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When the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, there were at most some 2,500 Jews in this country out of a total population of about 2,500,000. One in every thousand inhabitants was a Jew; not even 1 percent of World Jewry then lived in North America. Most of the Jews in the new United States lived in Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia. Certainly there were Jews in the other original thirteen states, but only a handful. On June 12, 1776, a few weeks before the Declaration of Independence, an immigrant Polish Jew left New York City to peddle his wares among the American troops stationed near the Canadian border. He carried with him a recommendation that he was “warmly attached to America.” Indeed the peddler—Haym Salomon—was a patriot. He had no way of knowing that the rebellious colony of Virginia would adopt a bill of rights which was to influence individuals and states everywhere for generations yet to come: “All men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights … enjoyment of life and liberty … happiness and safety.” This one Jew, Salomon, was “warmly attached to the revolutionary cause,” but what was the attitude of other Jews? There is reason to believe that virtually all the Jews in this country were at one in their love of the land, though they were not all necessarily willing to identify themselves as Whigs, or Continentals. Even the foreigners among them—and a very substantial number had been born abroad—seem to have thought of themselves as Americans.1


Most of the younger generation, practically all native-born, were strongly American in sympathy; they had grown up in the decade of the 1760’s, years of protest against the mother country. Like their fellow colonials, they too resented the tightening of imperial controls and could not reconcile themselves to the prospect that the days of “salutary neglect” were coming to a close. They had no inclination to support a British army and civil servants or to help pay Great Britain’s war debts despite the fact that the debt had been in large part incurred defending America against the French. Imposition of assessments was taxation without representation; the provincial assemblies—miniature parliaments, if you will—had not authorized them. Apparently most American Jews, like the non-Jews about them, wanted to be part of a loosely federated empire in which colonial autonomy would not be impaired and British control would be minimal. Now the Americans could afford to be truculent: the French had been expelled in the 1760’s, and British protection was no longer imperative. The Americans of the 1770’s chafed under the yoke of colonialism, of mercantilism, of the old navigation laws, and when the colonies bared their fangs, the Jews here joined most other colonials in the anti-imperial nonimportation, nonexportation, nonconsumption boycotts. But rebellion? Like their neighbors, they hesitated to take that final step. On July 20, 1775, at the request of the Continental Congress, the Jews, too, met in their congregations and fasted and prayed to be spared the agony of war. Out on the Pennsylvania frontier, in Northumberland, Mrs. Aaron Levy and a nephew joined with the Presbyterians as they appealed to God for peace. Like hundreds of thousands of Americans the Jews were reluctant rebels. The war was not popular; it was not supported by the American masses. That is why it dragged on for nearly nine years. When again on May 17, 1776, Congress called on Americans to raise their voices in prayer and supplication, the Jews gathered in their synagogs: “Open to us the gates of mercy … And they shall beat their swords into plow-shares.” This was the entreaty of the anxious worshippers in New York’s Shearith Israel Congregation. The war was now a year old.2


The Neutrals

It is not easy to draw a line between Whigs and Loyalists; it was not easy to be neutral. In all probability, many Jews, like the non-Jewish population, tried to avoid identifying themselves with the Loyalists and the Whigs. The distinctions between the three groups were not always clear and sharp. Most businessmen—Whigs, too—cheated on the nonimportation laws, and Loyalists made their peace with Whigs. Some Jewish patriots kept their shops open in the tidewater towns even when they fell under British occupation. It was not a day when total war was waged; anti-imperial patriots traveled to the mother country and were not detained by the British cruisers blockading the American ports. In 1777, in the middle of war, Isaiah Isaacs, one of Richmond’s most prominent businessmen, advertised that he would be taking a short trip to England and invited his customers to settle their accounts. Jewish merchants were not eager to be involved in the hostilities; they had to make a living; they dreaded what was after all a civil war. Jewish families were split apart by the conflict; there were Pintos, Hayses, Gomezes, and Frankses on both sides. Exile was a fearful alternative; it was not unusual for individuals to swing from one side to the other.3

