Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings
Copyright. All rights reserved.

Jews in the American Revolution

As a historian, my nose is always in a book. I am like a honeybee as I seem to get the best of the nectar out of a book, not always reading the whole entire book. A few months ago I came across an article about a Jewish man who believed in the American Revolution. I was so captivated with his story, I decided to put this on my Blog. Unfortunatley, many of our past patriots who helped form our nation have fallen through the cracks of time. They have been forgotten. I am always pulling them out of obscurity into the present. Their stories should be told and retold to each generation, not to be forgotten. And that each patriot was special. Sometimes we forget how many individuals used their God-given talent to help build this great nation of ours.

As I get older, I see anti-Semitism moving again in our nation. It’s the oldest hatred! Unfortunately, some Americans may have thought this prejudice was fading away, but it seems to have gained momentum once again. Why, I kept asking myself? And yet many Jews that were living in our country were the first to step forward, believing we should be a free and an independent country from England. And, in every war we have ever had, American Jews fought alongside of Americans.

When our country was fighting for her independence from England in 1775, an organization was formed throughout the 13 original colonies called the Sons of Liberty. And the Sons of liberty were here in Norfolk, Virginia.

A young Jewish man, Haym Salomon from Europe had recently located to New York City, sympathizing with the Patriot Cause joined this organization. He liked what he heard. But unfortunately, a few months later he was arrested by the British as a spy. However, the British court pardoned him for being a spy, but he was throwned into a British prison ship in New York harbor for 18 long months. The conditions were horrible. Men died of starvation on these prison ships. However, Salomon became an interpreter on board this prison ship for the Hessian soldiers. It was the German troops who were feeding the prisoners. These German soldiers were employed by the British to fight the Americans. Salomon spoke German and, while on that prison ship, he encouraged many Hessians to desert the war. He also helped many American soldiers to escape to freedom. During his stay on this prison ship he carried out many espionage activities. Later he would escape himself, but in September 1778 he was arrested again and convicted of espionage and sentenced to death. However, with help of fellow prisoners, he escaped again, making his way with his family to the revolutionary war capital of Philadelphia. He was safe with the patriots for a while.

Once in Philadelphia, he resumed his activities as an Accountant, Banker and Broker. Salomon Haym became the agent to the French Consul as well as paymaster for the French forces in North America. In 1781 he began working extensively with Robert Morris, the newly appointed Superintendent for Finance for the 13 Colonies.

From the period of 1781-1784, old revolutionary war records showed this man was solely responsible for raising over, in today’s standard, $650,000.00 dollars in financing George Washington’s war’s. My friends, wars cost money and this man knew what Washington needed for his troops.

In August 1781, the Continental Army trapped British General Lord Charles Cornwallis in the sleepy town called Yorktown, Virginia. Unfortunately, Washington’s war chest was completely empty. Washington’s army needed food, blankets, tents, guns, rifles, uniforms. In fact, Washington's troops were close to mutiny.

George Washington determined that he needed at least $20,000.00 to finance this Yorktown campaign. He immediately sent a dispatcher to get help from this financial banker who he knew could raise the money. The dispatcher ended up at an old synagogue called Mikveh (Mick-va) in Philadelphia. When the dispatcher approached the Jewish community and inside its synagogue the old rabbi said, “Sir, we are the house of Abraham and we are in prayer.” The dispatched said, “Rabbi, General George Washington needs to see Mr. Haym Salomon. Before the Rabbi could call on Haym Salomon, Haym stepped forward still wearing his Tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl on his back. After quickly reading Washington’s letter, Hay quickly spoke to the Jewish congregation and said, “Our Friends, Washington needs our help again. You all have given generously over the years, but we need to give more.” Within an hour, Haym Salomon had raised the money General Washington needed so despartely for the siege of Yorktown. This huge contribution was badly needed.

On October 19th 1781, the British lost the war and laid down their arms, surrendered and we won our independence, the beginning of a new nation we now call, the United States of America. And a band played, “The World Turned Upside Down.”

This businessman, financial, banker and broker, who with his fund-raising abilities, helped fund the cause of freedom that led to the victory of Yorktown.

Haym Salomon (1740-1785) was a native of Poland, with Sephardic Jewish roots who had lived in many countries in Europe, learning their languages & customs before coming to America. He was a man who believed in the America cause from the very beginning. A man, a true patriot, we should never forget.

On January 6, 1785, at the age of 44, Haym Salomon died a broken man in poverty. He gave so much for this country. His last words to his wife were, “Rachel, I leave you nothing, but promise me that you will raise our children to be good Americans.” And he passed away.

Like many of our early patriots, Salomon has fallen through the cracks of time. Haym Salomon was a true American patriot who came to the aid of Washington when Washington needed him the most. In 1975 the United States Post Office, knowing this great man needed recognition, commissioned a 10 cents stamp in Salomon’s memory. His contribution to the American Revolution has largely been forgotten.  

Haym Salomon was not the only Jewish Revolutionary war hero. We thank the Almighty that Haym Salomon was there raising funds in helping Washington at the battle of Yorktown. We should never forget this man! Without him, there might not have been a Yorktown victory. On the 4th of July, let us toast Haym Salomon the financier of the American Revolution and to the many Jewish patriots who believed in this country. We owe to them a great debt.

* * * * * *

Robert B. Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com