This graveyard is the earliest surviving burial ground of the oldest Jewish congregation in North America. maintained by Congregation Shearith Israel (Hebrew, "Remnant of Israel"), which is itself the oldest Jewish congregation in North America. (The Congregation was formed by Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic Jewish immigrants in 1654.) The site was originally on a hill overlooking the East River in an open area at the northern periphery of the British-Dutch colonial settlement. Today, the cemetery is a mere fragment of its original extent. Only about a hundred headstones and above-ground tombs can still be seen in what remains of the old burial ground, which rises slightly above street level.In a letter in 1776, a staff officer of General George Washington recommended emplacing an artillery battery "at the foot of the Jews' burying ground" to help secure Long Island Sound. American prisoners of war were buried en masse in entrenchments beyond the graveyard.In 1823, a city ordinance prohibited burials south of Canal Street. Encroaching development and erosion necessitated several instances over the years in which the congregation was forced to reduce the size of the Chatham Square Cemetery and disinter bodies, which were moved to their three other graveyards.