Jews and July 4th
There were over 2000 Jews in colonial America and many took part in the Revolutionary War. Here’s their story.
Picture it. A Jew in a waistcoat, knee breeches, holding a shotgun? Yet of the over 2000 Jews in colonial America, many adult Jewish males took part in the Revolutionary War from fighting to financing. A few were royalists, but most American Jews supported the fight for independence.
"I am a Jew; I do not despair that we shall obtain every privilege we aspire to enjoy along with our fellow citizens."
As is often the case, we not only came, some of us conquered, playing a decisive role in American Independence. In fact, had it not been for Jewish Americans, we might be chowing down on fish and chips instead of beans and franks.
Here’s a sampling:
Francis Salvador: Legendary Southern Patriot
In 1774, Francis Salvador, a recent arrival from England, is the holder of several Revolutionary records. He was elected to the First Provincial Congress in Charleston in 1774, making him the first professed American Jew to hold such a high elective office. The following year, when a South Carolina republic was established, he signed and stamped the new currency. A volunteer militiaman, participating in an expedition against Indians and Tories, he was also the first Jew to die for his country. He was killed early in the war (August 1, 1776) by Cherokee loyalists in an ambush near the Keowee River. Salvador’s commander described this scene to South Carolina President, John Rutledge. “With a savage head wound, he asked whether the enemy had been beaten. He was glad ... and then said farewell.”
The bicentennial celebration of the Jewish community of Charleston, 1950, included the creation of a commemorative stone in honor of the patriot. The inscription starts: "First Jew In South Carolina To Hold Public Office And To Die For American Independence.”
The Jews Company: 1780
Such a large number of Southern Jews wanted to join the Revolutionary cause, Captain Richard Lushington, a Jew from Charleston, South Carolina, formed what was known as “the Jews’ Company” which included 28 Jews comprising about half his men.
Mordechai Sheftall and Philip Minis
A merchant and son of a Jewish colonist who arrived in 1733, Mordecai Sheftall, chaired the committee in Savannah, Georgia, enforcing the decisions of the American patriots against British interests in 1775. The meeting is also attended by Philip Minis, also a son of one of the original Jewish colonists. In 1778, Sheftall, was appointed Deputy Commissary General for federal troops in Georgia and South Carolina. Late in the year, as Savannah's defenses are overrun by British troops, many American soldiers escaped by swimming across the Savannah River. British troops captured Sheftall who stayed behind with his teenage son, Levi. The following year, Philip Minis, a member of Georgia’s patriot committee and Levi Sheftall were guides to French and American forces in their attempt to recapture Savannah from the British.
In 1782, the Jewish community in Philadelphia, with an increased population of Jews from other cities, under Sheftall’s leadership, built its first permanent synagogue and Haym Salomon, a financier of the revolution, was a major financial contributor.
THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WAR CHEST: HAYM SALOMON
There is scarcely a USian who hasn’t heard of the sacrifices of Haym Salomon. It could be said that this Polish-born Jew who came to New York in 1772, was largely responsible for us beating the Brits.
Salomon acted as a secret agent in British-occupied New York City. After fleeing to Philadelphia in 1778 to escape arrest, his financial skills helped rescue the Continental government. He acted as supplier to American troops and as paymaster general to French forces assisting the patriots. Along with Robert Morris he raised funds for the colonial coffers. Salomon also loaned gelt at nominal rates to members of the Continental Congress in need, among them James Madison. An ardent Jew, in 1782, he made the largest contribution toward the building of the Mikveh Israel Congregation. In 1784, he stated in print: "I am a Jew; I do not despair that we shall obtain every privilege we aspire to enjoy along with our fellow citizens." At the time of his death, January 6, 1785, he was technically bankrupt. His heirs claimed that the U.S. government still owed him in excess of $350,000 – and I doubt that’s with interest.
In Chicago there is a statue linking Washington, Salomon and Robert Morris, with the words: "...The government of the United States which gives to bigotry no sanction to persecution no assistance."
“FRANKLY” SPEAKING …
Colonel Isaac Franks: Known as George Washington’s right-hand man, the two became dear friends when, on November 1 in 1793, he provided his home in Germantown, Pennsylvania to the future first President when, on his way to the Third Continental Congress in Philly, the yellow fever epidemic hit. Washington and Franks remained good friends and he became the first Jew to have his portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart.
A Family Affair: Isaac Frank’s sister Rachael married … Haym Solomon!
David Salisbury Franks, a distant relation to Isaac, had a checkered but colorful career! In 1780, when Benedict Arnold turned his coat by tipping off the British of the American surrender of the fort at West Point, his aide de camp was none other than David Franks. This was not mazel. He, along with Arnold’s other aides were arrested. He was acquitted, but outraged, requested an additional court inquiry to completely clear his name. Franks was promoted and given 400 acres of land. (Is this Jewish or what?) It gets better. He became a diplomatic courier carrying documents to Benjamin Franklin in Paris and John Jay in Madrid. But more … in 1784 he was appointed vice consul in Marseilles, France, becoming the first Jew to serve in a U.S. diplomatic post.
WE WON, LET’S EAT
In a great parade in Philadelphia in 1788 to honor Pennsylvania's ratification of the U. S. Constitution, the chazan (cantor) of the synagogue marched arm and arm with two clergymen. At the public feast that accompanied the celebration there was a table with kosher food that, according to one participant consisted of "soused salmon bread and crackers, almonds, raisins, and more."
A PRESIDENT IS SWORN IN!
When George Washington was elected the first president of the newly formed republic of the United States his 1789 inauguration was held at Federal Hall on Wall Street in Manhattan. Noted Jewish leader Gershom Mendes Seixas, chazan of New York's Jewish congregation, was one of 14 religious leaders who attend the ceremonies.
And so, the United States of America owes a great debt to We Jews. On this July 4th, may we celebrate the debt that’s been paid … and those still to pay to insure the independence of our Jewish nation, Israel.