Capital of the county of the same name, and chief city of the state of South Carolina in the United States; founded in 1670. The colony of South Carolina was originally governed under an elaborate charter drawn up in 1669 by the English philosopher John Locke. This charter granted liberty of conscience to all settlers, expressly mentioning "Jews, heathens, and dissenters."

The earliest record of a Jew in Charleston occurs in 1695, when one is mentioned as acting as inter preter for Governor Archdale. It is not improbable, however, that individual Jews had settled there at an earlier date. In 1702 Jews appeared in numbers and voted at a general election. The Jewish community at Charleston received a substantial addition during the years 1740-41, when the illiberal policy of the trustees of Georgia induced both Jews and Christians to leave that colony and to flock to South Carolina.

First Synagogue.

The first synagogue established at Charleston was that of the congregation Beth Elohim, founded in 1750. Several of its founders had come from Georgia. Its first minister was Isaac da Costa; and among its earliest members were the following: Joseph and Meshod Tobias, Moses Cohen, Abraham da Costa, Moses Pimenta, David de Olivera, Michael Lazarus, and Abraham Nuñez Cardozo. The Beth Elohim congregation is still in existence. Its first synagogue was a small building on Union street; its present edifice is situated on Hasell street. The Jews of Charleston at an early date also established a Hebrew Benevolent Society, which still survives.

While the earliest congregation was composed mainly of Portuguese Jews, the German element soon became prominent. Even before 1786 the city possessed not only a Portuguese congregation, but a distinct German-Jewish one as well. The Jewish community soon became very prosperous; and before the Revolution several Jews had acquired wealth and gained distinction. Among these was Moses Lindo, inspector-general and surveyor of indico (indigo), drugs, and dyes for South Carolina.

During the struggle for independence the Jews of Charleston distinguished themselves by their patriotism, and many instances of devotion to the cause of independence are recorded. The majority did good service in the field, several as officers. The most prominent Jew at the outbreak of the war was Francis Salvador, who resided in Ninety-Six District, but was in constant communication with the leaders of the Revolutionary movement at Charleston. Salvador was a member of the General Assembly and of the first and second Provincial Congresses, which met in that city. He was one of the leading patriots of the South.

In War of Independence.

In 1779 a special corps of volunteer infantry was composed largely of Israelites who resided on King street in the city of Charleston. Among its Jewish members were David N. Cardozo, Jacob I. Cohen, and Joseph Solomon. This body subsequently fought under General Moultrie at the battle of Beaufort. Among others who served in the field may be mentioned Jacob de la Motta, Jacob de Leon, Marks Lazarus, the Cardozos, and Mordecai Sheftall, who was deputy commissary-general of issues for South Carolina and Georgia, but who must be considered as a resident of Savannah rather than of Charleston. Major Benjamin Nones, a French Jew in Pulaski's regiment, distinguished himself during the siege of Charleston and won the praise of his commander for gallantry and daring. Mordecai Myers was also prominent at this period.

In 1790 the Jews of Charleston sent an address of congratulation to Washington upon his accession to the presidency, to which he replied in the most cordial terms.

In 1791 the congregation, then numbering fifty-three families, was incorporated by the legislature; and in 1794 its synagogue was consecrated in the presence of General Moultrie and many of the chief dignitaries of the state.

Shortly after this period many Jews went to Charleston from New York and elsewhere, owing to the great field offered by the South for commercial enterprise. In 1816 the city numbered over 600 Jews, then the largest Jewish population of any city in the United States.

State Officials.

During the early portion of the nineteenth century several Charleston Jews held high offices in the state. Among these may be mentioned: Myer Moses, member of the legislature in 1810, and one of the first commissioners of education; Abraham M. Seixas, a magistrate; and Lyon Levy, state treasurer.

Charleston Jews also rendered valuable service during the War of 1812 and in the Mexican war.

The first Jewish Reform movement in the United States originated in Charleston. In 1824 a large number of the members of Congregation Beth Elo him petitioned its trustees to shorten the service and to introduce the English language. The petition was rejected; and, as a result, the petitioners resigned, and organized the Reform Society of Israelites. David Nuñez Carvalho was the first reader of the society; but the most influential man in the movement was Isaac Harby, a distinguished journalist and playwright, editor of the "Quiver," "The Charleston Mercury," and several other publications. About 1843 there was another split in Congregation Beth Elohim, owing to the introduction of an organ into the synagogue. This resulted in the formation of a new congregation known as "Shearith Israel," which, however, reunited with the old congregation in 1866.

Other prominent Charleston Jews during the early part of the nineteenth century were: Penina Moise, born in 1797, who became widely known as a writer of verse; and Mordecai Cohen, to whose memory the city of Charleston erected a tablet in the Orphan House in recognition of his benevolence.

Recent History.

At the outbreak of the Civil war the Jews of Charleston joined their Gentile brethren in the Confederate cause. Among the prominent soldiers of the Confederacy may be mentioned Gen. E. W. Moise and Dr. Marx E. Cohen. Since the war the Jews of Charleston have been less prominent, owing partly to losses resulting from the struggle, and partly to the fact that the city is no longer the commercial center it formerly was. Among those who have held high office, however, have been Gen. E. W. Moise, adjutant-general of the state of South Carolina from 1876 to 1880, and Franklin J. Moses, chief justice of South Carolina. Charleston to-day (1902) contains fewer than 2,000 Jews, a proportion smaller than in 1816.

Interior of the Old Synagogue at Charleston, S. C., Destroyed by Fire April. 27, 1838.(From a drawing by Solomon N. Carvalho).

Besides the Beth Elohim congregation the only other is that of Berith Shalom, with its synagogue at St. Philip street, south of Calhoun street.

  • Nathaniel Levin, The Jewish Congregation in Charleston, in Occident, i., ii.;
  • J. Oldmixon. History of Carolina, 1708, pp. 106, 429;
  • John Drayton, Memoirs of the American Revolution, Charleston, 1821;
  • Robert W. Gibbes, Documentary History of the American Revolution, 3 vols. 1857;
  • J. L. E. W. Shecut, Typographical, Historical, and Other Sketches of Charleston, Charleston, 1819;
  • Charleston Year Book, 1883, 1885;
  • Isaac Harby, in North American Review, xxiii.;
  • idem, Selections from Miscellaneous Writings, Charleston, 1829;
  • Isaac Markens, The Hebrews in America, New York, 1888;
  • Charles P. Daly, The Settlement of the Jews in North America, New York, 1893;
  • Leon Hühner, The Jews of South Carolina Prior to 1800;
  • idem, in American Hebrew, Jan., 1900;
  • D. Philipson, The Progress of the Jewish Reform Movement in the United States, in Jew. Quart. Rev. Oct., 1897;
  • Simon Wolf, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen, 1895;
  • American Jewish Year Book, 1901-02.
A. L. Hü.