Declaring in 1776 that Manuel Josephson was a “disaffected person” because he refused to join the anti-English boycotters, New York’s radical Whigs made him surrender four guns, a cutlass, and a bayonet in his possession. In 1790 the same man called on General Washington and on behalf of American Jewry congratulated him on his elevation to the presidency. After the British took New York in 1776, David Hays, of Westchester County, drove into town and signed an address of loyalty to the English. The following year he swore allegiance to the new United States; two years later the English and the Loyalists raided and destroyed his home; his wife and children were compelled to take refuge in the woods. Philip Moses—assuming that only one man bore that name—was a Newport Whig who served in the South Carolina militia; when Charlestown was captured by the British, he, like many of his Christian and Jewish neighbors, “took protection”—he swore allegiance to the British. It was that or go into exile. Perhaps he thought that the war was over. Later he changed his mind and did go to Whiggish Philadelphia; either he was fed up with the British or thought he could do better in the Continental capital. Levi Sheftall, a Georgia commissary officer, had fought valiantly with the troops and had been locked up by the British for seventy-three days as a “demed rebel.” In 1779 he was one of the two men, both Jews, who guided the Americans and their French allies as they set out to recapture Savannah. Levi lost a substantial fortune in the war, yet in the 1780’s he was condemned as a Tory, suffering amercement and loss of rights. Only years later was he exonerated.4

Jews as Loyalists

A substantial minority of America’s Jews remained loyal to the mother country when the final decision had to be made. Some were natives of England; they loved that country, “home” as they called it even here in America. It is not hard to understand why: after the return of the Jews to England in Cromwell’s time, they had been well received. Though Jews were treated as second-class citizens, England was still the freest country in Europe for them. As British subjects they could trade anywhere in the empire, from India west to the Mississippi. Individual Jews acquired great wealth; many were highly respected and moved in the best social circles in London and her suburbs. Here in the colonies the economic privileges of the Jews had been reinforced by the imperial naturalization act of 1740. On the whole, the political status of Jews in some of the colonies was not bad; there was even a prospect, in the 1770’s, that the home government would ultimately grant them the right to hold public offices hitherto denied them. The main difference between Jewish Whigs and Jewish Loyalists was this: the Whigs wanted equality now; the Loyalists were gradualists, they were willing to wait. It is not without its irony that none of the Whig provinces which adopted constitutions during the millennial year 1776 moved to “emancipate” Jews: only New York would do so—implicitly—in the spring of 1777.

A wealthy businessman like David Franks, scion of a distinguished Anglo-American family, resented the new British taxes as much as any radical Whig. He had no hesitation in signing a nonimportation agreement, which was a courageous act since, for a long generation, he had profited from British army supply contracts. Yet outright rebellion against the mother country was unthinkable to him. His fellow Loyalists felt safer in a mercantilist monarchy which upheld privilege than they did in an egalitarian state where bourgeois rivals could threaten their monopolies. Even poor Jews might be Loyalists; many could not allow themselves the luxury of exile; these petty shopkeepers and artisans had no choice but to take a loyalty oath if they wanted to remain and do business. When the Whigs came to power, the Loyalists were punished. David Franks was a notable victim. In 1775 he had been appointed by the Continental Congress and George Washington to provide for British and Loyalist prisoners. Washington approved of Franks; the two had done business together during the French and Indian War twenty years earlier. Franks was a member of a London purveyor syndicate headed by his brother Moses. Many years earlier Moses had returned “home”—to England—where ultimately he became the moving force in this politically powerful international business group. Despite the fact that he had been commissioned by the Continental Congress, David Franks’s position soon became untenable. Wealthy, cultured, he was identified with the prerevolutionary aristocracy. The radical Whigs harassed him as a Loyalist and finally expelled him in 1780; he took refuge in English-held New York. Whenever the Whigs were in the ascendancy, Loyalists were threatened; their lands were confiscated, individuals were beaten and murdered. Isaac Hart, of Newport, a pro-English merchant of distinction, fled to Long Island where, in a patriot attack on a Tory-held fort, he was bayonetted and clubbed to death. A number of Jewish “Tories” sought safety in Canada; some, like Franks, went back to England. One of the Rhode Island Harts, though a Loyalist, made his way to pro-Whig Dutch St. Eustatius, but when the British seized the island they stripped him too of his possessions. It was a sad fate these exiled friends of England suffered.5

