Cardozo Family

8 Courthouse Square

A family whose descendants shaped history

On this site, adjacent to the county courthouse, lived the Cardozo brothers, whose affairs, intimate and professional, left lasting legacies. Descendants of the family became major players in the political, judicial, and artistic life of the country.

Jacob Nunez/Nunes Cardozo (1786–1873) was a writer, economist, and newspaper publisher, first working as editor of the Southern Patriot (formerly owned by Isaac Harby), and then as its owner from 1823 to 1845, when he launched a rival paper, the Charleston Evening News, which he ran for two years. Jacob’s younger brother Isaac N. Cardozo (1793–1855), after a brief stint in the office of the Southern Patriot, made his career, from 1831 to 1855, as a weigher at the U.S. Customs House.

Jacob Cardozo left Charleston in 1861 and, in 1866, published Reminiscences of Charleston, a wide-ranging collection of essays, many first printed in the Savannah Daily News and Herald. The 150-page book included texts on commerce, education, and railroads, as well as a defense of slavery and a lengthy appendix devoted to incidents of the Civil War.

While their father David Nunez/Nunes Cardozo (1753–1835) was a member of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim’s conservative adjunta, Jacob and Isaac both were active in the Reformed Society of Israelites. In 1825, Isaac was a member of the Society’s six-man board and two years later delivered its third anniversary address; he served as vice president from 1828 through 1832 and, in 1840, signed the petition for the installation of an organTwo years after the devastating 1838 fire, members of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim circulated a document advocating for the installation of an organ in the new synagogue, then under construction. The move was supported by hazan Gustavus Poznanski and reform-inclined congregants who wanted to enjoy instrumental music in synagogue worship. It was opposed by those who held to the traditional prohibition of instrumental music on the Sabbath. The “organ faction” won the day and the traditionalists left to form their own congregation, Shearit Israel. in KKBE’s new temple—the first in a Jewish house of worship in the United States. Both brothers were bachelors, but Isaac maintained a long-standing relationship with Lydia Weston, a woman of color who had been freed in Plowden Weston’s will of 1826. Isaac and Lydia had three sons—Henry born in 1831, Frances in 1836, and Thomas in 1838—and at least one daughter, who were listed in local government records as “free negros.” In 1852, Lydia built a house on Inspection Street, where she lived with her son Henry.

Isaac Nunes Cardoza’s best-known son was Francis Lewis Cardozo (1837–1903), who attended Glasgow University in Scotland, served as pastor of the Temple Street Congregational church in New Haven, Connecticut, and, after the Civil War, returned to Charleston as an agent of the American Missionary Association (AMA). In 1866, Francis replaced his brother Thomas as the principal of the AMA’s school for African-American children in Charleston. The institute was named first for New York City abolitionist Lewis Tappan, then renamed Saxton after Rufus B. Saxton, a union general and an assistant commissioner of the federal Freedman’s Bureau. Under Francis Cardozo’s leadership it became the Avery Normal Institute in honor of a bequest of $10,000 from the estate of the Rev. Charles Avery, a Methodist philanthropist from Pittsburgh, and today still bears his name: the Avery Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston. In April 1868, Francis Cardozo was elected South Carolina’s Secretary of State—the first African American in the nation to hold a statewide office.

Cardozo family members have distinguished themselves in many fields. Notable among them are Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870-1938), a descendant of David N. Cardozo’s nephew Michael Hart, who served for eighteen years on the New York Court of Appeals and on the United States Supreme Court from 1932 to 1938; Francis Cardozo’s granddaughter Eslanda Cardozo Goode (1895-1965), an author and political activist who also worked as business manager for her husband, the singer, actor, and fellow-activist Paul Robeson.

Francis Lewis Cardozo (1837–1903), late-19th century

Francis Lewis Cardozo (1837–1903), late-19th century

Courtesy Avery Research Center, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC.