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Chatham Square Cemetery

Historic Sites, Monuments, Landmarks, and Public Art (National Register of Historic Places)


From 1654 until 1825, Shearith Israel was the only Jewish congregation in New Amsterdam/New York City. The congregation's burial ground, known as Chatham Square Cemetery or First Cemetery of Shearith Israel, is the second oldest extant burial ground in Manhattan, dating to 1682.

First Cemetery of Shearith Israel, 1952
First Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Shearith Israel. Consecrated 1656.


Founded in 1654 by 23 members of mainly Spanish and Portuguese origin, Shearith Israel's congregation comprised all the Jewish people of Manhattan. Though the Chatham Square Cemetery is referred to as the First Cemetery, technically it is the second burial ground of the congregation. The first dated to 1656, and is described as "a little hook of land situated outside of this city for a burial place" [1]. The location of this cemetery is unknown.

The Chatham Square Cemetery property was purchased in 1682 by Joseph Bueno de Mesquita. The first interment was the burial of his relative, Benjamin Bueno de Mesquita, the following year. The site's position on a hill overlooking the East River made the cemetery a strategic location for the placement of guns during the American Revolution, first by American troops in March of 1776 and, when the British conquered New York, by their troops, who supposedly made bullets from several lead epitaph plates from the headstones.

In 1823, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting burials below Canal Street. By that time,the Shearith Israel congregation already had a second burial ground at 76 West 11th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenue, which was in use from 1805-1829. A few interments at the Chatham Square Cemetery continued until 1828, but over time, the size of the cemetery was reduced due to soil erosion and city expansion. Disinterment and reburial occurred several times. In 1855, the Bowery was expanded and a substantial portion of the cemetery overtaken by eminent domain. As a result, 256 burials were removed .

An annual ceremony is held in Chatham Square Cemetery on the Sunday before Memorial Day in memory of the American Revolutionists buried on the grounds. Some of those whose graves are decorated with flags each year are Reverend Gershom Mendes Seixas, Benjamin Mendes Seixas, Simon Nathan, Jonas Phillips, Hayman Levy, and others; some still have descendants active in the Shearith Israel congregation.


"Cemeteries of Congregation Shearith Israel - The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue." Cemeteries of Congregation Shearith Israel - The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Accessed March 08, 2017.  

"America's First Jewish Congregation." Chatham Square Cemetery | Congregation Shearith Israel. Accessed March 08, 2017.

"New York City Chinatown > Chatham Square." New York City Chinatown > Chatham Square. Accessed March 08, 2017.

55 St. James Place
New York, New York 10038
  • Colonial History
  • Jewish History
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This location was created on 2016-02-05 by Sara Marian .   It was last updated on 2017-03-08 by Clio Admin .

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