An unmarked grave (Lot 8, Section 99) on the North Ridge is the final resting place of a woman who is said to be the oldest person buried at Albany Rural Cemetery; a former slave named Dianna Mingo.
Dianna was born in December 1767 as a slave of Matthew Bakeman (Beekman)* of Schodack . As a young woman, she witnessed the Revolutionary War firsthand and, in later life, would tell friends of her experiences.
Mrs. Mingo was nearly ten years old when the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed, and well remembered the great rejoicings and illuminations in honor of that event. She saw Gen. Washington; and her recollections of many incidents were vivid and distinct; frequently she would delight her friends by recalling them; how when the British enemy were coming, the inhabitants would get up in the night and run for the woods, where they dug holes in the earth and buried their gold and silver, their plate and jewelry, and would also hide their treasures in their beds and lay upon them to protect them from marauding parties; how one of the ladies had a baby who cried, and how to stop its little tell-tale voice the mother lay over it and smothered it; how also the “tories” spurred into her master’s yard one day, killed the cattle and poultry, and fired the dwelling, burning it to the ground.
The venerable woman would also often tell her reminiscences of the war of 1812; and describe the visit of Gen. Lafayette to this city in 1825; his crossing from Greenbush to this city, when the people remained up all night in order to receive him, and strewed flowers and branches in the roads before him; his riding in the gorgeous yellow carriage of the Van Rensselaers, and the tumultuous joy of the people in welcoming him. Indeed it would take volumes to contain the oft-recounted memories of this really wonderful old woman; but what we have specified will show the great extent and interest thereof.
(from the “Albany Evening Journal”, July 30, 1872)
She was freed before the general emancipation took effect in New York (1827), married a man named Christopher Mingo who died in the 1830s, and eventually settled in Albany.
She worked first for the family of Mayor James Stevenson, as a cook at the Manor House of the Van Rensselaers, and later in the household of attorney Marcus T. Reynolds (grandfather and namesake of the architect). She spent several years employed in Newburgh, but returned to Albany after an attack of paralysis. She spent the last years of her life living in a modest wood frame house, at 385 State St. near the corner of Willett St. She remained active almost until the end of her life. With the help of her niece, Mary G. Jackson, she supported herself by taking in laundry.
Dianna Mingo died on July 25, 1872. She was said to be 105 years old. Her funeral was held at the Israel A.M.E. Church on Hamilton Street where she had been a beloved member. It was reported in the newspapers that her funeral was so well attended that mourners crowded onto the steps of the pulpit and spilled out the doors.
Writing of her passing, the” Albany Evening Journal” noted:
Diana Mingo was a truly remarkable instance of the preservation of both body and mind. Forty years ago, when she felt she was going old, she planted a seed in front of the house in which she died, from which has grown a horse-chestnut tree that still flourishes, green and delightful, like her memory to all who knew her.
*The Beekman family were early Dutch Settlers that by the middle of the 1750s extended from New Jersey to New York City through the Hudson Valley to the Albany and Troy area. Beekmans were among the “merchant princes” of the state, and some of the largest slave holder families across New York. But after the Revolution individual members started questioning the practice of slavery and by the mid 1800s were committed abolitionists.
By Paula Lemire, Historian Albany Rural Cemetery