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The Charleston Ottolengui

The Charleston Ottolengui Part One


Mordechai Ottolengui

Some inquiries generated by posts in the O-Blog rekindled our interest in this branch of the tribe. We have known about them for many years but our attempts some 20 years ago failed to establish any link to our ancestral line and the quest was abandoned.

The first member of the clan Ottolengui in Charleston, S. Carolina, was Mordechai, thought to have been born in Italy around 1750 from where he moved to London and then to Charleston.  The spelling Ottolengui is peculiar to the London S&P records appearing only for the numerous offspring of Aaron Ottolangui (1810-1874) (grandson of David Ottolenghi) and his wife Reyna nee Bensabat, all of whom appear as Ottolengui, probably due to the phonetic preference of the registrar at that time. As far as we know, the only other place where this spelling occurred was in Charleston.

Working on the premise that Mordechai was one of the Italian Ottolenghi, a search of the Livorno O birth register for 1690 to 1810 appearing in a previous blog post, revealed that the only Ottolenghi births registered were those of the children of our direct ancestors Menachem Emmanuel Ottolenghi and Judica nee De Valletro starting in 1720, including our David, David’s older and younger siblings, David’s children and his siblings’ children, so nothing corresponding to that Mordechai. Similarly, the Bevis Marks archives do not include any Ottolenghi/Ottolengui or Ottolangui that do not belong to our direct family line. So, the mystery of that Mordechai Ottolengui’s provenance remains.

A link of sorts may be that around the time that Mordechai went to America, is the rumour that the Bevis Marks community financed passages for some 40 members to emigrate to the Atlantic colonies. Researching that revealed that it was not so much the community that had sent those 40 members, but probably the prominent Da Costa family of the Bevis Marks congregation who were wealthy bankers and merchants in London of the 18th century. Isaac da Costa had bought large amounts of land in Carolina after the 1699 charter drawn up by the Earl of Shaftesbury granted “Liberty of Conscience” to all settlers, and expressly welcomed “Jews, heathens, and dissenters”. S&P Jews from London were among the early settlers and comprised most of its Jewish community into the early 1800s. In 1800, South Carolina had the largest Jewish population (around 2,000) of any state.  Isaac da Costa himself immigrated to Charleston in the late 1740s. He helped found the Charleston synagogue Kahal Kadosh Beit Elohim (The Sacred Congregation of the House of God) or KKBE in 1749, where he was the ḥazan (cantor) for a few years. In 1764 he donated a plot of land to the congregation for use as a cemetery. It still exists today as the Coming Street Cemetery, the oldest Jewish burial ground in the south, and that is where Mordechai Ottolengui is buried, this is the inscription on his memorial tablet:

Unfortunately, KKBE’s records were burned in 1838, so it seems that Mordechai’s early life will remain a mystery. His son, Abraham (1790-1850) was president of KKBE for many years. He had married Sarah nee Jacobs and they had many children a number of whom sadly died in infancy or in childhood.

By bryanell2020

Occasional genealogist and full-time Ottolangui family historian. 8th generation descendant of the 17th century Ottolenghi family of Livorno, born in London, graduated in Birmingham, lived around the United Kingdom, Israel, and in Rome, Italy. For a short while in Buenos Aires, and currently residing in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where I have been since 2005.

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