Professional Genealogist and Family Historian
NARA Researcher for Hire, Washington, DC
COHEN OF GEORGETOWN COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA 1760-1960©
A Family History of Portuguese Jews, secret ritual traditions, and old
stories passed down to modern-era Descendants in America in a non-fictional unpublished manuscript based on our mother Fannie Green,
her life as a Secret Jew, and ritual traditions she practiced and taught seven
children, and family stories told “over and over again” in “Geechee”
southern dialect linguists trace to West African oral traditions resembling the
trade language of “Kissi” people of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and
Her stories always took place in Georgetown, South Carolina and were recited “by rote” leaning forward with right fingers balancing her chin, before beginning the repetitive story of her birth, as she sat at the kitchen table in East Harlem, New York.
“Grandmother Adele came and got me, as a baby. I was born in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. My mother (Virginia Smith Green) and my twin sister Virgie died in childbirth (in 1927). Mother was born in Georgetown, South Carolina (in 1898) and so was my father Louis Green. Grandmother Adele Pyatt-Smith changed my name from Fannie Green to Edna Smith. I was raised by her, and my grandfather Richard Smith (born 1875) in Georgetown, South Carolina, at the age of seventeen (circa 1944) I, and came north to Freeport, New York to live with Aunt Sadie, mother’s sister, and her husband Uncle (James) "Grant".
Our mother’s story was written down from recollections of old family stories, and ritual traditions practiced at home in secret. Fannie Green (our mother) was the great-great granddaughter of Percilla Cohen, great-granddaughter of Grace Cohen Smith, granddaughter of her son Richard Smith, and the only child of Virginia Smith and Louis Green. Her family story centers on Portuguese Jews (Secret Jews), and their “complicated” family relationships with enslaved “Geechee” people and Free Persons of Color (FPC) in Georgetown, South Carolina who share the surname (last name) Cohen; including Rosa Cohen Roberson (Robinson), the great-grandmother of the first lady of the United States, Mrs. Michelle Robinson Obama, and grandmother of Capers Funny (e), a cousin, born in Georgetown, South Carolina, and raised in Chicago, who became a Rabbi.
Mother's storytelling encompasses several low country historical events in the colonial and reconstruction eras, and tales of lesser-known Portuguese Jews (hidden Jews) in the low country. The narrative takes readers on a journey of five hundred years of family history; from the first (Portuguese Jews) Cohen family to arrive in Charleston, to modern-day African American descendants born and raised in East Harlem. The manuscript begins in the year 1497 during the Inquisition in Portugal, and continues on to tell the story of a Portuguese Jew named Moses Cohen, a Merchant (storekeeper) from London, England and his arrival into the port of Charleston, South Carolina with ten-year-old son Abraham Cohen circa 1750.
He was among a small group of Portuguese Jews who prayed at home, later Moses Cohen “with zeal” led the religious group in worship in a “building made of wood” in Charleston, the group was called, Kahol Kodesh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregation of God).
Abraham Cohen, the first son of Moses Cohen moved to Georgetown, South Carolina in his early twenties, a couple of years before his father’s death to become a Planter. He acquired a farm, cattle, Blacksmith shop in town, twenty-one slaves, and had worked as an Auctioneer selling ‘Geechee” slaves and property off loaded from ships to the highest bidder. He also served in the militia at the “Siege of Charleston” during the American Revolutionary War of 1776. Towards the end of his life, Abraham Cohen welcomed George Washington, the first President of the United States and fellow Mason to Georgetown, South Carolina as Washington “toured the south” in 1791, while living on Prince Street less than a mile away with his companion (concubine) and our mother's ancestor, “Free Peggy” McWharter, a Free Person of Color.
Our mother repeatedly said she was from the Cohen, Smith and Pyatt families of Georgetown, and generations of (Portuguese) Jews (from Northern Africa), and “Geechee” people from Africa and Cherokees of South Carolina. Her compelling story is an effortless embrace of these three different cultures, traditions, and religions, though mother lived as a secret (Portuguese) Jew all her life. It is a family story of mother's people, that took over thirty years to research, and four years to compile, write, and edit, and reluctantly share with the public hidden generational religious traditions, and tell the less known story of Secret Jews.
The story of our mother Fannie Green reveals a hidden "portion" of Jews that fled Portugal during the Inquisition, but continued to worship in secret in the southern coastal town of Georgetown, South Carolina and persists five centuries later in the ethnically mixed community of East Harlem, New York. This long awaited Cohen of Georgetown, South Carolina narrative covering three hundred years was written for daughters and granddaughters, because not much has been written on family relationships of Portuguese Jews, Free Persons of Color, or enslaved “Geechee” people of West Africa on low country plantations, or modern-day Cohen descendants, who faithfully continue to practice ritual traditions many generations later, and still light candles before dark on Friday, and prepare for the most important time of Passover, though meaning had long ago been lost of the old religious ritual traditions of Portuguese Jews (Crypto-Jews, Marranos), forced to become “Secret Jews”, after the Inquisition. Author's Copyright 2010
Sadie Day Pasha, Professional Genealogist
Independent Researcher for Hire
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC
- Syracuse UniversitySchool of Information Studies
- Syracuse UniversitySchool of Public Communications
- Buzz (current)
- Maryland National Capital Park and Planning CommissionInstructor - Genealogy, present
Independent Researcher for Hire National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC