One of the thirteen original states of the United States. Most of the events relating to Jews occurring in this state have been connected with the town of Charleston, and will be found treated under that caption. It is only necessary here to deal with matters relating to the state in general, and to give additional information regarding Charleston which has become accessible since that article was written.Early History.
The very beginnings of the constitution of South Carolina should have encouraged Jewish immigration to that state from England, since the original charter drawn up by John Locke, in 1669, granted liberty of conscience to all, including "Jews, Heathen, and Dissenters." However, advantage does not seem to have been taken of this liberality till the year 1695, when a Jew is referred to as living in Charleston—probably Simon Valentine, who is actually mentioned three years later as holding land in the state. There must have been others, since as early as 1703 protest was raised against "Jew strangers" voting in the election of members to the Common House of Assembly. Most of the early Jewish settlers of South Carolina seem to have come from London or the English colonies, and some of them appear to have been connected with the Barbados trade in rum and sugar. In 1740, owing to the refusal of the trustees of Georgia to allow the introduction of slaves into that state, a number of Jews removed from Georgia to South Carolina, and in 1748 some London Jews connected with the Da Costas and Salvadors, who had sent a number of Jews out to Georgia, proposed a plan for the acquition of a large tract of about 200,000 acres of land in South Carolina. After considerable correspondence with the Colonial Office, through General Hamilton, the project was dropped as a concerted plan; but on Nov. 27, 1755, General Hamilton sold to Joseph Salvador 100,000 acres of land, situated near Fort Ninety-six, for £2,000. Twenty years later Joseph Salvador sold to thirteen London Sephardic Jews 60,000 acres of land for £3,000, and transferred 20,000 acres of the remainder to Rebecca Mendes da Costa, in settlement of a claim which she had upon him. This land was known as the "Jews' lands." Prior to this, Salvador's nephew Francis had arrived at Charleston (Dec., 1773), and purchased a great deal of landed property in the same neighborhood, some of it from his uncle and father-in-law. A Jew from London, Moses Lindo, was one of the chief instruments in increasing the indigo manufacture of the state. He arrived in 1756, and spent in the following year £120,000 in purchasing indigo; and as a consequence of his activity this industry quintupled in the state between 1756 and 1776. Lindo was appointed inspector-general of indigo.A "Jewish" Company.
During the Revolutionary war Jews of South Carolina were found on both sides. Francis Salvador was a delegate to the Second Provincial Congress, which met in 1775-76 and in which South Carolina was declared an independent state. Most (nearly 40 out of 60) of the members of the Charleston company of militia commanded by Richard Lushington were Jews, for it was drawn chiefly from the district in which they lived. This gave rise to the tradition of an entirely Jewish regiment, or company, fighting in behalf of the Revolution. One of them, Joseph Solomon, was killed at the battle of Beaufort, 1779, and another, David Cardozo, distinguished himself in the attempt to recapture Savannah. Among those who petitioned General Lincoln to surrender Charleston, in May, 1780, were several of the prominent Jews of the town; and during its occupation by Sir Henry Clinton several Jews proved their "loyalty," being reported favorably by a committee appointed by Clinton. The majority, however, were on the "patriot" side, and left Charleston after the surrender. They returned in 1783, several of them becoming auctioneers or brokers. It is recorded that Meyer Moses succored the American wounded, while Mordecai Meyers furnished supplies for the colonial army.
The internal affairs of the Jews centered in the Congregation Beth Elohim Unveh Shalom, founded in 1750 for the Sephardic Jews of Charleston. It would appear that another congregation, formed by the Jews of the German rite, and also called Beth Elohim, came into existence somewhat later. TheSephardic congregation worshiped in Union street from 1750 to 1757; in King street from 1757 to 1764; in Bedersford street in 1764; and in Hasell street, in the "Old Synagogue," from 1764 to 1781. By 1791 it consisted of more than 400 persons. The "New Synagogue" was built in 1794. In connection with this congregation a Hebrew benevolent society had been founded in 1784.Largest American Congregation in 1800.
Owing to the liberal constitution of South Carolina and the fortunate position of the Jews at Charleston, that city by 1800 had the largest Jewish population in North America. Beth Elohim had 107 contributing members in that year, and 125 members two years later. The most distinguished member of the community in the early part of the century was Meyer Moses. He was a member of the legislature in 1810, and commissioner of free schools later. The influence of the Jews in South Carolina at this time was shown by the fact that they were intimately connected with the introduction of free-masonry into the state, Emanuel de la Motta, who was educated at Charleston, being one of its leading exponents, while Abraham Alexander, who was honorary reader of the Beth Elohim congregation, was one of those who introduced the Scottish rite into America.
In the War of 1812 a Jewish youth named Jacob Valentine, a descendant probably of the first Jew mentioned in the annals of South Carolina, served in the Palmetto regiment, and in the Mexican war he was wounded in the storming of Cherubusco. Jacob de la Motta served as surgeon in the United States army during the War of 1812.
In 1822 a congregation known as the "Tree of Life" seems to have been established in Columbia, which also has a Hebrew benevolent society dating from that year.
South Carolina was the earliest state in the Union to show Reform tendencies. In 1824 twenty-seven members of the Congregation Beth Elohim of Charleston petitioned the vestry for the use of the vernacular in the prayers, and for their shortening, as well as for the preaching of English sermons. On the rejection of the petition a number of the petitioners resigned and organized the Reform Society of Israelites. A second split in the congregation, for a similar reason, took place in 1840, owing to the attempted introduction of the organ into the service, and a new congregation was formed, known as Shearith Israel.
During the Civil war Jews from South Carolina joined the Confederate army to the number of 182, of whom no less than twenty-five were killed. Five brothers of the Moses family joined the Confederate ranks. Benjamin Mordecai, the father of one of the soldiers, is stated to have been the first material contributor to the Southern cause, having donated $10,000 to South Carolina at the beginning of the war. During the reconstruction period many South Carolina Jews removed northward. The total number of Jews in the state at the present day (1905) is estimated at 2,500. Besides Charleston and Columbia, communities exist at Darlington, Florence, Orangeburg, and Sumter.
- B. A. Elzas, The Jews of South Carolina, Charleston, 1903 (a collection of pamphlets reprinted from the Charleston News and Courier, and giving a number of facts drawn from early records and newspapers);
- the works given in the bibliography to the article Charleston.