July 4, 1776 was a pivotal and extraordinary day that brought freedom and liberty into a dictatorial and oppressive world.
In particular, the American Revolution against tyranny eventually gave everyone in the United States the right to practice their respective religions. Thus, Judaism was allowed to flourish.
There were 2,000-3,000 Jews in colonial America 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 13 colonies at the time and 45% participated in the war effort. Independence was not officially achieved until Sept. 3, 1983 via the Treaty of Paris.
All of this would not have been possible had it not been for the financier and close friend of George Washington, Haym Solomon. This is not the first time I have written about Solomon, one of the greatest Jewish Americans in history, and it won’t be the last.
Solomon was born in Poland and died penniless at the age of 44 after he contracted tuberculosis on the infamous British prison ship The Provost in 1775. He was released from the ship because he could speak German to the Hessian mercenaries onboard.
He was later tried by the British and sentenced to death. He escaped to Philadelphia, where he became involved with the Continental Congress. As a result, Solomon became in essence one of the Founding Fathers. Over 70 letters between him and then-Gen. George Washington exist.
When I speak to political figures, I find that they rarely know about Haym Solomon and his story, which I make sure to tell them. He gave and/or raised $650,000 to the Revolutionary War effort, which in today’s terms would be tens of billions of dollars.
Washington almost had a mutiny on his hands before the most critical battle of the war at Yorktown in 1781 because his soldiers could barely afford shoes and were owed wages. Solomon stepped in and provided the $20,000 needed. British Gen. Charles Cornwallis was defeated at Yorktown and the British began negotiating for peace.
Haym Solomon married the sister of another hero of the Revolution, Isaac Franks, who was a lieutenant colonel (commissioned after the war) on Washington’s staff. He helped lead the battle against the British on Long Island in 1776. After being taken prisoner by the British, he escaped in a leaky boat following three months of imprisonment.
Another member of the Franks family, David Franks, not only fought in the Revolutionary War but helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which he delivered to Benjamin Franklin in 1783.
Francis Salvador was the first Jew elected to public office in the nascent United States. He was of Sephardic heritage and lived in South Carolina. Salvador was the first soldier killed by the British and their Cherokee Indian allies in the Revolutionary War. After he was shot, the Cherokees scalped him.
No one can say that Jews did not spill their blood in order to create the United States. The Jews were very much part of creating one of the greatest democracies that has ever existed. This July 4, I hope the Jewish contribution to this extraordinary enterprise is fully appreciated and recognized.