Isaac Harby family papers
Correspondence, writings, and newspaper clippings regarding Isaac Harby and the Harby family. The papers include a thank-you letter from Isaac Harby to John C. Calhoun, discussing topics including law, government, legislation, South Carolina, and Andrew Jackson. Also included is a manuscript copy of “The Presidency,” a series of political essays supporting the presidential candidacy of Andrew Jackson. There is also a prayer book manuscript by Isaac Harby. This manuscript prayer book, one of several created by members of the Reform Society, reflects a liturgy that was honed over time. The text contains the Society’s “Articles of Faith,” drafted in part by Harby, which introduced several elements that would become typical of Reform Judaism, including an emphasis on individual morality and belief, a disavowal of resurrection, and the questioning of the divine origins of the Torah. Also included is a manuscript copy of Tutoona, or The Indian Girl: A Drama in 5 Acts, a play by George W. Harby, and newspaper clippings of various theater reviews of the play. Performed at the New Orleans American Theater on February 22, 1835, George Washington’s birthday, the play takes place in the aftermath of the defeat of the British at Saratoga in 1777 from the perspective of chief Coppersnake and his daughter, Tutoona. The collection also contains a letter from Jack Harby to Marx E. Cohen regarding the marriage of Harby and Cohen’s daughter, Lee C. Harby. Assorted clippings from the News and Courier and the Sumter Daily Item related to the Harby family include several book reviews of L.C. Moïse’s Biography of Isaac Harby and an obituary for Hal W. Harby. Also included is a partial manuscript regarding the history of a Grecian cross located in Brooklyn, New York. Miscellaneous items are a photocopy of a typescript providing biographical information on Isaac Harby and a manuscript fragment regarding publishing matters.
- Majority of material found within 1815-1869
- Harby, Isaac, 1788-1828 (Person)
This collection is open for research, with the following exception: due to the rarity and fragility of the original document researchers are encouraged to use a facsimile copy of the prayer book manuscript.
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Isaac Harby (1788-1828) was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 9, 1788, to auctioneer Solomon Harby (1762-1805) and Rebecca Moses (1768-1854). In 1805, Harby enrolled at the College of Charleston but left before graduating to pursue an apprenticeship at the law office of Langdon Cheves. After abandoning his legal apprenticeship, he opened Harby’s Academy, a private academy that, despite other professional pursuits, remained the most reliable source of income throughout his life. In 1807, Harby marked the start of his career in journalism by launching The Quiver, his first venture in print and likely the first literary magazine produced by an American Jew. In 1810, Harby married Rachael Mordecai (1781-1827), who bore nine children, three of whom died in infancy. From 1814 to 1817, Harby owned and edited the Charleston Gazette and Mercantile Advisor, which he renamed the Southern Patriot and Commercial Advertiser. From 1821 to 1823, he edited Charleston’s City Gazette and regularly contributed to the Charleston Mercury and other publications. During these years, Harby wrote at least three plays: Alexander Severus (c. 1808), The Gordian Knot (1810), and Alberti (1819). In 1822, he made an unsuccessful run for the South Carolina General Assembly. In 1824, two Charleston newspapers published Harby’s “The Presidency,” a series of political essays supporting the presidential candidacy of Andrew Jackson. At the same time, he was deeply involved in establishing the Reformed Society of Israelites, the first organized expression of Jewish religious reform in North America. He became the society’s most prominent spokesperson and, in 1825, on the group’s first anniversary, delivered A Discourse…for promoting true principles of Judaism according to its purity and spirit. In 1827, he served as president of the society and, with the assistance of David N. Carvalho and Abraham Moïse, composed what is now recognized as the first reform prayer book written in America. In 1828, the year after his wife’s death, Harby moved to New York, contributing to the New York Evening Post and the New York Mirror. He died of typhoid fever on December 14, 1828, leaving his six children in the care of his sister, Caroline de Litchfield Harby, and was buried in Congregation Shearith Israel’s second cemetery on 11th Street in Manhattan.
George W. Harby (1797-1862) was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on October 12, 1797. The younger brother of Isaac Harby, he was known as an educator and author of several plays, Including Tutoona, or the Indian Girl (1835) and Nick of the Woods (1837).
Jack (Jacob) de la Motta Harby (1848-1916) was born in Galveston, Texas, on March 29, 1848, and in 1869 married Lee (Leah) Cohen Harby (1849-1918). Lee was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on September 7, 1849, to Marx E. Cohen and Armida Harby, and was the granddaughter of Isaac Harby on her mother’s side. Jack and Lee C. Harby settled in Galveston, spending time also in Houston, New York, and Charleston. She published numerous essays, short stories and poems in periodicals such as Godey’s Magazine, Ladies Home Journal, and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, writing on topics including Texas, plantation life, Jewish holidays and traditions, Jewish women, and the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition. An active member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Rebecca Motte Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she successfully led the fight to preserve Charleston’s Old Exchange Building and is commemorated on a historic plaque on its north façade.
Hal W. Harby (1886-1954) was born in Sumter, South Carolina, on July 9, 1886 to Henry J. Harby and Adeline Emanuel. Hal W. Harby was the great-grandson of Isaac Harby through his father’s mother, Octavia Harby Moses.
0.25 linear feet (1 slim document box)
Language of Materials
Collection consists of the papers of journalist, playwright, educator, and religious reformer, Isaac Harby, and the Harby family. Papers include correspondence, essays, a play, and newspaper clippings relating to Isaac Harby and his descendants.
Collection is described at the folder level.
Materials were donated in 2007 by Temple Sinai (Sumter, S.C.).
Alternate Form of Materials
Digital reproductions available online in the Lowcountry Digital Library.
The books Hymns Written for the Use of Congregations (1856), The Gordian Knot, or, Causes & Effects: A Play, in Five Acts (1810), and two copies of A Selection from the Miscellaneous Writings of the Late Isaac Harby, esq., Arranged and Published by Henry L. Pinckney and Abraham Moïse, for the Benefit of His Family; to which is prefixed, A Memoir of His Life (1829) have been removed and catalogued separately.
Processed by Sam Sfirri, February 2020.
- Calhoun, John C. (John Caldwell), 1782-1850 -- Correspondence
- Charleston (S.C.)
- Harby, George W., 1797-1862 -- Criticism and interpretation
- Harby, Hal W., 1886-1954 -- Death and burial
- Harby, Jacob de la Motta, 1848-1916 -- Marriage
- Harby, Lee Cohen, 1849-1918 -- Biography
- Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845 -- Political and social views
- Jewish authors -- United States
- Jews -- South Carolina -- Charleston -- Biography
- Jews -- South Carolina -- Intellectual life
- Reform Judaism -- Liturgy -- Texts
- Reform Judaism -- United States
- clippings (information artifacts)
- manuscripts (documents)
- plays (performing arts compositions)
- Inventory of the Isaac Harby family Papers, 1815-1954 (bulk 1815-1869)
- Processed by: Sam Sfirri; finding aid created by: Sam Sfirri
- Description rules
- Language of description
- Script of description