The chosen people in the Holy City: Three-and-a-quarter centuries of Jewish life in Charleston
Part II: Charleston’s Early Jews Vote, Gradually Increase in Numbers
The colony of Carolina was a remarkably accepting place for people of all religions, except Catholics, as we saw last month, Furthermore, the use of “reproachful, reviling or abusive” language against any religion was forbidden. This was a provision that was certainly noteworthy at the time 350 years ago. It was one thing to accept Jews as neighbors and to prohibit hostile language against any religion in the late 17th century. But to allow people of any religious denomination to vote was something truly exceptional at that time; however, this is exactly what happened in the young colony of Carolina.
In the very first years of the 1700s, the Dissenters in Carolina were locked in a struggle with the members of the Church of England and their Huguenot allies, as was noted in last month’s article. The focus of this struggle was the issue of who would control the colony’s parliament. In the elections of 1701, the Dissenters were defeated and claimed that their Anglican opponents had allowed various people who were not qualified to vote to nonetheless cast ballots. The next elections were held in the fall of 1703 and they were marked by violence as well as renewed charges of voting irregularities. The Church of England adherents and their allies won a majority of the seats in this election. This time, the Dissenters in Colleton County were more specific in their accusations as to the classes of people who were inappropriately allowed to vote: “Jews, Strangers, Sailors, Servants, Negroes and almost every French man” in Craven and Berkeley counties had voted, the Colleton County Dissenters charged.
This is the first record of Jews voting in Carolina. It is very difficult today to appreciate how extraordinary it was for Jews to be able to vote more than 315 years ago. What is even more remarkable is the possibility that Jews in the colony of Carolina had been voting for some time prior to 1703. There was no religious test that had to be satisfied in the colony’s earliest years. The only requirement that had to be met was owning at least 50 acres of land. We saw in last month’s article that two of Carolina’s first Jews, Simon Valentine and Mordecai Nathan, jointly owned a 350-acre farm. In addition, each of these men owned land individually. It is very possible that they jointly acquired the farm to solidify their right to vote.
In November 1704 the Church of England became the established church in the colony, but there was still no religious qualification to be met to vote. Also, voters were allowed to take oaths according to their own faith; Jews were accordingly not required to swear on the New Testament but could take oaths according to Jewish belief. Subsequent legislation required voters to be Christians and, at least for a time, took away the right to take oaths according to one’s own beliefs. However, it seems that these laws were not enforced very rigidly and Jews may well have retained the right to vote.
As for the right to swear oaths according to Jewish beliefs, Parliament in London approved the Plantation Act in 1740. This legislation was designed to encourage Europeans who were not British to settle in the British colonies in America. The Plantation Act provided Protestants and “others therein mentioned” a relatively easy way to become British subjects (Roman Catholics were not covered by the Act). Jews were permitted to take oaths according to Jewish beliefs under the provisions of the Plantation Act and were allowed to omit the customary language “Upon the true Faith of a Christian.” The records of South Carolina from the enactment of the Plantation Act until the American Revolution show more than one instance of Jews being sworn on the Five Books of Moses.
We saw in last month’s article that the records of Carolina reveal the presence of four Jews in the colony in the 1690s. There may well have been others who do not show up in the available records. As the 17th century yielded to the 18th, several more Jews are documented in the colony. Moses Modina appears in 1703 and David Riz between 1705 and 1707. Mordecai Nathan, who as we saw, jointly owned a farm of 350 acres with Simon Valentine, first appeared around this time, as well. Riz and Modina were clearly Sephardic, as their names show. On the other hand, Mordecai Nathan was almost certainly Ashkenazic, like Simon Valentine. David Valentine appeared in the colony between 1711 and 1712 and Aron Cohen in 1712. Finally, the records show Isaac Emanuel here at some point between 1722 and 1726. This completes the roster of Jews known to have been here in the first half century following the first settlement on Albemarle Point in 1670.
It is not a large number of people. There is no record of any Jewish communal organization during this period and there likely was none. Perhaps the few Jews in the colony of Carolina in these early years came together to celebrate certain holidays. The evidence available does show that these first Jewish settlers felt a sense of kinship because of their shared Jewish backgrounds. This was manifested by business relationships: In 1696 Simon Valentine sold a slave to Samuel Mincks; Abraham Avila gave a power of attorney to Simon Valentine in 1698, citing his “trust and confidence” in Valentine; at some point in the very early years of the 1700s, Valentine and Mordecai Nathan jointly acquired their farm.
The number of Jews began to increase in the 1730s. Several Jews advertised in the South Carolina Gazette during this decade. These people were shopkeepers, advertising a wide array of goods for sale. From 1734-1736, “Mssrs Carvallo and Gutteres” sold their wares at several locations in Charles Town, Initially they were on Church Street, then Broad Street and finally Elliott Street. Among other things, they offered for sale “Good Old Barbados Rum, Good Madera [sic] Wine, Muscovado Sugar & Limejuice.” Later advertisements offered various kinds of fabric, fine hats and shoes and Castile soap. In November 1735 Mr. Carvallo advertised solely in his name for “A very good Rhode Island Pacing-Horse.” In January 1736 Carvallo and Gutteres announced that they would be leaving S.C. in the spring and on January 31st Aaron Gutterez [sic] advertised in his own name. Neither man appears in the South Carolina Gazette after this.
In March 1738 Isaac De Paz, located on Union Street (now State Street), advertised for the first time in the Gazette. In September of that year he offered “Good White Sugar, very good Barbados Rum & very fine Citron Water,” among other wares. De Paz, whose name is at various times also spelled as Depaz, De Pas and De Pass, was still advertising in the 1740s. Descendants of Isaac De Paz are still living in S.C. today. In August 1739 Moses de Mattos advertised wares including milk, different types of bread and “Loaf Sugar” at his shop on Union Street. He was still in business on Union Street in November 1742. Carvallo, Gutteres, De Paz and de Mattos were all of Sephardic background, which their names from the Iberian Peninsula bear out.
Joseph Tobias also appears in Charles Town in the 1730s. He was a shopkeeper whose place of business was “on the Bay.” He was apparently a close friend and business associate of Moses de Mattos, whose August 1739 advertisement in the Gazette states that the products he advertises can also be acquired from “Mr. Tobias.” Both Joseph Tobias and Moses de Mattos acquired citizenship under the Plantation Act in 1741. Tobias also received an official appointment as an interpreter of Spanish in the mid-1740s. Isaac Da Costa also received an official appointment as an interpreter of Spanish and Portuguese. Da Costa came from London to Charleston in the 1740s. He became a successful merchant and was esteemed in Charleston and elsewhere in the American colonies for his Jewish learning. Both Tobias and Da Costa were founders of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Charleston’s first synagogue, in 1749.
Another interesting Jewish resident of Charles Town in this period was Moses Lindo. Born in London, he came to Charleston and played an important role in the production and sale of S.C. indigo. Governor Thomas Boone appointed Lindo as surveyor and inspector of indigo for S.C. in 1762, at the prompting of a number of leading figures in the province. Lindo’s tenure in this position was at the time that S.C.’s export of indigo was at its highest. At a time when there is renewed interest in the state’s history of growing indigo, Moses Lindo deserves to be remembered.
In the next article we will discuss the founding of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim and the Jews of Charles Town during the American Revolution.
Jeffrey Kaplan is a retired attorney who worked in Washington, D.C. before returning to Charleston. He has served as the archivist of Philadelphia’s oldest synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel (founded in 1740) and is the historian of BSBI Congregation here in Charleston, the South’s oldest Orthodox synagogue. He teaches and lectures regularly and is also a storyteller. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.