The earliest record of a Jew in Charleston occurs in 1695, when one is recorded as acting as interpreter for Governor Archdale. In 1702 Jews appeared in numbers and voted at a general election. The early Jewish communities in the South were made up primarily of Sephardic Jews who had immigrated from London and the Netherlands, where they had settled following expulsion from Spain and Portugal in the late 15th century.
The Jewish community at Charleston received a substantial addition during the years 1740-41. Following a Spanish invasion of Georgia in 1733, many Jews moved to Charleston, as they feared another Inquisition. In addition, the illiberal policy of the trustees of Georgia induced both Jews and Christians to leave that colony and to flock to South Carolina. During the mid-1700s, Charleston was the preferred destination of Jewish emigres from London, who represented numerous wealthy merchant families. They became involved in business, trade, finance and agriculture in Charleston, with some owning plantations.By 1800 there were about 2,000 Jews in South Carolina (overwhelmingly Sephardic and settled in Charleston), which was more than in any other U.S. state at that time, and more than any other town, city, or place in North America. Charleston remained the unofficial capital of North American Jewry until about 1830, when the increasing number of Ashkenazi German Jews emigrating to America largely settled in New Orleans, Richmond, Savannah, Baltimore, and the north-east (particularly in Boston, New York City and Philadelphia). Their numbers, added to by the later immigration of Ashkenazi Jews from eastern Europe to the Northeast and Midwest industrial cities, far surpassed the mostly Sephardic Jewish community in Charleston.
South Carolina was the first place in America to elect a Jew to public office: Francis Salvador, elected in 1774 and 1775 to the Provincial Congress, in 1776 died in action as the first Jewish American killed in the Revolution. The state was also the birthplace of Reform Judaism in the Americas.