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Descendants continue battle over Byram Cemetery

August 7, 2018

GREENWICH — A group of descendants of people buried in the old Byram Cemetery have been added to a lawsuit, one that may determine how to preserve and memorialize an old burying ground thought to contain graves of early residents of color.

Six descendants who claim ancestry with the people presumed to have been buried just below Byram Cemetery — of African-American and Native American ancestry — will have legal standing in the case as it proceeds in Superior Court in Stamford.

The lawsuit arose after Greenwich and its advisory boards decided that the small parcel below the Byram Cemetery should be acquired by the town and declared a cemetery. It was on land owned by Jeffrey and Andrea Stewart.

If the town were to acquire the land under terms of a strengthened law on abandoned cemeteries, placing special protections and a marker on the site, it would require changes to the vehicular access now used by the Stewarts. They sued to block the town’s move to declare the land on their property a cemetery.

One of the descendants who has been involved in the lawsuit, Teresa Vega, said the town did not do a thorough job of researching the ownership and deed history of the area and acted negligently by giving a building permit to the Stewarts in 2013.

She and five other descendants have been seeking to gain legal standing in the matter, and a judge recently denied a motion to have them removed from the legal proceedings.

Vega said a family member, Deborah Loving, had recently reactivated her law license so she can act as the point-person for the descendants.

The Byram Cemetery is one of the oldest in the region. Members of one of the first European families to settle in Greenwich, the Lyon family, were buried there along with Revolutionary War soldiers. The interment of slaves associated with the Lyon family in the 1700s is assumed to have been carried out next to Byram Cemetery.

According to court papers submitted by the Stewarts, there is no proof of burials on the site. They cite an “absence of any physical evidence that this area was ever used as a cemetery and less-than-definitive documentary evidence that the parcels ever served as a cemetery.”

Vega and her family members, meanwhile, have submitted several old newspaper accounts clearly describing the parcel as “the colored cemetery.” She said, “We have proven our folks were always there.”

Vega, who has connections to early African-American residents of Greenwich, said, “We’re being made to feel like second-class citizens.”

A lawyer for the Stewarts, Edward Marcus, has said the goal is to reach “an acceptable conclusion for both sides.”

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