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© 2019 COW NECK PENINSULA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

336 Port Washington Blvd., Port Washington, New York 11050
www.cowneck.org         516.365.9074          info@cowneck.org

Sands Family Cemetery

Henry Sands Brooks, the founder of Brooks Brothers clothing store

NOTE: The following information was extracted in part from a nomination/registration form prepared by Dr. George Williams and submitted to the US Department of the Interior, National Park Service, for the purpose of placing The Sands Family Cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places. The Park Service subsequently approved and published this status for the cemetery on March 12, 1992 (National Register #92000092).

THE SANDS FAMILY CEMETERY

 

by Fred Blumlein, Treasurer/Past President

 

In 1759, John Sands II (1682-1763), then owner of the of the original Sands Homestead and burying ground, drafted a codicil to his will officially designating and reserving the family burying ground. The will states:

 

            I give and bequeath unto the family of the Sandses forever for a burying

            Place a piece of land six rods square in my orchard round the burying place

            that is there on Cowneck and on the farm I now live on.

 

Even though John Sands II father, John I (1652–1712), founded the family cemetery in ca. 1711, these few words in his will established the legal rights of the Sands family to have perpetual access to the land where their ancestors were interned.

 

The Sands Family Cemetery is located in the Village of Sands Point, Nassau County, New York. It is situated on a wooded knoll and is surrounded by private property. The burial ground consists of approximately one acre of land. Sands-family records indicate that 112 members of the family, relatives and friends were buried in the cemetery. The graves are oriented south to north, with headstones facing north. Mature trees surround the burying ground; other plantings include yews, holly and rhododendrons, planted on the perimeter of the cemetery.

 

The cemetery is currently managed by the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, which acts as the agent of the Sands Family. As the resting place of the area’s earliest settlers and their descendants as well as an illustration of funerary art and custom on western Long Island, the Sands family Cemetery is an important historical resource in the community.

 

 

HISTORY OF THE SITE

 

In 1691, John Sands I (1652-1712), a wealthy sea captain from Block Island, purchased two parcels of land on an area of Long Island known as Cow Neck from Richard Cornwall of Rockaway. Cornwall and several others were awarded land patents on Cow Neck by British Governor Thomas Dongan in 1686. Cow Neck at that time was the name for the entire Port Washington-Manhasset peninsula. The first parcel purchased of approximately 500 acres grew to become the Village of Sands Point. Captain Sands named this acreage “Home Farm” and built a homestead still existing on Sands Point Road. The second parcel purchased by Sands was in the present Village of Flower Hill. He named this parcel “Inland Farm.” John Sands III inherited this farm and built his own homestead there in ca.1735. This early building is currently called the Sands-Willets House and is the headquarters of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society.

 

In 1704, after the death of his son George, aged ten, John Sands I established a family burial ground north of their homestead near Long Island Sound. Captain Sands died in 1712. He and his wife, Sibyl Ray Sands (1665­-1733), were buried near their son in the burying ground.

 

Upon the death of John Sands I, the Home Farm property passed to Nathaniel Sands (1687-1750), his second son. In 1734, John Sands II (1682-1763) who already owned Inland Farm purchased half of the property, including the homestead and the burying ground.

 

In 1763 at the time of John Sands II’s death, there were already twenty graves in the Sands Cemetery. John Sands II’s property was divided by two of his sons in 1763. Simon Sands (1727-1782) received the portion containing the burial ground property [Simon’s brother, John Sands III, received the Inland Farm property]. In 1794 the estate of Simon Sands sold the burial ground property out of the family to Benjamin Hewlett, Sr., with the caveat “always excepting and reserving the burying ground on the said tract of land six rods square the liberty of going to and from the same for the use of the Sands family…” There were about forty burials in the cemetery at this time. In 1828 Benjamin Hewlett, Sr. sold the Sands Cemetery property to his son James Hewlett. James Hewlett’s 1844 will left the burial ground property to George G. Hewlett, his nephew and grandson of Benjamin Sands. In 1851, George G. Hewlett sold 110 acres, which included the burial ground, to Epenetus Nostrand. Through the following decades, the burial- ground property was sold and purchased numerous times ­– always remaining in private hands.

 

 

NOTABLE INTERNMENTS

 

The Sands family cemetery contains the graves of many prominent local citizens, including the area’s earliest settlers, Revolutionary War patriots, and community leaders. Their largely intact gravestones compose a distinguished collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century funerary art, and remain an important legacy of the community’s early settlement.

 

Those interned at the Sands Family Cemetery include Captain John Sands I (1652-1712), his wife Sybil (1665-1733), John II (1682-1763), and John II’s son, Simon Sands (1727-1782). During the Revolutionary War, Simon Sands was a member of the Sons of Liberty, a Committeeman and a member of the Cow Neck Militia. His brother, Benjamin Sands (1735-1824), served as a member of the Sons of Liberty, was the Chairman of the Sons of Liberty, a delegate to the fourth Provincial Congress and co-author of the 1755 document which separated Cow Neck and the northern part of the town of Hempstead from the southern part controlled by Loyalists.