Jews as Whigs

When Jews could no longer put off deciding where they stood, most opted for the new republic. Later, when the Revolution proved successful, they bragged of their services—and their boasts can be substantiated. They were conservative Whigs, not radicals, and actually they had a great deal to gain from espousing the Whig cause. Nevertheless, the decision to throw in their lot with the rebels was not an easy one to make. They had property, warehouses, established businesses. Moses Seixas of Newport did not leave town when the English moved in. He remained, probably did business with them, and later, even when they no longer occupied Newport, he and some of his Jewish friends wrote a note secretly protesting their loyalty to the king. They were making every effort to salvage their holdings wherever the British were in power. The French occupied Newport when the English left; the French treasurer general was quartered in Seixas’s home. Apparently Seixas was working both sides of the street; Aaron Lopez, too. Lopez was Newport’s most eminent trader, one of the country’s outstanding merchant-shippers. He had a great deal to lose. In 1775 he did his best to maintain good relations with the British elite; he was determined to see his ships exempted from the British blockade. For a while he maneuvered successfully; for the English favored him and restored his ships when they were seized. He had Loyalist partners who helped him. Like many other Rhode Islanders, he paid scant attention to the Continental boycotts. It was rumored that he was selling supplies to the hated British. One of his ships sailed into Savannah harbor loaded with proscribed goods; Mordecai Sheftall’s Parochial Committee would not permit the vessel to discharge its cargo in September, 1775. The same ship with the same master, attempting to run a Lopez cargo from Jamaica, failed to escape the British blockade and was seized as a prize. A few months later, Lopez and a Gentile Loyalist partner leased a ship to the Continental Congress, which sent it on a secret mission to Europe. For merchant-shippers, economic survival—not political loyalty—was what preoccupied them during the Revolution. They reached out everywhere to make a profit and hold collapse at bay.6

Why was it so many Jews threw in their lot with the Whigs? The Whigs, never a majority party during the long years of the Revolution, were eager to recruit Jews. Minuscule in numbers though they were, the Children of Israel could not be dismissed as unimportant; they tended to be intelligent, literate, middle-class urban businessmen—an elite group in a way. Some had means, and nearly all were engaged in a highly strategic occupation, the distribution of consumer goods. Native-born American Jews were often fierce Continental partisans. The British “were a cursed proud nation,” wrote a young Jewish Whig activist. Benjamin Levy, scion of an old well-established American family, signed paper money for the government and served as a member of the prestigious Whig Continental Committee in Baltimore. Levy had spent years in Philadelphia where he became a friend of Robert Morris, and when Morris thought of fleeing the city in 1776 because of the approaching British, Levy offered him the hospitality of his home in Baltimore. Most of the Jewish householders were not natives but immigrants. They were not of English stock and owed no ancestral loyalty to the British. Immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, they had suffered disabilities in their homelands. Here in the English colonies the liberties they already enjoyed served only to whet their appetites. They were still second-class citizens under the crown; they had much to gain politically, economically, religiously, and even socially by joining the continentals. Many of them were influenced by the new doctrines of egalitarianism. Like the Catholics and the Protestant Dissenters, they hoped that a free and independent America would accord them all rights and immunities. Certainly they were influenced by the promise inherent in the Declaration of Independence. The equality offered them by the Whigs found its fulfillment in the new federal constitution of 1787, but—apart from New York in 1777—not in the organic statutes of the several states.7

