July 4th, 1776 was a pivotal and extraordinary day bringing freedom and liberty into a dictatorial and oppressive world. The American Revolution against tyranny brought the ability for all to practice their respective religions. Judaism was allowed to flourish.
There were 2000 to 3000 Jews at the time of the Revolutionary War. They were concentrated in New York City, Philadelphia, Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. There were only two million people in the the colonies at the time. Only 45% actually participated in the war effort against the British. Actual independence was not achieved until September 3rd, 1783, in the “Treaty of Paris.” This September 3rd we will celebrate 240 years of actual independence from the British.
All of this would not have been possible had it not been for the Chief Financier and close friend of George Washington, Haym Solomon. This is not the first time I am writing about one of the greatest Jewish Americans and it won’t be the last. He died penniless and young at the age of 44 for his heroic efforts. He was born in Poland. He contracted tuberculosis on the infamous British prison ship, “The Provost” in 1775 and was released because he could speak German to the Hessian Mercenaries.
He was later tried by the British and sentenced to be hung. He escaped to Philadelphia where he came in contact with the Continental Congress. As a result he became in essence one of the Founding Fathers of America. Over 70 letters between him and General George Washington exist. When I speak to political figures, I rarely find that any of them know the Haym Solomon story, which I make sure to tell them.
Solomon gave or raised $650,000 to the Revolutionary War which in today's terms would be tens of billions of dollars. When General George Washington nearly had a mutiny on his hands because soldiers could barely afford shoes and were owed wages before the most critical battle of the War at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781, Haym Solomon stepped in and provided the $20,000 needed. General Charles Cornwallis was defeated and the British began negotiating peace.
Haym Solomon married the sister of another hero of the Revolution, Isaac Franks, who was a Lt. Colonel (commissioned after the war) on General George Washington’s staff. He helped lead the battle against the British in Long Island in 1776. He was taken as a POW by the British and escaped in a leaky boat after three months of imprisonment.
Another member of the Franks family, David Franks, not only fought in the Revolutionary War, he actually was responsible for helping negotiate the Treaty of Paris which he delivered to Benjamin Franklin in 1783.
Francis Salvador was the first elected Jew in public office in the nascent United States. He was from Sephardic heritage. He lived in South Carolina. He was the first soldier killed by the British and their Cherokee Indian allies in the Revolutionary War. After being shot he was scalped by the Cherokees.
No one can say that the Jews did not spill their own blood for the formation of America. The Jews were very much part of creating one of the greatest democracies that has ever existed on Planet Earth. This July 4th, I hope the Jewish contribution to this extraordinary enterprise is fully appreciated and recognized.