During the American Revolutionary War, Jews played a tremendous part in defending and helping America become an independent country. I wasn’t aware of this until I choose this topic as my Hebrew School essay. I am fascinated with the American Revolutionary War and didn’t expect to learn that Jews were active and influential. When I learned of the American Revolution at school, my teacher never taught us about famous Jews in the war, he taught us about John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and their contributions. The first time I looked up “famous Jews in the Revolutionary War” on Google, I was surprised that there were so many. I learned how Jews gave everything they had to the American cause. In this essay, I will explain the importance of three Jewish heroes; Mordecai Sheftall, Francis Salvador and Haym Salomon, and how they contributed to not only to the cause but America as a whole.
Mordecai Sheftall, born in Savannah, Georgia, 1735, had a very successful life as a merchant shipper and statesman. He set up his own network of contacts across the globe and was well connected with friends and family in mercantile and shipping. His pre-revolutionary holdings were immeasurable. He was recognized by the authorities in every level of society and government and was a highly visible participant in civic activities. Angered by Britain’s Stamp Act, Sheftall joined the Savannah Parochial Committee, a group of people calling for American Independence. After hostilities began, Sheftall was appointed Deputy Commissary General to the Continental troops of South Carolina and Georgia and was later promoted to colonel, making him the highest ranking Jewish officer at the time.
Sheftall used all his resources to support the fight for freedom, using his own personal funds to care for the men he led and making massive loans to pay for munitions, food, uniforms, and horses. He also invested heavily in Georgia notes and bonds, which eventually become worthless when the war ended. In December 1778, Sheftall and his oldest son were taken prisoner and sent to Antigua, from which he implored unsuccessfully for the Continental Congress to negotiate a prisoner exchange. He had helped the country but they were unable or unwilling to come to his aid in return.
He was financially ruined after the Revolutionary War. Sheftall’s loans to the Continental Congress and Georgia were never repaid and most of his property was seized by the British during his time in imprisonment. This didn’t stop Sheftall. He and his son settled in Philadelphia and began a new shipping business. His reputation for trustworthiness and leadership continued untarnished.
In 1782, Sheftall returned to Savannah, Georgia, a place that had a very small population of Jewish people. Despite a lack of Jewish education, Mordecai was observant and devoted and found ways to show that he was part of the Jewish community. He became one of the founding members of the Congregation Mickve Israel and donated a parcel of land to establish Georgia’s first Jewish cemetery. In 1790, he led the synagogue in a successful petition for an official charter from the state and a year later, he began a five-year term as president of the congregation. Sheftall was a Jewish Representative among the Union Society, an ecumenical association formed by Savannah’s religious groups’ to help widows, poor children, and support the town’s Bethesda orphanage.
Sheftall died on July 6, 1797. Although he never earned back his pre-revolution financial funds, he lived a life of great influence to his local community and to the newly founded United States of America. What I admire about Mordecai Sheftall the Humble is his dedication to help people in general, Jews and the colonists alike. I admire his generosity, how he willingly gave up all he had to help the continental troops and the Jewish community. Throughout his life, he demonstrated strong leadership abilities, strength of character and trustworthiness; he is a man worthy of remembrance.
In my research, I discovered there were Jewish congregations in Georgia and South Carolina. Francis Salvador was born in London in 1747, raised in luxury and was well educated by private tutors. Most of his family’s wealth came from his great-grandfather Joseph, who was the first Jewish director of the East India Company. Even before Salvador was born, his family had developed great interests in America. Francis’s grandfather helped raise funds with which to send London Jews to the new colony in Savannah, Georgia. In 1733, the Georgia trustees banned Jewish immigration to the colony, but not before 42 Jewish families made the journey, one of them Mordecai Sheftall’s parents.
Much of Francis’s actions during the war were influenced by his Jewish beliefs and throughout the war, he would use his wealth to help out the Continental Army. Francis married and took a job in the family shipping firm and then later moved to South Carolina and established himself as a plantation owner. Shortly after his arrival in 1773, Salvador found himself being drawn into the American movement against Britain and willingly charged into the Patriot cause. At the age of 27, Salvador was elected to the General Assembly of South Carolina and became the first Jew to hold that high of an elective office in the colonies. He was elected as a delegate to South Carolina’s Provincial Congress in 1774. During the assembly, Francis helped frame a bill of rights and a letter stating the colonist’s grievances against the British crown. Salvador played a huge role in the Provincial Congress, which appointed him to negotiate with Tories living in the Northern and Western parts of the colony and beseech them turn against the British government.