When the English occupied New York City a number of Jews remained behind. Some were Loyalists; a few had been born in England; even some Whigs may have stayed on. Most of those who remained were probably neutrals, men determined to survive and to hold on to their shops no matter what happened. The wartime New York Jewish community, an amalgam of Hessian supply personnel, Whigs, Neutrals, and Loyalists from the city and the neighboring states, kept the synagog open, hired “rabbis,” and conducted services during the eight years of British occupation. Their common Judaism cemented the members of this motley group. The English authorities did not commandeer the shul, as they sometimes did Protestant churches, and when some British soldiers went on a rampage and vandalized the synagog their commanding officer punished them brutally. The greater part of the community left when the British occupation was imminent. They carried away with them some of the Scrolls of the Law and together with their rabbi moved to nearby Connecticut, staying as close to home as possible. Poor exiles! They found no peace in Connecticut, for the English forces raided the towns on Long Island Sound, plundering and burning. The heavy losses suffered by the Jews were somewhat ameliorated by gifts from the compassionate Aaron Lopez. These unfortunates were to remain in exile for almost a decade.8

Savannah, Charlestown, Philadelphia, New York, and Newport were all occupied by the English forces for shorter or longer periods. Individuals in each of these towns—sometimes most of the community—fled. These people, Whigs, made great sacrifices. Many of them, severely injured economically, had to rebuild their fortunes after the Revolution. The coming of the British to Newport meant that Lopez had to decide where his loyalties lay: leaving his little commercial empire behind, he moved out with his family, retainers, and slaves; there were twenty-seven men, women, and children in his entourage. Rather curiously, the Newport Whigs had avoided harassing Lopez; but they did not spare Moses Michael Hays (1739–1805). Suspected of Loyalism, Hays was called in and catechized by the town’s patriots. He was indignant, for he had already sworn loyalty to the new republican order and was convinced that the war against the English was a just one. He was angry because the new test was not general but was imposed only upon suspects. He would not sign again, pointing out that the new regime locally and nationally had as yet done nothing for Jews. It was a government which ruled without the consent of the governed; he seemed to imply that it was as bad as the British. Among those who sat on the Rhode Island Committee of Enquiry was the speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, Metcalf Bowler. Before the year was up this distinguished Rhode Island politician became a secret paid agent of the British. After his manly defense, Hays’s Whig loyalty was never again questioned, and when the British seized the town, he, like Lopez, went into exile. In postwar days he was to become one of Boston’s notable businessmen.9

Hays was a patriot, but Mordecai Sheftall was a leader. In 1774 when many Georgians evinced little interest in the Revolution, Sheftall became the head of the Parochial Committee of Christ Church parish, the first de facto “American” government in the province. The Georgians were slow to rebel; they sent no delegates to the first Continental Congress in 1774. The Sheftalls were Georgia pioneers; Mordecai’s father had landed in the province in 1733 only a few weeks after Oglethorpe came ashore on the site of present-day Savannah. Knowing the part he had played in the revolt, the British imprisoned him when they captured Savannah in December, 1778. He and a son were to remain prisoners for about a year before they were finally released. Sir James Wright, the British governor who ruled the state till the war was over, knew full well that Sheftall was one of those reprehensible “liberty people.” Reporting back home to his superiors in London, the governor suggested that no Jew ever be allowed to settle in Georgia, “for these people, my lord, were found to a man to have been violent rebels and persecutors of the King’s loyal subjects.”10

The first Jewish pioneers to land in Savannah in July, 1733, had been financed, in part, by a London tycoon, Francis Salvador. In 1773 his namesake landed in Charlestown. This second Francis Salvador was to become one of the most prominent Jews of the Revolutionary period. After Joseph Salvador, Francis’s London uncle and father-in-law, had lost a fortune, he ceded some of his vast estates in South Carolina to young Francis to whom he was indebted. The tracts owned by Joseph Salvador were known as “the Jews’ land.” Pressed by the need to recoup his fortunes, Francis carved out a plantation for himself in the western hinterland of South Carolina, in Ninety-Six District, where he soon emerged as a Whig leader. It is not difficult to surmise what motivated him. Twenty years earlier his uncle Joseph, then one of the great financiers of the British Empire, had helped sponsor a naturalization act that would benefit Jews. The act became law—but it was only a matter of months before Parliament scuttled it after a wave of anti-Jewish hostility and scurrility. Uncle Joseph was hooted out of a London theatre. Who can doubt that the patrician Francis Salvador would never forget that back in London he was only a second-class citizen. His Gentile fellow Whigs were fighting for more power; he, a Jew, was fighting for elementary political rights. The rebel caucus sent him to North Carolina on a propaganda mission, apparently not a successful one, for the Loyalists were strong there. Accompanying him on this tour was his Christian steward, but the latter, like Salvador, was damned as a “Jew”—guilt by association, so often a useful political stratagem.11

