Settlement of Camden evolved from instructions by King George II in 1730 to locate a backcountry township on the Wateree River.
Fredericksburg, laid out in 1733 and 1734 on swampland, proved uninhabitable, and immigrants soon dispersed into the surrounding countryside.
About 1750 a colony of Irish Quakers settled on scattered plantations and befriended Catawba Indians of the area.
Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities
Camden: Historical Overview
Camden, situated just east of the Wateree River, is the oldest inland town in South Carolina. Plans to establish a buffer town between Charles Towne and the backcountry were formulated in the 1730s. However, instead of occupying village lots, the early settlers spread out along the Wateree. Camden first appears in the records in 1768 when a court was established, and by 1785, there was evidence of an organized township.
Jews were living in Camden as early as the 1780s. The Jewish community lasts today.
The 1788 will of prominent businessman Joseph Kershaw provided Camden’s Jews with a plot of land on which to locate a synagogue and cemetery. Reportedly, the beneficiaries, who were not named, never claimed the land.
In 1790, an estimated seven Jewish families resided in Camden.
Chapman Levy, born into one of these families in 1787, became a successful lawyer, businessman, and politician. After spending his youth in nearby Columbia, he practiced law in his hometown, represented Kershaw County in the state house and senate, and serving as an officer in the militia during the War of 1812. He attended the 1832 Nullification Convention as an “ardent Union man.” In addition to practicing law, he owned a plantation, ran a brickyard, was an active Mason, and consulted with duelers regarding protocol.
Levy owned 31 slaves, the largest number held by a Jew in South Carolina in the early 1800s.
Levy was active in the civic life of Camden, serving as warden in 1835, and intendant, or mayor, for the 1843-44 term. He also served as director of the Bank of Camden for 13 years, beginning in 1842. Mordecai Levy was in the pharmaceutical business with Abraham DeLeon, and was elected state legislator for Kershaw County for the years 1834-38. Chapman, Hayman, and Mordecai Levy were apparently not related. Other possibly Jewish names found in the records for Camden include Jacob DePass, Moses Sarzedas, Mordecai Lyon, Judah Barrett, and A. H. Davega.
Despite their presence in Camden, no Jewish organizations were formed.
Columbia’s proximity to Camden and its development as the state’s new capital after 1786 may have been a factor in limiting the growth and stability of Camden’s Jewish community during this period. About 30 miles from Camden, Columbia held great appeal for investors looking for new opportunities. Jews were among the Charleston and Camden men who moved to the burgeoning town.
By 1826, 11 Columbia Jews had founded the Hebrew Benevolent Society, among them, Judah Barrett, who appears in the Camden records in 1832. Barrett served two terms as a warden in Columbia. Lax observance and assimilation may also have contributed to the absence of Jewish organizations in Camden. Chapman Levy, for example, helped to found the Camden Protestant Episcopal Church.
Based on brick-making, and flour, lumber, and textile mills, Camden's commerce prospered in the post-Revolutionary period. By 1800, cotton became the main cash crop in the district. The increase in trade made possible by the completion of a rail line connecting Camden to Charleston and Columbia in 1848 gave a significant boost to the local economy and paved the way for a permanent settlement of Jews.
Organized Jewish Life in Camden
Simon Baruch was one of about two dozen men who formed Camden’s Hebrew Benevolent Association in 1877. Other founding family names included Arnstein, Bamberg, Baum, Block, Eben, Hoffstadt, Jacobson, Kahn, Katz, Rich, Rosenberger, Simons, Smith, Strauss, Tobias, Williams, and Wittkowsky.
In addition to “promoting Judaism,” the charitable organization’s objectives were to “visit the sick, relieve the distress, and bury the dead.”
Camden Jews were meeting for services in a room over a store. J. M. Williams, one of the founders of the Hebrew Benevolent Association, served as the lay reader at High Holy Days services in the years before his death in 1883.
The Association’s charitable acts were not limited to Camden. Its members donated money to support the prosecution of a man accused of murdering a Jew in Abbeville. The group also sent money to Charleston twice in 1886, first in response to a request for aid for the Jewish victims of the August 31st earthquake, and second, to help rebuild the Orthodox synagogue Brith Sholom. Funds were also sent to help build and sustain an orphanage in Atlanta.
Simon’s devotion to the Camden Jewish community and his Jewish heritage is apparent in the advice he gave the members of the Association in a letter marking his departure. He urged belief in God and adherence to the “grand fundamental idea of Judaism.” Parents should assure their children become “useful citizens” through “proper religious instruction.” Therefore, it was essential to keep the Association active and to “build up the Sabbath school.”
Bernard Baruch proved to be a “useful citizen.” He earned his first million before the age of 30, became a successful Wall Street broker, advisor to several presidents, and a philanthropist whose generosity benefited South Carolinians, among others. A hospital in Camden opened in 1913 after Bernard donated $40,000 toward the renovation of the old Presbyterian Manse.
Between 1905 and 1907, Bernard acquired more than 17,000 acres of former rice plantation lands northeast of Georgetown on the Waccamaw Neck between Winyah Bay and the Atlantic in an attempt to reconstruct the original king’s grant of Hobcaw Barony.
Having visited relatives in Georgetown as a child, he was familiar with the area. His mother’s advice was influential in his decision to purchase property in South Carolina. She encouraged him to maintain a connection with his home state and assist in its “regeneration.” Specifically, she urged him to help black South Carolinians. He appeared to heed her advice, as he focused his charitable efforts on the black residents of Hobcaw and the state.
Around the time the Baruchs moved north, wealthy Northerners began wintering in Camden.
An 1888 pamphlet touts the area’s mild and “remarkably dry” climate as beneficial to those with pulmonary problems, nervous conditions, and insomnia. Now that a rail connection to New York was nearly complete and ties to the Great Lakes region were expected in a year or so, an increase in the number of visitors was anticipated.
Equestrian sports such as polo became a big draw. Thus, the area’s economy, based primarily on farming, trading, and cotton mills, expanded to include tourism.
By the second decade of the 20th century, Camden's economy began shifting from agriculture to manufacturing. The Duke Power Plant was built in 1919 on the Wateree River, paving the way for new industries to locate their plants in the area. DuPont came in 1949.