The Third Generation
Daniel Ottolengui (1836-1918) was one of the 13 children born to Abraham Ottolengui & Sarah nee Jacobs and brother of Israel and Jacob Ottolengui the auctioneers.
Daniel’s grandfather Mordecai founded one of Charleston’s first Sephardic Jewish families but the extent of Daniel’s following of the Jewish religion and tradition is not documented. Daniel received his education in classical tradition at South Carolina College, later working as a newspaper stringer, author, producer, lyricist, health officer, and clerk.
He married Helen Rodrigues, the adopted daughter of Charleston dentist B. A. Rodrigues and Cecilia née Solomon, in 1860. The ceremony was performed by Henry S. Jacobs, minister of Shearith Israel, the traditionalist congregation that had split from Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in 1840. Daniel and his brother Israel resigned from KKBE in 1861 but the reasons are unknown.
Daniel was instrumental, at the insistence of his brother Jacob, in bringing back to Charleston their sister Sarah and her husband, who were reportedly “fully southern in heart and soul,” from New York, where they had been living when the war broke out. Daniel served as a private in the Confederate Charleston Guard of the South Carolina Militia during 1863.
In 1866, Daniel’s wife Helen died leaving him a young widower and father of three small children. Daniel left his home town of Charleston and settled in New York, where in February 1867, he had become a manager at The Hall, a small theatre around the corner from the Worrell Sisters Broadway Playhouse, the premier burlesque theatre of that time. In Trow’s city directory for 1868, Ottolengui was described as working at a cigar store at 860 Broadway.
It is not known if Daniel participated in Jewish life during this period of his life in New York, but on his return to Charleston in 1870, he did not rejoin Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, whose membership had since 1866 included the dissidents who had left Shearith Israel. The organ at the KKBE. had been destroyed during the Civil War, and a new one was needed. There is no record of Ottolengui’s feelings on the controversy over organs in Jewish worship which had been a reason for the more traditional members of KKBE to leave and found the Shearith Israel congregation, but in 1871 he produced a performance of the classic 1830s John Baldwin Buckstone comedy, “Married Life”, with the proceeds going to the organ fund. A letter of thanks was received from the congregation for his “indefatigable and untiring exertions”. His later repertoire at the Academy of Music included, in 1878, scenes from the 1862 Augustin Daly play, “Leah, the Forsaken”, based on the Biblical story of Deborah. This may indicate a sentimental, at least, connect to his Jewish roots.
Ottolengui returned from Charleston to New York in the 1880s. He is listed in the Brooklyn city directories of the late 1880s at the address of his son Rodrigues Ottolengui. His profession is given as “elocutionist,” as it had been in the federal census of 1880, when he was still living in Charleston with his children and brother Jacob.
All three of his children were in New York. His son, Rodrigues, following his maternal grandfather’s career, became a pioneer of advanced orthodontia and also apparently having inherited Daniel’s literary abilities became a renowned crime novelist, as well as an advocate for bicycle paths in Central Park. Rodrigues was also librarian and curator of the entomology department of the Brooklyn Institute (“Saratoga”). Rodrigues married May Cameron Hall in 1890 in an Episcopal church.
Lee Ottolengui followed his father as manager of various theatres, notably the Brooklyn Amphion. He also used the initial of his first name, Israel. He married Lillian Rush, the daughter of the educator Edward Rush. Lillian, had been a church worker, died in 1914 and Lee later married Elise Bloch.
Daniel’s daughter Helen took to the stage and played light ingenue roles in romantic comedies. She married a jewellery buyer by the name of Arthur Hirsch.
Any strong Jewish, or Southern, identity in the family had probably diminished by the time Daniel’s children reached adulthood. Daniel Ottolengui died in 1918 and his ashes were buried next to his wife, Helen, in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery. Why Helen and Daniel were not laid to rest in the Jewish Coming Street Cemetery, is another mystery, but it probably indicates their distance from their Jewish roots.