Even so, to suffer obloquy as a Jew was not Salvador’s daily experience: because of his background as a member of the English gentry, Salvador was accepted almost immediately, so it would seem, in the best Carolina society. It was not long before he was invited to sit in the two rebel provincial congresses and in the first general assembly of the new State of South Carolina. By 1776 this attractive young man had become a member of important committees and thus a political figure of some significance. Salvador was the first unconverted Jew to serve in an American legislature, possibly the first anywhere in the world to sit in a non-Jewish legislative body. In 1776 the British mounted an attack on two fronts against South Carolina. The army and the fleet moved in from the east; the Indians and the Tories moved in from the west and began killing the settlers on the frontier. Salvador rode twenty-eight miles to rouse the militia. On the night of July 31-August 1, a punitive expedition which he had joined was ambushed; Salvador fell, shot and scalped by the Indians. He may well have been the first Jew to die in defense of the new United States. Today in Charleston’s City Hall Park there is a plaque dedicated to his memory:

Born an aristocrat, he became a democrat,

An Englishman, he cast his lot with America;

True to his ancient faith, he gave his life

For new hopes of human liberty and understanding.12


Salvador was not an enlisted soldier or a commissioned officer; he was a gentleman volunteer. No matter how carefully scholars check the service records, the muster rolls, and pension papers, they will never be able to determine how many Jews served in the militia or the Continental line. True, combing the lists of veterans would bring to light the names of Cohens, Levys, Moseses, and Solomons—but most of them would turn out to be Gentile, even if ancestrally Jewish. It is not easy to determine who are Jews; names are no positive criteria. Jews had been soldiers in the trainbands in Dutch New Amsterdam since the 1650’s; under the British there was never a time that they were not enlisted in the militia. This type of provincial service was compulsory, though not onerous in times of peace; a tour of duty was often brief. The obligation to serve could be evaded easily; purchasing substitutes was always tolerated. It is estimated that at most about 100 Jews were enlisted in the armed forces of the Continentals and the Loyalists. They served as infantrymen, army couriers, and quartermasters. Some of them, city-stationed militiamen, were never in a skirmish; other conscripts saw hard fighting. When one realizes that there were only about 500 Jewish adult males of military age in the country, the 100 or so who served constitute a respectable percentage when compared with the Gentiles in the army. It must be borne in mind constantly that the number of Americans fighting in the armed forces formed a pitifully small percentage of the population. Among the Jews who bore arms were a handful of French volunteers; one of them was a flamboyant native of Bordeaux, Benjamin Nones, a member of Count Casimir Pulaski’s Foreign Legion. One of the battles in which Nones saw action was the storming of the British redoubts before Savannah. With him in this futile assault on the English lines were several Charlestonians who boasted in later years that they had been a part of the Forlorn Hope.13

Jacob Pinto, of New Haven, could have taken pride in the fact that three of his sons had fought the British. Two were wounded repulsing the English and Loyalist invading forces; one was taken prisoner. All three had studied at Yale. William, the youngest, was a schoolteacher at Groton. His ability to write a fair hand led the president of Yale and the governor of the state to ask that he transcribe the Declaration of Independence. The Pintos were not “good” Jews; all three were the sons of a Christian mother, and they too reared Gentile families. Report has it that they had no religion; they were probably Deists or atheists. Abraham Solomon, another New England Jew who saw action, had an interesting career. This immigrant, who had lived in Marblehead and Boston, married a Christian in a ceremony performed by a Christian minister. There were no synagogs or Jewish worship services in Massachusetts until the fifth decade of the next century; whether Solomon lived as a Jew or as a Christian is unknown. His Gentile contemporaries, in any case, identified him as “Solomon, a Jew.” He was a soldier in the Continental Army in June, 1775, and appears to have taken part in the Battle of Bunker Hill. When he signed the payroll, he employed Hebrew script. After being mustered out of the army in the late 1770’s, Solomon farmed for a time, speculated in currency, and flirted with anti-Whig elements. On one occasion he was picked up by the police and questioned. James Warren, of Boston, once said that “fellows who would have cleaned my shoes five years ago have amassed fortunes and are riding in chariots.” Abraham Solomon, however, rode in no chariot. Judging from his record, Solomon could hardly have been an exemplary Jew.14

