For more than 300 years, Jewish settlers – from across the Atlantic and around the country – have made their homes in South Carolina. The earliest Jews populated Charleston, Georgetown, and later Columbia, where they held a variety of occupations and became immersed in civic life. After the Civil War, Jewish peddlers and merchants became more ubiquitous. Men and women fleeing oppressive governments in Central and Eastern Europe came to South Carolina determined to create better lives for themselves, their families, and the friends and neighbors who soon followed. By the late 1800s, Jewish merchants had set up shop on downtown streets in towns big and small, and more than 100 years later their legacy remains alive through their descendants. The Jewish Merchant Project hopes to preserve memories of the men and women who have played vital roles in communities across South Carolina. Their stories are our history.
Beginning in 2017, the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina (JHSSC) has partnered with Historic Columbia and the College of Charleston to undertake a state-wide survey of Jewish merchants, past and present. The foundational product of the survey will be a database available on the JHSSC’s website. This database, we hope, will capture the impact of Jewish businessmen and women on communities, large and small, as well as the networks of family and friends that led Jewish men and women to call this state home.
A merchant is defined as any individual selling goods. Examples of shops include dry goods store, mens’ and womens’ wear, cobbler shop or shoe repair, millinery shop, tailoring or alteration shop, Army/Navy surplus, pawnshop or second-hand store, auction house, liquor store or distributorship, wholesale warehouse, grocery, bakery, meat market, and others.
The Jewish Merchant Project is supported by the generosity of the Norman and Gerry Sue Arnold Foundation and the Stanley B. Farbstein Endowment at the Coastal Community Foundation. Longtime members of the JHSSC, Mr. Arnold obm, a merchant himself, and Mr. Farbstein obm were both children of South Carolina Jewish merchants.