Collections › MESDA Collection › The Synagogue of Charleston, South Carolina

The Synagogue of Charleston, South Carolina

Hoffy, Alfred M. __Lithographer ||Carvalho, Solomon Nunes __After ||Duval, Peter S. __Publisher
Place Made:
Philadelphia Pennsylvania United States of America
Date Made:
ink –paper
HOA: 17″; WOA: 20 1/2″
Accession Number:
SUBJECT: At the beginning of the nineteenth century Charleston, South Carolina, was home to the largest Jewish community in America. This exceedingly rare print depicts the exterior of the city’s synagogue built in 1794. The congregation, called Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation House of God), was founded in 1749. In 1792 they began construction on their first purpose-built house of worship. The interior of the synagogue resembled Jewish sacred spaces found elsewhere in the Atlantic world from Amsterdam, to London, to Curacao, to Newport, Rhode Island. The outside of the synagogue, however, was essentially a replica of the city’s St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, the most fashionable house of worship in Charleston. At the time of its dedication in 1794, newspapers noted that, “from the style of the building and the splendor of its ornaments, we can perceive those little prejudices and weaknesses that have for ages disgraced the human character to be wearing off and safely pronounce that injured people, in the blessed climes of America, to have realized their promised land.”
Unfortunately the building depicted in this print burned in May 1838 in one of Charleston’s many Antebellum conflagrations.  Five months later Solomon Nunes Carvalho, who grew up in the congregation, completed a painting of the Synagogue’s interior.  The painting, which remains in the collection of KKBE, was subsequently engraved and published in Philadelphia. Carvahlo also apparently created a now-lost view of the exterior of the building which was also engraved.

ARTIST: Solomon Nunes Carvalho (1815-1897) was a painter and early photographer born in Charleston, South Carolina. Carvalho was a member of one of South Carolina’s first Jewish families: his uncle had been a leader of congregations in Barbados, Charleston, and Philadelphia, while his father was among the founders of reform Judaism in America.  (Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim congregation is recognized as the birthplace of reform Judaism in America.) At nineteen Carvahlo left Charleston for Philadelphia where family tradition suggests that he trained under Thomas Sully (1783-1872). In 1853 Carvahlo accompanied John C. Fremont (1813-1890) on his fifth crossing of the continent.  An early adopter of photography, his daguerreotypes from that expedition form one of the earliest photographic records of the American west.  

LITHOGRAPHER: Alfred A. Hoffy (1796-1872) was born in London. He served in the British Army and rose to the rank of Major. In the 1830s he emigrated to America. He settled first in New York, where he worked alongside fellow British lithographer John T. Bowen (d.1856). In about 1838 Bowen and Hoffy relocated to Philadelphia. Hoffy’s work was highly varied and appeared in a wide range of publications. A trade card in the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia specifically notes Hoffy’s talent for capturing “Interior and Exterior Views of Churches & Other Edifices.”

PUBLISHER: Peter S. Duval (1804-1886) was born in France. Trained in lithography, he emigrated to Philadelphia in 1831. By 1837 Duval was the proprietor of his own lithography company; it would grow to become the most influential lithographic company in Philadelphia.

REFERENCES: Daniel Kurt Ackermann, “The 1794 Synagogue of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim: Reconstructed and Reconsidered” in American Jewish History, volume 93, number 2 (June 2007)

Credit Line:
Loan courtesy of Douglas Haeuber