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Shearith Israel Graveyard 1682

by Joseph Bueno de Mesquita

First Shearith Israel Graveyard (also known as Chatham Square Cemetery) is a tiny graveyard at 55-57 St James Place. It is the oldest of three graveyards used by Congregation Shearith Israel, which is the oldest Jewish congregation in North America. The land was purchased in 1682 by Joseph Bueno de Mesquita.

During the American Revolution of 1775, the cemetery served as a strategic location for General George Washington, as it overlooked the East River. It was also used by the British when they conquered New York in 1776. It is said that British soldiers removed many of the lead epitaph plates in the cemetery in order to make bullets.

Along with war heroes, the cemetery also holds the remains of Jonas Judah, the first American-born Jew to enroll in medical school. When a yellow fever epidemic broke out in 1798, more than 2,000 New Yorkers died. In order to avoid contracting it, healthy residents moved out of the city to drier climates. Judah, a 3rd year medical student at King’s College (now Columbia University), decided to stay and provide medical attention to those who had contracted the disease. He died of yellow fever on September 15, 1798 when he was 20 years old.


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