Congregation Mikveh Israel Cemetery
There are 371 known grave sites, including some fascinating Revolutionary era people.
In 1738, a child of Nathan Levy, a successful shipper and businessman, passed away. No Jewish cemeteries existed in Philadelphia at that time. Levy approached Governor Thomas Penn, William Penn's son to buy land in which to perform a burial. Penn sold him property on the wooded north side of Walnut Street between 8th and 9th. At this time, there were only about a dozen Jews, many of Dutch origin, living in Philadelphia, but Levy recognized that a growing Jewish community would ultimately need a larger and permanent burial ground.
In 1740, a part of the present Spruce Street location was purchased. Over time, more land was bought from John Penn, Thomas Penn's nephew for the cemetery. It is believed those buried at the Walnut Street site were disinterred and moved to the new location. Graves seen here include Mr. Levy, Haym Salomon, and Rebecca and Simon Gratz. Haym Salomon (d.1785) was one of the major financiers of the American Revolution. Rebecca Gratz (1781-1869) was a highly-regarded social and philanthropic figure of her time. Washington Irving's fiancee, Mathilda Hoffman, was best friends with Rebecca. Irving was enchanted by Rebecca and spoke glowingly of her to Sir Walter Scott. Scott, in turn, was so taken with Irving's description that he based his character Rebecca in Ivanhoe on her. Simon Gratz, her brother, was a co-founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the first combined art school and museum in the country. Nathan Levy enclosed it with a low brick wall in 1751 to protect it from local "unthinking people" who used the tombstone for target practice. A leading religious figure of the day took out a newspaper ad, asking the desecrators to desist from this practice. Also here are about 21 Jewish veterans of the Revolutionary War and scores of Hebrew veterans of the War of 1812.
For more information, check out our Mikveh Israel Cemetery page
- Haym Salomon, a major financier of the American Revolution who wound up a pauper is buried here, according to oral history.
- Rebecca Gratz, the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe is here.
- British troops occupying Philadelphia in 1777 used the fence here for target practice.
- Location: 8th & Spruce Streets (Map)
- Established: 1740
- Tourism information: Visits and tours by appointment. Contact Mikveh Israel, 215-922-5446 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facilities: Seating available
- More information in ushistory.org: ushistory.org/mikvehisrael
Thank-you to Molly Lou Conrad, Assistant Archivist Mikveh Israel Congregation for reviewing the information on this page. (April 2002)