Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Altamont Moses (1846-1905)

From the December 13, 1905 edition of the Watchman and Southron.

   Born into a prominent Jewish family in Sumter, South Carolina on August 5, 1846, Altamont Moses rose to become a distinguished political leader in this historic southern city, holding the offices of state representative and senator, and was also a prominent local masonic figure, serving as a past master of the Claremont Free and Accepted Masons Lodge. A son of Montgomery and Catherine Phillips Moses, the origins of Moses' unusual first name are shrouded in mystery. While many may remember the infamous "Altamont Free Concert" held at the Altamont Raceway in California in December 1969, it's somewhat funny to think that there was once a state legislator with "Altamont" as a given first name!
   Little could be located on Altamont Moses' early life in Sumter, although it is known that during the early days of the Civil War he signed on for military duty, serving amongst the Confederate ranks as a military telegraph operator. Following the conclusion of the Civil War Moses returned to Sumter and over the following decades became an established merchant in the city, and is recorded as being a cotton grower. He married in Sumter to Octavia Cohen on September 26 1870 and later had several children: Katherine (1874-1954), Herbert Altamont (1876-1969),Vivian Mordaunt (born 1878), Emile Phillips (born 1880), Armida (born 1884), Henry Phillips (1886-1945) and Altamont Jr. 
  Three years before his marriage to Octavia Cohen Altamont Moses joined the local Masonic chapter and within a short time had become prominent amongst its ranks, being elected as a Worshipful Master. Moses later went on to hold the position of Master the Claremont Lodge #64 and was also an influential figure in a number of other fraternal clubs, serving as Chancellor of the Game Cock Lodge of the Knights of Pythias, Grand Chancellor of the Grand Lodge of the Knights of Pythias of South Carolina and was a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen. In addition to the above, Moses was also active in Jewish affairs in his native county, holding the position of President of the Sumter Hebrew Benevolent Society as well as the Sumter Society of Israelites. 
   While his name was known throughout Sumter as one synonymous with civic affairs, Moses was also a leading figure politically, having a career in public service that extended back to 1868, when he served as a delegate from Sumter County to the South Carolina Democratic State Convention. In 1886 he was elected to serve in the South Carolina House of Representatives "at the earnest solicitation of his fellow citizens" and during a portion of his eight years here held the chairmanship of the house Ways and Means Committee.  In addition to his legislative service Moses was also a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1888 and 1904 as part of the South Carolina delegation.
   In 1894 Moses was elected to the state senate and served here until 1898, when he narrowly lost his senate seat to Richard Irvine Manning (a future South Carolina Governor). As luck would have it, Moses' career on the political stage wasn't over yet, due to a verdict rendered by the state supreme court. As Moses' obituary in the Sumter Watchman and Southron relates: 
"A few weeks after the legislature convened the supreme court rendered as decision adverse to the establishment of Lee County, and thus creating a vacancy in the legislative delegation from this county, he was nominated for the house by the people of Sumter County who had been included in the proposed Lee County, and was elected without opposition." 
   After being returned to the legislature through what could only be described as serendipity, Altamont Moses began what the Watchman and Southron referred to as a "life tenure as a representative of Sumter County" noting that "his services in that body to Sumter County and the state at large being too valuable to be dispensed with." The Jews of South Carolina (which contains a brief synopsis of Moses' time in the legislature) notes that in the latter part of his legislative tenure Moses served on the special committee on Tax Laws, the Sinking Fund Commission, the Hampton Monument Commission and the Commission for Repairs to the State House. 
  In early 1905 Moses' health began to fail and some weeks before his death illness confined him to his home. He died on December 8, 1905 at age 59 and was widely mourned throughout the state, his passing even warranting a notice in the New York Times. Moses' Manning Times obituary of December 13, 1905 remembered the popular legislator and his successful career in politics and in masonry, noting that 
"Death loves a shining mark, and in laying his icy hands upon Altamont Moses he removed from this midst a most lovable character, a man devoid of selfishness, and who's work for mankind was a part and parcel of his daily existence."
  Following his death Altamont Moses was interred at the Jewish Cemetery in Sumter, South Carolina and was survived by his wife Octavia, who died in March of 1936 at age 91. 

Altamont Moses, from his Manning Times obituary, published December 13, 1905.

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