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Hebrew Orphan Society

Founded July 15, 1801
Charleston, SC

“This Society was founded in 1801. Its object is explained in the following preamble to its constitution:

” Whereas, at a meeting of Israelites held in Charleston on the 15th day of July, 1801, it was resolved that a Hebrew Society should be formed, for the purpose of relieving widows, educating, clothing and maintaining orphans and children of indigent parents; making it a particular care to inculcate strict principles of piety, morality and industry; and designing at the same time to cultivate any indications of genius they may evince for any of the arts or sciences, that they may thereby become qualified for the enjoyment of those blessings and advantages to which they are entitled —kind Heaven having cast their lot in the United States of America, where freedom and equal rights, religious, civil and political, are liberally extended to them, in common with every other class of citizens; and where, no longer oppressed by the contracted policy and intolerant spirit which, before the happy dawn of liberty and philanthropy had circumscribed those natural rights granted by Almighty God to the great family of mankind, they can and may freely assume an equal station in this favored land with the cheering conviction that their virtues and acquirements may lead them to every honor and advantage their fellow citizens can attain.”

In pursuance of such design an act of incorporation was asked for and passed by the General Assembly of this State in 1802 in the following words: “An Act to incorporate the Abi Yetomin Ubne Ebyonim, or Society for the Relief of Orphans and Children of Indigent Parents.” On June 4, 1833, Rene Godard conveyed to the corporation “All that lot, piece or parcel of land situate, lying and being at the corner of Broad street and State House square, in Charleston, forming, as is believed, a parallelogram, of forty-five feet fronting on Broad street, by one hundred and seven feet deep, fronting on the State House square aforesaid.” Upon this square the Court-House now stands. It would appear that this property was devised by John Laurens to his son, Henry Laurens. In the deed from Henry Laurens and Eliza, his wife, to Edward Trescot, an intermediate owner, of date February 28, 1804, the following words are part of the description: “And now occupied by the directors of the Bank of the United States of America.” It was well adapted for such use; it was built in the olden days when safety and solidity were deemed important. Its interior with its wainscoting and colonial mantlepieces declare its age. It is unknown what inner safeguards the bank provided for the security of its treasury, the massive doors and ancient locks, with keys of proportionate size, proclaim what was its outer defence. It was in all probability a residence before the bank occupied it. It ceased to be used by the bank before 1838. This is clearly seen from the fact that, after the burning of the Hasell Street Synagogue in the fire of that year, which destroyed many valuable public and private buildings, the Hebrew Orphan Society tendered to the Congregation its building as a temporary place of worship. This offer was accepted, and until the Synagogue was rebuilt the hall was used for that purpose. 

From the date of its purchase to January 8, 1860, its bounty was administered by specific annual appropriations for the children under its care; they were not housed within its walls, but were domiciled with worthy persons, known to the committee charged with the disbursement to whom the donation was paid. In this way, in addition to the pecuniary assistance given, the misfortune of orphanage was softened and the little ones were permitted to live in a healthful family atmosphere. At the date above mentioned it was determined to try the experiment of an orphan house by a residence within its walls. With appropriate ceremony it was so dedicated. 

A hymn was written for the occasion, the closing stanza being:

” Assist us, Great Spirit of Truth, to enlighten
The beings, whose lot our bounty shall brighten; 
In godly endeavor their lives to engage, 
‘Till from childhood they pass to maturity’s stage, 
Prepared in all stations temptation to brave,
And their names on the breastplate of virtue engrave.” 

After the war the original and more parental execution of its trust was resumed and is still continued.”*

* The Jews of South Carolina: from the earliest times to the present day By Barnett Abraham Elzas

The property purchased in 1833 is 88 Broad St. Charleston, SC. The Society had its meeting hall and school on the premises. Following the great fire of 1838 Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) the congregation worshiped here until the present synagogue was completed in 1840.

Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina

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JHSSC Office
Sylvia Vlosky Yaschik Jewish Studies Center
96 Wentworth Street
Charleston, SC 29424
Phone: 843 953 3918
Email: jhssc@cofc.edu