Ear­li­er this week, Sabra Wald­fo­gel wrote about Raphael Moses, one of the most emi­nent Jews in Geor­gia in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, and Clara Solomon, a Jew­ish girl who lived in mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry New Orleans. She has recent­ly pub­lished Slave and Sis­ter, a nov­el about Jews and slav­ery in ante­bel­lum Geor­gia, and has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Council. 

Between 1828 and 1838, Lydia West­on and Isaac Car­do­zo of Charleston had six chil­dren togeth­er. They were like hus­band and wife, and like a fam­i­ly. But they were not. Isaac Car­do­zo was a Sephardic Jew. Lydia West­on was a for­mer slave.

A white man of Charleston might love a black woman and their chil­dren all his life; he might install her as his house­keep­er”; he might even — scan­dalous­ly so! — let her pre­side over his table and his guests. But he could nev­er mar­ry her. Isaac remained a bach­e­lor all his life, stay­ing at home with his long-lived par­ents. He would nev­er bring Lydia or their chil­dren to the Car­do­zo Sab­bath table.

Lydia West­on was con­nect­ed with two of Charleston’s most emi­nent fam­i­lies — the West­ons, white and black. Lydia’s mas­ter, Plow­den West­on, was one of the rich­est planters in South Car­oli­na. When Lydia was twen­ty-one, West­on grant­ed her free­dom. Many freed slaves were the chil­dren of their mas­ters, but Lydia was not. West­on owned her a debt of grat­i­tude for nurs­ing him when he was ill. She took his sur­name, which acknowl­edged her con­nec­tion with the white West­on family.

Plow­den West­on had chil­dren by at least two slave women. One of them, called Toney, was freed at the same time as Lydia. The black West­ons became sub­stan­tial mem­bers of Charleston’s com­mu­ni­ty of free per­sons of col­or. They were proud of their lin­eage, pros­per­ous through busi­ness or skilled trade, and brown of skin. They held them­selves apart from their black and enslaved brethren.

As a West­on, and as the com­pan­ion of Isaac Car­do­zo, Lydia West­on was estab­lished as a free woman. In the 1840s, she paid the cap­i­ta­tion tax levied on free blacks. In 1852, she bought prop­er­ty — she owned her own house. And most aston­ish­ing­ly, she owned slaves. In 1830, there was a girl under ten in her house­hold who was enslaved, and in 1840, a woman over fifty-five.

Lydia Weston’s chil­dren would nev­er be con­sid­ered Jews, but they reaped the advan­tages of being free per­sons of col­or. All of them — her daugh­ters Lydia and Eslan­da, her sons Hen­ry, Jacob, Fran­cis, and Thomas — were pre­pared for life with edu­ca­tion and a trade. Eslan­da and Fran­cis attend­ed a local school for free blacks; Fran­cis was pre­pared enough to attend the Uni­ver­si­ty of Glas­gow after he left Charleston. Hen­ry, the eldest son, was eru­dite enough to join the Clion­ian Debat­ing Soci­ety, a group ded­i­cat­ed to edu­ca­tion and intel­lec­tu­al improve­ment for the brown men of Charleston. The youngest son, Thomas, was also well-edu­cat­ed; he began his career as a teacher. 

All of them learned a trade, too. Both of Lydia’s daugh­ters were trained as seam­stress­es and Hen­ry learned tai­lor­ing. Fran­cis was appren­ticed to a carpenter.

Did Isaac Car­do­zo pay his children’s school fees? Did the black West­ons, tai­lors and mill­wrights, teach Lydia’s chil­dren a trade?

As the 1850s dawned, the fate of Lydia and her chil­dren changed. The Fugi­tive Slave Law of 1850 put every black per­son in the Unit­ed States, free or not, at risk, and the seces­sion fer­vor of the 1850s, so strong in South Car­oli­na, had free peo­ple of col­or jus­ti­fi­ably wor­ried about re-enslave­ment. After Isaac Car­do­zo died in 1855, Lydia and her chil­dren left Charleston. Fran­cis went to Scot­land to study, Thomas to New York to teach, and the rest of the fam­i­ly moved to Cincin­nati to make a living.

Dur­ing Recon­struc­tion, two of Isaac’s sons rose to promi­nence. Fran­cis served as South Carolina’s Sec­re­tary of State between 1868 and 1872, the first black per­son to hold pub­lic office in the state. Thomas was Mississippi’s State Super­in­ten­dent of Edu­ca­tion between 1873 and 1876

They are known to his­to­ry by the name of the father who could nev­er claim them as his sons. They are Cardozos.

Sources on Charleston’s ante­bel­lum free black community:

No Char­i­ot Let Down: Charleston’s Free Peo­ple of Col­or on the Eve of the Civ­il War, edit­ed by Michael John­son and James L. Roark (W. W. Nor­ton & Co, 1986), and Mari­na Wikra­manayake’s A World in Shad­ow: the Free Black in Ante­bel­lum South Car­oli­na (Uni­ver­si­ty of South Car­oli­na Press, 1989).

Sabra Wald­fo­gel grew up in Min­neapo­lis and received her Ph.D. in Amer­i­can His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta. Her short fic­tion has appeared in Six­fold Lit­er­ary Mag­a­zine. Read more about her and her work at www​.sabrawald​fo​gel​.com.

Relat­ed Content:

Sabra Wald­fo­gel earned her B.A. inHis­to­ry from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty and a Ph.D. inAmer­i­can His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Minnesota.She is cur­rent­ly writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. Her nov­elSlave and Sis­ter, about a Jew­ish woman in Geor­giawho owns her slave half-sis­ter, was pub­lished ear­lierthis year.