 

Also interned in the cemetery is Colonel John Sands IV (1737-1811), the leader of the Great Neck-Cow Neck-Hempstead Harbor Militia Company and one of the officers of the Long Island Militia at the Battle of Long Island in August 1776 at Brooklyn Heights. Sands was captured by the British when he returned to his home, imprisoned for one month, and then pardoned by British General Howe. In 1785 John Sands IV was elected to the New York State Assembly. Col. John Sands, his brothers and their wives are all buried in the Sands Cemetery. Captain Abraham Lynson Sands (1783-1840) is also buried in the Sands Cemetery. He was a West Point graduate and an Aide-de-Camp to General Andrew Jackson.

 

Henry Sands Brooks (1772–1833), a celebrated merchant selling men’s clothing, is additionally buried in the cemetery. After his passing, his five sons took over his business and renamed it “Brooks Brothers.”

 

Among the unrelated soldiers of the Revolution buried in the Sands Cemetery is Noah Mason (1757-1841). Mason fought at the Battle of Saratoga under General Horatio Gates. Noah Mason is well known for having constructed the Sands Point Lighthouse in 1809 on the property that was once a part of the original Sands’ Home Farm.

 

After 163 years of use the final internment at the Sands Cemetery took place in 1867 with the burial of William E. Crocker.

 

 

SIGNIFICANT GRAVESTONES

 

The Sands Family Cemetery is historically and architecturally significant for its association with the early settlement and growth of the Sands Point area, for its distinguished collection of well-preserved eighteenth and nineteenth century gravestones and for the information it provides about the social and religious customs of the local settlers and their descendants. Dutch and English families from the surrounding areas settled the Cow Neck area in the late seventeenth century. The cemetery was established ca. 1711 when John Sands I set aside one acre of his estate to use as a family burying ground; however, the first burial on the property occurred in 1704. The 86 well-preserved sandstone and marble grave markers include examples of winged death’s heads, skull-and-crossbones, soul effigies, plain tripartite sandstone tablets of the Eighteenth century and neoclassical motifs popular during the Nineteenth century. Several of the stones can be attributed to master carvers Henry Emmes, John Stevens II, John Zuricher, and the Lammson Brothers. The progression of motifs and epitaphs used on these gravestones reflects the changes in religious beliefs and social customs on western Long Island during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries.

 

Sands family records indicate that 112 members of the family, relatives and friends were buried in the cemetery. Marking the burials are 86 extant headstones and some footstones, which represent a variety of popular types of their relative periods. They are all of sandstone, marble or slate and, in addition to their decoration, may contain epitaphs that reveal the socio-religious beliefs of the period. The patterns and motifs of the headstones in the Sands Cemetery span the period 1704 to 1867, and include winged death’s heads, scull and cross bones, soul effigies, simple three lobed sandstone “In Memory” stones, stones with weeping willow motifs and oval-topped marble slabs. The Sands family tombstones show the evolution of the ideas about death, religious and funeral customs of a family who lived in one area for more than two centuries. Due to the secluded nature of the cemetery many stones have survived with a high level of integrity.

 

A detailed description of several of the most artistic and/or stylistically significant stones follows:

 

PARTIAL LISTING OF SIGNIFICANT GRAVEMARKERS

 

Name                Date         Carver              Description

 

Edward Sands     d. 1746     Nathanial or  Carved of sandstone; winged death’s head motif.

                                       Caleb Lamson     The skull is flanked by wings and is surmounted

                                                                    by a crown.

Mary Sands        d.1724      Nathanial or     Carved of sandstone; winged death’s head motif.

                                      Caleb Lamson        The skull is flanked by wings and is surmounted

                                                                      By a flower and floral border.

Robert Sands      d.1735   Nathanial or       Carved of sandstone; winged death’s head motif.

                                     Caleb Lamson        The skull is flanked by wings with curled tips.

                                                                    The skull is surmounted by a flower and floral border.

Sybil Sands        d.1759   Henry Emmes    Carved of sandstone; winged soul effigy motif.

Thorne                                                         The stone features a skull and crossbones in a

                                                                    stylized tympanum.

John Sands I       d.1712   John Stevens II   Carved of slate; winged soul effigy motif. Pear-

                                                                      Shaped cherub face with slanted eyes, turned

                                                                      down lips, hair combed forward and flanked by

                                                                      high lurching wings.

Sybil Ray Sands  d.1733   John Stevens II   Carved of slate; winged soul effigy motif.

                                                                      Pear-Shaped cherub face with slanted eyes, turned

                                                                      down lips, no hair and flanked by high lurching wings.

Mary Sands        d.1755   John Zuricher     Carved of slate; winged soul effigy motif.

