ALEXANDER, ABRAHAM

ALEXANDER, ABRAHAM (Senior; 1743–1816), Revolutionary War officer, U.S. Custom House auditor, and ḥazzan of Charleston's Beth Elohim Congregation (1764–84). Born and educated in London, Alexander, the son of Joseph Raphael Alexander, immigrated to Charleston, South Carolina, before the American Revolution. He served for many years as a volunteer lay minister (known then as ḥazzan). A Hebrew scholar and scribe, he wrote, in his own hand, a prayer book for the High Holy Days "according to the custom of the Sephardim" (1805). During the Revolution, when Charleston fell to the British in 1780, he surrendered at first, along with the rest of the population, but soon afterward left the city to join patriot forces in the backcountry. After he was commissioned a lieutenant of the dragoons, his regiment's guerilla fighting helped drive the British from the Carolinas. Alexander, a widower, in 1784 married Ann Sarah Huguenin Irby, a widow of French Huguenot affiliation. Intermarriage was unusual for the times, especially since he was a strict adherent to Orthodox Judaism. Yet before their marriage she became a devout Jewess, one of the earliest converts of American Jewish history; apparently, however, he resigned his position as ḥazzan of the congregation. Alexander entered the service of the new federal government at Charleston's U.S. Custom House, as clerk in 1802 and then as auditor until his retirement in 1813. An active Mason, he is notable in Masonic history as one of 11 founders and the first secretary-general of the Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, Scottish Rite Masonry ("mother council of the world"), which was founded in Charleston in 1801. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: H.A. Alexander, Notes on the Alexander Family of South Carolina (1954); C. Reznikoff and U.Z. Engelman, Jews of Charleston (1950), index; R.B. Harris, History of the Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A. 1801–1861 (1964), 45–48. (Thomas J. Tobias)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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