Monday, July 6, 2009

Jews and the American Revolution

In 1776, there were approximately 2,000 Jews in America. This rather small part of the population took an active role in the American Revolution. One company of soldiers in South Carolina had so many Jewish soldiers that it was called the “Jews' Company.”

One of the Jewish heros of the American Revolution was Haym Salomon. Arriving in New York from Poland in 1772, Salomon became a financial success as a merchant and dealer in foreign securities. Through the influence of the patriotic New York Sons of Liberty, Salomon obtained a contract to supply American troops in central New York. When the British took New York, Salomon covertly encouraged the Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British to desert. He was arrested, his property was confiscated and he was sentenced to be hanged. Salomon escaped and fled penniless to Philadelphia. Starting in 1781, Salomon used his financial acumen to help the Superintendent of Finance, William Morris, save the new nation from fiscal ruin. Unfortunately, his personal finances took a turn for the worse and he died in debt in 1785.

Another Jewish patriot was Francis Salvador. Arriving in South Carolina from London in 1773, Salvador involved himself in politics and was elected to the General Assembly of Carolina. He also served as a delegate to South Carolina's revolutionary Provincial Congress, which prepared the colony's complaint against the British Crown. When war broke out, the British made an alliance with the nearby Cherokees, who attacked frontier settlements. According to legend, Salvador galloped nearly thirty miles to warn the settlers of an impending attack and then returned to the front lines. During one such Cherokee attack, Salvador was hit by a bullet and fell from his horse. Discovered by a Cherokee warrior, he was scalped -- becoming the first Jew to die fighting in the American Revolution.

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