location of the church and grounds can be determined to have been in the middle of present day Indian Church Road, between Galloway and Junior Streets. A square plot of land was procured by the missionary group for the express purpose of providing a sanctuary for the actual church building and grounds. The location of these church grounds can be found on the Erie County Atlases of 1866, 1872, and 1880, and from the City of Buffalo map of 1886.[4][5]

After the Senecas moved from the Buffalo Creek Reservation in 1846 the church building slowly fell into disrepair. The church grounds, however, were said to still have been owned by the missionaries until the late 1890s. During this time, it is likely some of the area's white residents used these same consecrated grounds for burials. A Buffalo cemetery known as the Reservation Cemetery was said to have been used for burials until 1889. There was also a cemetery known as Braves' Rest.[6] One of these cemeteries was also known as the Mission Church cemetery. Christian burials could have occurred there, as the grounds were properly consecrated. Uncertainty exists as to whether the old Native American Cemetery at Buffum Street and Fields Avenue was ever officially consecrated.

By 1880, an atlas shows the current Indian Church Road encroaching into the burial grounds, with dashed lines on either side of the road boundary as it runs over the church yard. In an article[7] about the life of Mary Jemison, the following was given as one of the main reasons for her body to be disinterred from her burial place and moved to her final resting place at what is now Letchworth State Park:

"She made her residence on Buffalo Flats [Creek Reservation], where she resided till her death, September 9th, 1833, at the age of about ninety-one years. She was buried at the cemetery near the Seneca mission church, and a marble slab, with an appropriate inscription, erected at her grave."

"Forty years passed after her burial at that place, and the stone that marked her grave had been almost entirely chipped away to furnish mementoes of the woman who had figured so strangely in the early history of the region. Through the cemetery had also been surveyed a street, which, when opened, would pass over this grave. It was therefore determined to remove her remains from the grave that had thus been desecrated, and which was likely soon to be obliterated, and deposit them were such desecrations would not be likely to occur. This determination on the part of some of her descendants was seconded and supported by some philanthropic and benevolent citizens of Buffalo, who were deeply interested in all that pertained to pioneer and Indian history. In March, 1874, these remains were carefully disinterred by an undertaker, under the direction of her grandson Dr. James Shongo, and placed in a tasteful black walnut coffin."

Turn of the 19th to 20th century Church Grounds Desecration

In the late 1890s, a concrete road and houses were built on the original 2.5-acre (10,000 m2) mission grounds. The City of Buffalo was involved in this action, as water and sewer lines were laid straight through the old mission church grounds in the early 1890s as well. An 1894 City of Buffalo atlas shows a 6-inch (150 mm) water pipe and sewer line already in place at that time.[8]

Leg bone sliced by the Buffalo Sewer Authority contractor on Indian Church Road on or adjacent to the old Seneca Mission Church Grounds
Human skull and another leg bone disturbed during construction on Indian Church Road in the old Seneca Mission Church Grounds

2009 Desecration of the Church yard by the Buffalo Sewer Authority

In June 2009, after almost one hundred years of peace, the Buffalo Sewer Authority's (BSA) contractor started grinding into the Seneca Mission church yard on Indian Church Road. Before the project was started, the Authority was advised of the risks of tearing down the length of Indian Church Road.[9] However, the BSA did not heed these warnings, and sliced bones of the deceased started appearing at the construction site. Further appeals were sent directly to Mayor Brown's office and to several media outlets and Christian organizations in the area, but to no avail. The contractor of the Buffalo Sewer Authority continued for the next two weeks grinding and digging, disturbing the church yard grounds and the bodies buried there.

The result was a new deep trench straight through the old church yard, with the bones of disturbed graves split between the ground and a waste pile in a nearby parking lot in West Seneca.


References

  1. ^ Western New York Heritage, Fall 2005, Volume 8 Number 3
  2. ^ Western New York Heritage, Fall 2005, Volume 8 Number 3
  3. ^ F.W. Beers & Co. -- Cartographer Atlases of the United States -New York -Illustrated historical atlas of Erie County, New York from actual survey and records. Plate 48, and 49 copyright 1880
  4. ^ Western New York Heritage, Fall 2005, Volume 8 Number 3
  5. ^ City of Buffalo map - circa 1886 - Matthews, Northrup and Co., Buffalo, New York, publisher
  6. ^ http://wnyroots.tripod.com/index-buffalo.html
  7. ^ History of Wyoming County, N.Y. : with illustrations, biographical sketches, and portraits of some pioneers and prominent residents.. New York: F.W. Beers, 1880.
  8. ^ 1894 City of Buffalo, New York Atlas - Plate 58 - portion of Ward 5
  9. ^ "Hallowed ground? Sewer dig stirs issue of burial relics", by Brian Meyer Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY, June 05, 2009 [1][2].

External links