Salvador was the first person of the Jewish faith elected to the South Carolina legislature, while the Jewish historian Barnett Elzas claimed that he was “the first Jew in America to represent the masses in a popular assembly.”
Legislator, patriot. Salvador was born in London, son of the wealthy merchant Jacob Salvador. Members of the prominent Sephardic Salvador family left Portugal in the late seventeenth century after the Inquisition, settling first in Holland and then in England, where they became one of the country’s wealthiest Jewish families. After he had been educated on the Continent, the family lost its fortune with the failure of the Dutch East India Company. The family coat of arms is in the possession of the College of Charleston.
Salvador came to South Carolina in an attempt to restore the family fortune, arriving in Charleston on December 6, 1773. His indigo plantation in Ninety Six District along Coronaca Creek, known as Corn Acre, was the remnant of more than 200,000 acres that had been acquired earlier by his uncle and father-in-law, Joseph Salvador. That property covered more than half of present-day Greenwood County and until the 1920s was often called “Jews Lands.” He acquired roughly thirty slaves and with his social polish quickly made friends and won acceptance among the leading planters in this upcountry region.
In the events leading to the Revolutionary War, Salvador quickly identified with the patriot cause. Its leaders, impressed with his education and ability, accepted him into their ranks. Slightly over a year after arriving in Charleston, he was elected on December 19, 1774, to the First Provincial Congress of South Carolina, along with Patrick Calhoun and eight other representatives from Ninety Six District. Salvador was the first person of the Jewish faith elected to the South Carolina legislature, while the Jewish historian Barnett Elzas claimed that he was “the first Jew in America to represent the masses in a popular assembly.”
Salvador served on important committees for the First and Second Provincial Congresses and for South Carolina’s first General Assembly. On August 1, 1776, he died during an official mission aimed at consolidating backcountry support. A force of Cherokee Indians and Loyalists ambushed his unit at night. Salvador died after being shot and scalped. His death three weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence made him the first Jew to die for the patriot cause. Chief Justice William Henry Drayton of the South Carolina Supreme Court wrote in his memoirs that Salvador’s death “excited universal regret. . . . His manners were those of a polished gentleman.” In 1950 a plaque in Charleston’s City Hall Park was dedicated to his memory.
Elzas, Barnett A. The Jews of South Carolina from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. 1905. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1972.
Herd, E. Don, Jr. The South Carolina Upcountry: Historical and Biographical Sketches. Vol. 1. Greenwood, S.C.: Attic Press, 1981.