Chatham Square Cemetery

October 30, 2023
by Ruby Johnstone
Late 19th century postcard of Chatham Square Cemetery

Chatham Square Cemetery is the oldest of four burial grounds maintained by Congregation Shearith Israel, located on Saint James Place in Manhattan, New York. Purchased in 1682 by Joseph Bueno de Mesquita, the cemetery’s roster includes several recognizable names from the AJHS archives, including: Gershom and Benjamin Mendes Seixas, Simon Nathan, Hayman Levy, and Jonas Phillips. What began as a sprawling plot of land was reduced over time by multiple city expansions, resulting in the disinterment (or removal) of hundreds of graves.  A city ordinance in the year 1823 banned all burials below Canal Street, prompting the congregation’s relocation to their second burial ground on west 11th street. A final plot reduction occurred in 1855 to accommodate the expansion of the Bowery, at which point all burials in the cemetery were deemed “conditional.”

Ledger diagram of the cemetery from 1894

In 1894, the congregation’s clerk U. Taylor Phillips compiled a ledger of all the headstones remaining in the Chatham Square Cemetery. Each epitaph was transcribed onto paper in both Hebrew and English, and notes were made regarding the physical condition of the headstone. At the front of the ledger is a hand drawn map of the cemetery as it appeared in 1894 with all grave sites clearly numbered. The Records of the Congregation Shearith Israel (I-4) contain surveys, indexes, written accounts, and ephemera which – in addition to the 1894 ledger – provide a detailed account of the evolution of New York City’s oldest Jewish cemetery.

Ledger page documenting Simon Nathan’s grave
Ledger page documenting Deborah Levy’s grave
Ledger page documenting Eve Isaacs grave
Ledger page documenting an illegible and broken headstone for a Gomez (of Barbadoes) family member
Gravesite reservation from 1771