Joseph Smith merits more respect on this score. After enlisting in the Third Maryland Regiment at the age of twenty-three, Smith saw service in Pennsylvania, the Jerseys, and in the South. Wounded at Camden, South Carolina, he fell into British hands and remained a prisoner until he returned to Baltimore. In signing the company payroll, he made his mark. After the war, when he applied for a pension, it developed that Smith’s real name was Elias Pollock. He could write, but only Hebrew script. Why had he concealed his name? He may well have been a runaway debtor seeking to hide; he may have been an indentured servant or a Maryland “transport,” a criminal serving out his term in the colonies. Or, the simple answer may be that, fearing prejudice, he adopted the innocuous Anglo-Saxon “Smith” to conceal his Jewish origin. Elias Pollock still has Jewish progeny, but among his descendants are also a Catholic nun, a Baptist minister, a Mennonite, and several Mormons. Barrack Hays was a Loyalist belonging to a family which numbered many Whigs. The Hayses were Dutch old-timers, for they had come to New York no later than the 1720’s, and the clan is still flourishing today. Barrack (Barukh, the “Blessed One”) began his career in the New York militia as a Whig officer; then switched his loyalties and became an “officer of guides”—a chief of scouts?—for the British. After the war he fled to the safety of Canada. His New York-born son John Jacob Hays, who had accompanied his father to Canada, moved south of the border to the Illinois country where, as a United States civil servant, he carved out a career of some distinction in the first quarter of the next century.15

The historian Barnett A. Elzas has documented the presence in South Carolina of at least thirty-four Jewish Revolutionary War veterans, among them a few Georgia refugees. Most of these men served under Captain Richard Lushington whose outfit was known—erroneously, to be sure—as the “Jew Company.” One of the soldiers was dubbed the “bridegroom,” for he was called up to serve two days before he was to have been married. The Jews in Lushington’s company formed no majority, but since most of them were King Street shopkeepers, all bunched together, they had been conscripted as a group. They saw action and gave a good account of themselves. Lushington certified after the battle of Beaufort in 1779 that one of the men, Jacob I. Cohen, had “in every respect conducted himself as a good soldier and a man of courage.” Five years later, as a member of the Richmond, Virginia, firm of Cohen & Isaacs, Cohen hired a frontiersman to survey the firm’s extensive holdings on the Licking River in distant Kentucky. That man was Daniel Boone. The Whig branch of the Gomez family bragged of its devotion and patriotism. An old family tradition has it that one of the elderly Gomezes wanted to organize a company to fight the British. When told he was too old, he replied that he could stop a bullet as well as a younger man. Like most self-glorifying family stories, this one, too, will not bear scrutiny—although it is true that Daniel Gomez, over eighty at the time, exiled himself from the New York home where he had spent most of his life.

Most significant in the study of Jews serving in the Continental armed forces is not the heroism of individuals, which can be documented, but their rise to commissioned ranks. Under the British, no Jew could become an officer unless he took an oath as a Christian. Under the Americans three men attained high office in the Continental Army: Mordecai Sheftall, a quartermaster for the Georgia line and militia, enjoyed the simulated grade of colonel; David S. Franks and Solomon Bush, staff officers, were lieutenant colonels. Colonel Bush became kin to Mordecai Sheftall when the latter’s son married Bush’s sister Nelly. Bush joined the army in the early days because he wanted to “revenge the rongs of my injured country.” Appointed a deputy adjutant general in the state militia at the age of twenty-five, he was ultimately commissioned a lieutenant colonel. Severely wounded in a battle near Philadelphia, he was carried to his father’s home in Chestnut Hill, but was betrayed to the British by a “vilain” in 1777. The English paroled him and, while receiving medical treatment from them, he discovered that a spy had infiltrated Washington’s headquarters. Bush lost little time in alerting his Whig comrades. In the postwar years, still a relatively young man, he studied medicine, served his country voluntarily in a diplomatic capacity, and became an eminent Mason, grand master of the order in Pennsylvania. Bush married out of the faith and drifted away from Judaism, to the chagrin of his Jewish contemporaries. Upon his death he was buried in a Quaker cemetery, yet in 1782 he had made a better than average contribution when Philadelphia Jewry started to build its own Mikveh Israel synagog. Apparently his army life, his Masonry, and his enhanced social position among Gentiles tended in later years to alienate him from his people, but in 1782 his father Mathias was still alive and active in the Jewish community. Was papa watching him? And if papa was such a good Jew why did he contribute nothing to the new building?16

