Monday, April 6, 2015

We Were Slaves--But Became Slaveowners

It is currently Passover, the holiday on which Jews commemorate our freedom from slavery in Egypt. As the Jewish population in the southern United States pre-1865 was minuscule, most American Jews do not have slave-owning ancestors. All of my ancestors came to the U.S. in the 20th century, so I never had to worry about finding out about their slave-owning past.  But then I started working on my nieces' and nephews' trees.

Three of my nieces have one branch of their family who have been in the United States for a very very long time, particular for Jews and particularly for a family who has kept its Jewish identity for so long. Their 6th great grandparents were Jacob and Judith Alberto Suares.

Jacob was born about 1754 in CuraƧao and arrived in the United States about 1790. Judith was born about 1769 in the West Indies.  The couple lived in Charleston, South Carolina, where Jacob was a Rabbi and had at least 10 children, with the youngest Caroline (later Schwerin) born after Jacob's 1818 death.

The 1830 United States Census was one I'd not dealt with before for my own family--but this one was interesting. Judith Suares was listed as the head-of-household for the family which lived in Charleston Neck, SC. The following demographics were listed for the family:

  • 2 free white males between 10 and 14
  • 1 free white male between 15 and 19
  • 2 free white males between 20 and 29
  • 1 free white female under 5 (likely Caroline)
  • 1 free white female between 10 and 14
  • 2 free white females between 15 and 19
  • 1 free white female between 50 and 59 (Judith)
  • 2 slaves

2 slaves?  It turns out Judith (who lived until 1853) continually kept 1-2 slaves. It would have been very interesting to hear what Rabbi Suares spoke about on Passover with regard to slavery seeing that it was something ongoing in their family during his lifetime.


  1. Wow. You're uncovering an entire world!

  2. Lara, I don't see images from Mozilla.

  3. Not sure if you saw my comment on TTT (which I got slapped for posting!), but the rabbi's D'var Torah might have borrowed from some of this theology:

    Noah's Curse : The Biblical Justification of American Slavery
    By Stephen R. Haynes

    A friend whose father was rabbi in VA in the 50s was asked by a local (non-Jewish) businessman to please preach on the Curse of Ham to his congregation.