Jewish Hero of the American Revolution: Haym Salomon

After he sacrificed everything for the success of the Revolution, his loyalty was maligned because he was a Jew.

One little known hero of the American Revolution was Haym Salomon. He was a financial hero, who sacrificed everything for the cause of liberty.

Revolutions and their armies cost money. The poor thirteen colonies were going up against the richest empire in history. The Americans had to get their money from somewhere. Without it, the Revolution would collapse. That is where Haym Salomon came in. 

From Poland to America

Haym Salomon was born in Poland in 1740. He was proud of his Jewish heritage.

Haym came to New York City in 1775. He quickly established himself as a banker for merchants engaged in overseas trade.

Saloman joins the Revolution

Salomon soon sympathized with the patriots, and he joined the Sons of Liberty.

Arrested for being a spy

In September 1776 he was arrested for being a spy. The British agreed to pardon him, but only after spending 18 months on a British warship serving as an interpreter for the German Hessian mercenaries. Saloman used this position to help prisoners escape. He also encouraged the Hessians to dessert the war effort.

Arrested for aiding the rebellion and sentenced to death

 In 1778, Salomon was arrested again for aiding the rebellion. His property was confiscated, and he was sentenced to death for treason.   However, Salomon managed to escape, and he fled with his family to Philadelphia, the capital of the revolution. 

Returned to banking and becomes financial agent for French, Dutch, Spanish governments

In Philadelphia, he returned to banking. He became an agent for the French consul and the paymaster for the French forces in American. He also served the financial agent for the Dutch and Spanish governments.

Assisted American Superintendent for Finance

Salomon began working closely with Robert Morris, the newly appointed Superintendent for Finance for the Thirteen Colonies.

Raised $18 million in today’s money for General Washington’s Army

Salomon’s financial contribution to the war effort was enormous and indispensable.  He personally raised and/or loaned over $650,000 ($18 million in today’s money) for General Washington and the Continental Army.

Personally funded the Continental Army’s senior surgeon

Salomon also used his own funds to pay for Dr. Otto, the senior surgeon of the Continental Army. Haym paid for Dr. Otto’s salary and medical supplies, making it possible for Dr. Otto to establish a hospital at Valley Forge.

Personally funded famous founding fathers in Philadelphia

Salomon financially supported many members of the Continental Congress when they were staying in Philadelphia, including James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. He never asked for repayment. James Madison lamented, “I have for some time been a pensioner on the favor of Haym Salomon, a Jew broker.”

Personally funded army combat engineer

Saloman personally financed Andrew Kosciuszko, the brilliant combat engineer, and Polish hero of the American Revolution. 

Provided the funds for Washington in order to force the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown

In August 1781, the Continental Army trapped General Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. The Brits were on the ropes. If Washington could force the Royal Army to surrender at Yorktown, victory would be assured, and the War would be over.

Unfortunately, Washington ran out of money. There was no cash for food and supplies. The Continental Army was stopped dead in his tracks.  The unpaid, unfed, and under-supplied troops were on the verge of mutiny. 

General Washington was desperate.  He needed a quick infusion of least $20,000, or he was finished.

Washington contacted Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris who told Washington that the government had no funds or credit left. General Washington gave Morris a simple order. “Send for Haym Salomon.” 

Salomon miraculously raised the $20,000 in time. Washington used the money to feed and resupply his army. He then launched the final assault on Cornwallis, winning the war.

Salomon, “risked his fortune, pledged his good name and credit on behalf of the Revolution, and stood up for religious liberty.”


The religious test barred Jews from holding public office

After the war, Salomon could not hold public office because he was a Jew. The Pennsylvania Constitutional required a religious test that allowed only Christians to hold public office. On Salomon’s behalf, Robert Morris introduced legislation to end the religious test in Pennsylvania. 

After Salomon’s death, the U.S. Constitution was ratified.  It contained the following mandate: “[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any public office or public trust under the United States.” (Article VI, Clause 3).

This American hero became a target of anti-Semitism

In 1784, after all he had done for the revolution, Salomon became the target of anti-Semitism. His loyalty was maligned, and his name was defamed. “He operated within the context of a society, and an age, that considered all Jews as Shylocks (the villainous Jewish moneylender in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”) and money grubbers.”

Writing as “A Jew Broker,” Salomon responded in the press. “I am a Jew; it is my own nation; I do not despair that we shall obtain every other privilege that we aspire to enjoy along with our fellow-citizens.”

Died in poverty while owed millions (in today’s money)

Salomon died from tuberculosis the following year at the age of 44. Tragically, he died in poverty, leaving his family penniless. He was owed hundreds of thousands of dollars (millions in today’s money) by the government.  He could have been a very rich man. But the government never repaid the debts he incurred on behalf of the American Revolution. (His son later petitioned Congress to recover the $600,000 owed his father, but Congress refused to recognize the claims.)

Legend of the 13 stars forming the Star of David

According to legend, President Washington asked Salomon what compensation he wanted in return for his financial contributions to the Revolutionary War. Haym replied, that “he wanted nothing for himself, but that he wanted something for his people.” Thus, the 13 stars, representing the colonies on the Great Seal, when connected, form the Star of David.

Salomon had saved the Army and the Revolution

Salomon saved the Continental Army and the American Revolution with his financial contributions. Yet, he died a pauper.  He deserved better. 

Today, “we the people” can help repay the debts our government still owes him by remembering and honoring Haym Salomon.

(Sources: “Haym Salomon: Biography & Facts,” Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com; “The American Revolution: Haym Salomon,” National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov; “Haym Salomon,” Wikipedia; “Haym Salomon: Revolutionary Broker,” Michael Feldberg, My Jewish Learning)

(Other articles at: londonedition.home.blog or http://www.londonedition.net)

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