Like Bush, Lt. Col. David S. Franks was also a native Pennsylvanian; unlike Bush, however, Franks joined with the Continentals in Canada where he had lived for years. A number of Canadian Jews were Whigs, sympathizing with the striving for autonomy more general south of the St. Lawrence Valley. As early as 1764, the Jews of Quebec Province had worked closely with the Protestant minority in its effort to secure some form of representative government. Unlike the older British colonies, the newly conquered province was permitted no legislative assembly. When resistance to the new imperial policy asserted itself in the south, a number of Canadian Jews leaned toward the boycotting provinces, even though, economically, it would have been more advantageous for them to collaborate with the English who marketed their furs in exchange for consumers’ goods. By living and working with the habitants in Quebec and Montreal, Franks had become fluent in French, which would stand him in good stead during the Revolution. Like a number of Canadian Jews, he could not have been unaware that the Quebec Act of 1774 reintroducing French civil law was a potential threat to the Jews: the French in preconquest days, had not even tolerated Jews in New France. The Canadian Jews were one with the Protestants in believing that they would fare better under English law. In May, 1775, just a few weeks after Lexington and Concord, Franks, then in Montreal, manifested his devotion to the American cause. Some Protestant radical had vandalized a bust of George III and hung a placard on it: “Behold the Pope of Canada and the English fool.” A French Canadian declared that the scoundrel who had done this ought to be hanged. Franks hearing the remark answered: “In England men are not hanged for such small offenses.” A fight ensued in which Franks rashly struck the remonstrant, which cost him a week’s incarceration.17

When the Americans briefly took Montreal that year from the English, Franks advanced money to the occupying forces and sold them supplies. Because the British looked upon him as a leader of sedition he was compelled to flee southward with the retreating troops and found himself with the Americans at Saratoga when Burgoyne surrendered to them. Later, in 1778, he served as a liaison officer on the staff of the Comte d’Estaing, the head of the French naval contingent, and in 1779 was in Charlestown, South Carolina, as an aide-de-camp to General Benjamin Lincoln. On his return to the north, Franks became a member of General Benedict Arnold’s military family at West Point, though he was not involved in the general’s defection. There are other facets to Franks’s eleven-year career in the service of his country: he was also a high level courier in the diplomatic service, a vice-consul abroad, and finally an assistant cashier in the Bank of the United States. He perished in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793.18

Franks—debonair, honest, affectionate, very eager to make a career in the public service—lived on the fringes of the conservative Whig establishment in Philadelphia, the dominant clique viewed with hostility by the radicals of that day. His friends were often in the highest circles, Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams. They liked and accepted him, although some thought him unstable and at times indiscreet. Certainly Franks was not a man of marked ability. His historical significance lies in the fact that, like Solomon Bush, he exemplified the social rise of politically disabled British subjects to a position of respect in the new, more egalitarian American state. For him, as for all Jews, the war had not been fought in vain. On occasion, Franks would call on Jefferson socially, and it was during one of these visits in 1793 that he sat down at the table with William Branch Giles, the Virginia congressman, John Trumbull, the artist of the Revolution, Jefferson, and a number of others. As dinner progressed, the conversation, which had already taken on an anti-religious tone, increased in acerbity. Giles poked fun at Trumbull’s New England Puritanism and, in true Deistic fashion, even ventured, with the tacit approval of the free-thinking Jefferson and the other guests, to criticize the character, conduct, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Colonel Franks was the only one who put in a good word for Trumbull during this heated discussion. In an effort to put an end to a conversation which was both annoying and embarrassing, the distinguished artist turned to Secretary Jefferson and said: “Sir, this is a strange situation in which I find myself. In a country professing Christianity, and at a table with Christians, as I supposed, I find my religion and myself attacked with severe and almost irresistible wit and raillery, and not a person to aid in my defense but my friend Mr. Franks, who is himself a Jew.”19

