First Families

  • Loyal to the Jewish Faith

    Family tradition has it that our Nunes family ancestors from Lisbon, Portugal—like most other Jews living in Portugal and Spain during the Spanish Inquisition—had long professed Christianity, while secretly remaining loyal to the Jewish faith. Once they came to this country, years of non-Jewish living were not easy to shake off. For months after their arrival, the ladies of the Nunes family apparently were unable to recite their Jewish prayers without the assistance of the rosary.

  • Story from: Moses, Robert Altamont |
  • The Ambassador

    Abraham Moïse and his wife, Sarah—they came in 1791. They came at the time there was a slave uprising in Santa Domingo. He was an ambassador to Santa Domingo and a planter. He had a plantation and a very prosperous business, and they had to escape in the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

  • Story from: Rosefield, Virginia Moise |
  • A Very Famous Dessert

    [We] always had hired help that I ever heard of because you see the first Moïse came over here after a slave [uprising] in Santo Domingo. He had a strong feeling against slavery and taught it to the others. I am surmising that. He didn’t think it was right and he evidently passed that down to his children and from them on down, ’cause I don’t recall that anybody ever mentioned having a slave. We had a very fine butler—’course everybody had butlers and things like that. He would churn ice cream in the hand-cranked churn, then he’d pack it. We didn’t have any freezers, you know, then. You may not remember that time, but I do. Esau would pack this ice cream and keep it packed solid all day long until it was hard, real hard. When they were ready for dessert, he’d take it out of that ice, dip it in a pot of boiling water and slide the whole thing onto a platter this big. That was a very famous dessert in Sumter.

  • Story from: Rosefield, Virginia Moise |
  • Middle of the Universe

    Most important was the fact that the house was in the middle of the universe. It was in the middle of Charleston. I knew this because if you climbed out of an attic window onto the slate roof, then slid up to the chimney and stood up holding on to it, you could just see the Ashley river to the west and, sometimes, the smokestack of a ship in the Cooper river to the east. Church steeples were the major features of the skyline: Grace Episcopal right down Wentworth Street, the Lutheran and Unitarian steeples on Archdale, St. Matthews on King Street, and way in the distance, far removed from our house, St. Michael’s and St. Philip’s. With all of those churches, we were in the middle of the religious universe. Five blocks away, of course, was Beth Elohim, clearly the center of Jewish thought in this country. At least it was in 1840, when KKBE’s first Reform rabbi, Gustavus Posnanski, proclaimed “Charleston is my Jerusalem.” If a rabbi said that now he would be defrocked, or whatever you do to errant rabbis who don’t preach the gospel as currently interpreted. There were a couple of synagogues uptown where the Orthodox kids went, but we really didn’t pay them much attention. Their families had only been in this country a generation and we were told, “It takes three generations to make an American.” We were Americans first and Jews second. We had the oldest and best municipal college in the country, the oldest and best museum in the United States, famous authors like Dubose Heyward, a lot of painters, a church where George Washington had worshiped, the News and Courier that probably everyone in the country read, and we had the Ashley and Cooper Rivers that flowed together off the Battery to form the Atlantic Ocean. I never really believed that it formed the whole ocean, but I did believe our house was the center of everything really important geographically, spiritually and culturally.

  • Story from: Williams, Arthur Victorius, Jr. |