Gilford                                                          Pear-shaped face, pointed chin, rolling hair, slanted

                                                                     Eyes and turned down mouth surmounted by a crown and flanked by wings.

                                                                     Paired finials.                                                                                 

                                                                     Matching footstone.

 

The 86 extant sandstone, marble and slate grave markers date between 1704 and 1867. They are all of the headstone and footstone variety, the most common form of grave marker employed on Long Island. As a group they illustrate the range of styles and motifs common on Long Island in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. The markers fall into four categories stylistically:

 

Category I

 

Among the earliest markers, those of Mary Sands (1715-1724), Robert Sands (1710-1725), John Sands II, his wife Catherine and Edward Sands (1691-1746), exemplify the winged death’s head motif. Funerary-art historian, Richard Welch states: 

            The winged skull symbolizes the transitory nature of the earthly existence

            and fleetness with which death overtakes all. It was a lesson to all who gazed

            upon it that the pleasures and glories of this life are temporary and the pursuit

            of earthly riches and fame at the expense of preparation for man’s true salvation

            in the afterlife-is folly. The winged death’s head was a reminder that none could

            escape the judgment of God. [1]

 

1.  Richard F. Welch. The Gravestones of Early Long Island 1680-1810.

(Syosset, New York: Friends for Long Island Heritage, 1983) pg. 13.

 

Another symbol that emphasizes the triumph of death and judgment of God is the plain skull and crossbones. A fine example of this unusual motif is evidenced on the stone of Sybil Sands Thorne (1727-1759). Research has attributed the carving of this stone to Henry Emmes, who was actively cutting gravestone in Boston and Newport from 1750-1790.

 

Category II

 

The second type or style exhibited in the Sands Family Cemetery is that of the soul effigy motif. Soul effigies were carved almost as early and the winged-death’s heads. They were still being used on tombstones until the Nineteenth century. Winged skulls disappeared around 1750. The winged-soul effigy depicts the triumph of the soul and its glorification in heaven, rather than the harsh and gloomy idea that no one escapes the judgment of God. The typical effigy appears as the face of an angel of cherub that is flanked by extended wings. The optimism reflected in these images of salvation also illustrates a certain relaxation in religious beliefs and attitudes toward death. The finest examples of this style are displayed on the monuments of John Sands I (1649-1712) and his wife Sybil Ray (1665-1733). Both slate markers have been attributed to John Stevens (1702-1778) of Newport, Rhode Island, whose father and son were stonecutters. The effigy style associated with John Stevens II featured an egg-shaped head with eyes that were narrow and slanted and a mouth that was turned down. Two high spreading wings flank the head. The two Sands’ stones in this style were probably cut at the same time, after the death of Sybil.

 

The tympanum of the headstone of Mary Sands Gilford (1732-1755), another daughter of John Sands II and the wife of Samuel Gilford, bears a different type of soul effigy. Her cherub has a pear-shaped, pointed chin, rolled hair and a crown.

 

Category III

 

A third category of stone design is that of the simple three-lobed sandstone tablet, a style common in the post-Revolutionary period. This type of stone came into fashion near the end of the Eighteenth century as the old religious symbols fell into disuse. The earliest of this type in the Sands Cemetery is the tombstone of Nathaniel Sands (1687-1750), a son of John I. The variety in the differing shapes of the lobes – some are taller, more pointed or wider than others – and their lack of ornate symbols, provides and soothing contrast to the winged skull and soul effigies. Many of these stones are simply inscribes with the words “In Memory” or “In Memorium” with the deceased’s name, birth and death dates and sometimes a simple epitaph.

 

Some of the soldiers of the Revolutions and their wives have stones of the three-lobed type. Simon Sands (1727-1782), and his wife Catherine Tredwell (1731-1764), and Benjamin Sands (1734-1824) all have the stones witch say “In Memory” with the deceased’s name, birth and death dates inscribed on the stone. Mary Jackson (1739-1798) the wife of Benjamin Sands, has a three lobed-stone that says “Here lyes the body” and included similar information.

 

Grave markers after ca.1800 are noteworthy for their incorporation of neoclassical motifs that reflect the national, republican culture of the period. One of the finest examples of this type is the stone of John Sands IV that features the typical there-lobed form but features a willow in the center lobe.

 

Category IV

 

Finally, plain white-marble slabs represent the fourth type of marker exhibited in the cemetery. This monument type became popular during the mid-nineteenth century, representing a break from the religious symbolism of the past. Several of these stones survive, including the markers of Noah Mason (1757-1841) and Abraham Sands (1783-1840).

 

CEMETERY SIZE

 

The burial ground consists of approximately one acre of land. It is irregular in shape: its west side is 108 feet; the north side bordered by a fence is 56 feet long; the east side is 73 feet; and it is 67 feet on the south side of the property, according to a 1989 survey of the parcel.