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Cohen of Georgetown, SC

Updated November 19, 2010

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Cohen of Georgetown, South Carolina 1760-1960: A Family History of Low Country Secret Jews and Descendants

I'm concluding writing the manuscript Cohen of Georgetown, South Carolina begun in 2006, based on mother's stories that were "recited by rote" of our Cohen family in Georgetown, South Carolina to us as children at the kitchen table in East Harlem, NY. Impoverished Portuguese Jews from London named Cohen were invited to South Carolina as Merchants by the Lords Proprietors of England, after arrival they established a Portuguese congregation and burial ground in Charleston and later in Georgetown, SC. Our family name is Cohen, which I never spoke of because it was a family secret. Our mother kept Passover and other traditions of Jews at home, but not in public. If asked she always replied, “I'm Baptist” though she never attended church. The Cohen family descend from Secret Jews (Portuguese) from Portugal who fled the Inquisition, arrived in London, England and later emigrated to Charleston, and settled in Georgetown, South Carolina. The information in the manuscript was obtained from Georgetown, and Charleston historical archives and libraries, the Library of Congress, US Federal Census, our family Bible, mother's stories recited by rote (oral tradition) and kept traditions taught to my children in secret as mother taught me. Percilla Cohen b, circa1809 our great-great-great-grandmother married Billy, a Carpenter in Georgetown, South Carolina. She is listed in the 1870 U.S. Census as Black. Her daughter Grace Cohen b. circa 1845 in Georgetown, SC married Abram Smith (b. circa 1838), and their son Richard Smith (b.1875) in Georgetown, SC married Adele Pyatt (b.1876-d.1955). She gave birth to Harrison Smith and Virginia Smith (b.1900) in Georgetown, SC. Virginia Smith married Louis Green b.1898 of Georgetown and they had twin daughters, Virgie Green and Fannie Green (Edna Green) b.1927 in Baltimore, MD at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Virginia died in 1927 along with her twin daughter Virgie. Fannie Green (Edna Green) married Daniel Day (b.1915) our father, and they had seven children; the oldest daughter was Peggy Ann Day (b.1949). The Smith's were Cherokee/Cherokee Freedmen of the Georgetown, SC area, who married Portuguese Jews (Sephardim) and the "Geechee" African's from Pyatt Plantation. Geechee people were captured from West Africa, Sierra Leone/Senegal region and spoke in Gullah (trade language dialect) were chained and transported at the bottom of ships that sailed to Sullivan's Island. The newly arrived enslaved Africans were sold to Planters in Georgetown, SC. They "grew rice" mother said, on "Pyatt Plantation", and the profitable crop was sold to England.

The manuscript is currently being reviewed; and contains information covering 500 years of Cohen genealogy, and includes the story of Portuguese Jews in Georgetown County, South Carolina, and the history of the lesser-known Portuguese Inquisition. My family history research began as a hobby in the summer of 1976. The manuscript begins with the history of Secret Jews after the Portuguese Inquisition, and the arrival in Charleston of Moses Cohen a Portuguese Jew. The third chapter covers his son Abraham Cohen, and uncovered documents on his family and children in Georgetown, SC. The last chapter, "Fannie Green's East Harlem Passover" gives readers a glimpse into the centuries old religion of Portuguese Jews practiced in secret by the modern-day African-American descendants of Abraham Cohen of Georgetown, that continue to light candles on Friday and prepare for Passover using ritual traditions taught to us by our mother Fannie Green, that endure five hundred years after the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.

The manuscript Cohen of Georgetown, South Carolina 1760-1960: A Family History of Low Country Secret Jews and Descendants will be completed the end of 2010.

Sadie Pasha

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