A Fortunate Discovery

While exploring the papers of Jacques Judah Lyons in the American Center for Jewish History‘s archives, I came across some original documents with hand-drawn gravesite maps and burial lists for the Chatham Square and 21st Street cemeteries, created after the exhumation of Chatham Square occupants for street construction and their reinterment at 21st St.

We had seen a printed facsimile of this 21st Street map and list. But the only original burial list we’d seen up until then was a very incomplete register documenting burials at all three sites, which is in the possession of Shearith Israel. Among the original documents in the archives was a list of 27 burials at 11th St., with some mention of grave locations. This could be especially helpful since the condition of the cemetery itself contains few clues as to locations. In addition, by comparing names we were able to confirm that 19 of the burial records in the card catalogue, which had not explicitly indicated a cemetery, did indeed refer to the 11th St. site.

If this list of 11th St. occupants is contemporaneous with the other lists, that would date it to about 1855, when the city seized a portion of the Chatham Square cemetery to extend the Bowery. However, because the burial dates fall between 1805 and 1818, and far more than 27 souls are buried at 11th St., it is highly probable that the list is much older.  By 1818, the cemetery would have been active for about 13 years, and would be active for another 10, until the congregation had to search for a third site further uptown. And from 1805 to 1823, the cemetery served as an “auxiliary” burial ground, until the city banned burials below Canal St. altogether.

Early 19th century manuscript list of 27 burials at the 11th St. cemetery
List of 27 burials at the 11th st. cemetery, from the papers of Jacques Judah Lyons. Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society.

This was by no means a formal registry. Perhaps it was created by a gravedigger, or by the sexton, simply for reference. We hope to discover who created it: a poignant, undated entry in the second column simply states “my mother.”

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