Charleston Jews worked as merchants, blacksmiths, journalists, teachers, seamstresses, and public servants. By 1830, some 83 percent of the city’s Jews owned slaves, a rate comparable with that of the city’s non-Jews, including free people of color. Even Jews who did not own slaves or who treated their slaves kindly did not challenge the system of slavery, which was thoroughly entrenched in South Carolina. Jews in public office enforced slave laws and at least one Charleston Jew, Myer Jacobs, attended the 1832 Nullification Congress, a landmark event promoting states’ rights over federal power. When South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union in December 1860, and when the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor at the start of the Civil War, the city’s Jews rallied with other white people to support the Secessionist cause.
Among the city’s most noteworthy Jewish sons and daughters were Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an artist and daguerreotypist who traveled with John C. Frémont’s fifth expedition to the American West—and a rare example of a Jewish South Carolinian who became an anti-slavery Republican; Penina Moïse, who wrote poems and synagogue hymns, and served as the second superintendent of the South’s first Jewish Sunday school; and Isaac Nunes Cardozo, whose African-American descendants became prominent contributors to public life in the city.
Our 1833 map locates these and many other Jewish characters who lived in Charleston during the tumultuous decades before the Civil War.