Happy 4th of July everyone! With the big day less than 24 hours away I couldn't resist the temptation to post about the significant role Jews played in this uniquely American holiday. How so, you wonder? Read on.
In my post about Jewish pirates a couple weeks ago, I mentioned how many Jews came to the New World following their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Thanks to this immigration - among other things - by the time the War of Independence erupted some two hundred years later there were more than 2,000 Sephardic Jews living in America. They didn't tarry in the sidelines, but fought against the British beside their Christian counterparts and were key financial backers of the war effort. Two of the most famous Jews who played a role in the Revolution were Francis Salvador and Haym Solomon.
Francis Salvador was the first American Jew to die in the Revolution, fighting for his country on the South Carolina frontier. A representative to Congress who was one of the earliest champions for Independence, his involvement on the battlefront began when the British started encouraging Indians to attack frontier families as a diversionary tactic. The first attack took place on July 1, 1776 and Salvador sounded the alarm by racing his horse to Major Andrew Williamson's doorstep twenty-eight miles away. He then took part in the battles that followed, fighting bravely until he was shot and scalped by Indians at 29 years of age. Of his death, Colonel William Thomson wrote:
"Mr. Salvador received three wounds; and, fell by my side... before [we] could find him in the dark, the enemy unfortunately got his scalp... He died, about half after two o'clock in the morning... sensible to the last. When I came up to him, after dislodging the enemy, and speaking to him, he asked, whether I had beat the enemy? I told him yes. He said he was glad of it, and shook me by the hand – and bade me farewell." (Documentary History of the American Revolution by Robert Wilson Gibbes, pp. 125–127.)
Jews also played a critical role as financiers, with the most important of them being Haym Solomon. The son of a rabbi, Solomon was a Polish Jew who helped prisoners of the British escape and eventually coordinated the majority of the war aid that revolutionaries received from France and Holland. He also supported members of the Continental Congress, including James Madison and James Wilson. There are a number of unsubstantiated legends about Solomon, including the claim that he designed The Great Seal of the United States and that he placed the Star of David above the eagle's head. (The seal is on the back of a $1 bill, on the right side.)
President George Washington later remembered the role Jews played in the Revolution in a August 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, writing:
"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."
There were, of course, many other Jews involved in the American Revolution. Yet I hope that knowledge of Salvador and Solomon adds a little something to your celebrations tomorrow!