In November, 1775, the second Provincial Congress assembled, during which Salvador urged the South Carolina delegation in Philadelphia to vote for American Independence from Britain. At this same time, the English Superintendent of Indian Affairs made a treaty with the Cherokees which motivated them to attack the colonists. On July 1, 1776, Cherokees attacked settlements along the frontier, decimating and scalping a mass number of colonists. Salvador, wanting to help, mounted his noble steed and galloped nearly thirty miles to give the alarm to the militias, similar to Paul Revere and giving him the nickname “Paul Revere of the South.” He then returned to the front line. In an early morning Cherokee attack, Salvador was shot. He fell into some bushes where he was eventually found and scalped. At the young age of 29, he was the first Jew to die during the Revolutionary War. Furthermore, he probably never heard the news that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, had, as he insisted, adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Throughout my speech so far, I have spoken of famous Jews during the Revolutionary War. But the most famous Jewish hero by far is Haym Salomon. Born in Lesno, Poland in 1740, Salomon, in his twenties, traveled around Europe, while acquiring knowledge of currency and finance which would, in later years, serve him well. After traveling for ten years, he joined Poland in its war with Russia. Escaping from the Russians, he decided to go to England and after earning enough money, sailed to America in 1772, arriving in New York City that winter.
In New York, Haym started a brokerage company and had a lot of clientele, including a large number of loyalists. When word got out about the fighting at Lexington and Concord, Salomon sided with the colonials and joined the Sons of Liberty. This decision would soon get him into a lot of trouble. After a fire in New York that destroyed 25% of the city, British General William Howe blamed the Sons of Liberty, resulting in the arrest of the entire organization, including Haym Salomon. During his imprisonment, Salomon’s health suffered from the terrible conditions. He was keen to notice that the British could not understand their German soldiers and after proving himself, he was appointed translator and was given a better room, food, and treatment. During that time, he persuaded over 500 Hessian men to convert to the Patriot cause.
Two years after being paroled, he was again arrested and convicted of being a spy and was sentenced to hang until death. Luckily, Salomon had planned for this and used a couple gold coins to bribe the guard and escape. He fled to Philadelphia where he reestablished his brokerage business and was appointed by Congress as Postmaster Foriegn Ministers. At this time, his abilities to make money were noticed by Robert Morris, Congress’s Minister of Finance. He appointed Haym to help the American cause by giving personal loans to members of Congress, allowing them to stay in the city. He was personally asked by Washington to finance a battle, raising $20,000 for George Washington and enabling him to deliver the final blow at the Battle at Yorktown. After the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, Haym Salomon continued to assist the debt ridden government by coordinating repayment of the money owed to foreign countries.
Salomon, besides helping out the American patriots, also contributed to the Jewish society. He served as a member of Philadelphia’s Congregation Mikveh Israel. He served as Treasurer for the society of indigent travelers and participated in the first known rabbinic court of arbitration. Furthermore, he helped lead a successful fight to repeal the test oath which expelled Jews and Non-Christians from holding a public office in the state of Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, heroes don’t live forever. Salomon was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which was said to be the result of conditions while in prison, and at age 44 on January 6, 1785, he died leaving his wife and four children in bankruptcy. Even after his death, his children and grandchildren continuously pleaded to Congress to repay the money back from Haym’s loans to the army, but none was repaid. What I admire about Haym Salomon the Financier was his willingness to sacrifice his weatlth and well being to help the American cause.
These three Jewish American heroes, Mordecai Sheftall, the Humble, Francis Salvador, Paul Revere of the South and Haym Salomon, the Financier, were all influenced by their religious beliefs. All three had a religious commitment participating in civic and social events to help the overall community by contributing food, money and resources to the homeless and people in need. Not all of them were devoutly religious or prayed every day, but they exhibited their Jewish beliefs by helping people in general and fighting for overall peace. This idea of helping others is expressed in the song “Tikunolum”, which we sing at Hebrew school each year to remind us to do what’s right to protect the peace and to hope for happiness for everyone. That is what these men fought for; they fought for the rights of the colonists and a peace between Britain and America. One man fought for that truth until his dying day, while another gave every penny he had and every scrap of land he owned to help out the Continental forces. I may not be fighting in a war, but I have contributed to society by donating my time to a New Jersey Food Pantry, clean up on Earth Day, giving to charitable events like a food drive, and even the smallest gesture of purchasing a Brandon Buddy bracelet to support an ill South Brunswick student. When you sacrifice something of yourself, large or small, you make a difference that people will hopefully benefit from whether you are personally remembered or not. I will certainly remember these three brave Jewish American heroes, Mordecai Sheftall, Francis Salvador and Haym Salomon.