Still another Franks was a patriot, a Moses Franks who is not to be confused with the London purveyor, David’s brother. (Actually there were several Moses Frankses and all of them may have been related.) This Moses Franks was in a position to be of service to the new Continental Army. In 1776 as Washington was preparing in Boston to move against New York, he requested Congress to send him $250,000 in hard currency to reoutfit the troops and pay off the clamoring militia whose time of service had already expired. The problem facing Washington and the Congress was not to raise the money—they had already done so—but to get it past the English and the hostile Loyalists. Shipping the specie by sea and slipping through the British blockade was too hazardous. It was at this juncture that John Hancock called upon “three gentlemen of character”—among them, the Whig Moses Franks, of Philadelphia—to cart the money secretly to Washington’s headquarters. It took them some two weeks to reach Boston, unfortunately too late to meet the needs of the militia, but the cash was used to satisfy the regulars. The total expense incurred in this trek north amounted to $238.20


When the Canadian Franks, David S., first joined the invading Americans in Montreal in November, 1775, he served them as an army purveyor and advanced very substantial sums to the occupying forces. The government repaid him later—in depreciated paper. Army supply had been a traditional business for Jews in Europe ever since the seventeenth century. Solomon de Medina fed Marlborough’s troops on the continent to the Duke’s complete (financial!) satisfaction. A popular couplet of that day is eloquent evidence that Marlborough did not lose by the transaction:

A Jew and a general both joined a trade.

The Jew was a baker, the general sold bread.

Since the quartermaster department of the American Revolutionary armed forces was, to say the least, primitive and inadequate, the government turned to civilian purveyors for badly needed supplies. The importance of civilian army supplymen cannot be overemphasized in a country at war with all its ports blockaded. Many, if not most, contemporary Jewish merchants were purveyors on a small scale, offering the government provisions, clothing, gunpowder, and lead. Harassed by lack of funds, the authorities took their time settling accounts. Whether they were supplying the Whigs or the English, the problem confronting Jewish as well as other purveyors was not only to secure goods and provisions but to be repaid by the governments with whom they dealt. Some trusting Whig suppliers were never paid at all or in all but worthless Continental currency. When the chief contractor went unpaid, the agent and subagents suffered. They, too, had pledged their credit. These civilian army suppliers contended with a host of problems: the English were patrolling the oceanic shipping lanes; goods did not get through; privateers and guerrillas preyed on all transport; no adequate medium of exchange existed; people had to resort to barter; and, to make a difficult situation even more complicated, some commonwealths set up barriers against the export of goods and supplies to neighboring states. One merchant who was never reimbursed for his advances was the Canadian Levy Solomons, a brother-in-law of the ebullient David Salisbury Franks. Solomons, a Whig, served the American troops in Canada in 1775 and 1776, helping them establish hospitals and lending them money. When the Americans were forced to retreat, this zealous patriot provided the sick and wounded with transportation on their way to the frontier. The British, knowing where his loyalties lay, seized his goods and furniture on July 4, 1776, and threw them into the street; his neighbors shunned him and refused him shelter.21

One of the most important suppliers to the armed forces was Mordecai Sheftall, of Savannah. Colonel Sheftall’s status was somewhat obscure, midway between that of a staff officer and a civilian purveyor. His was a big job, feeding the state and federal troops in Georgia. Inasmuch as the authorities did not unfailingly provide the necessary funds or goods, it was incumbent upon him to buy provisions, pay for them himself, and then try to collect later. Vouchers were frequently lost—after all, there was a war in progress! An indignant Sheftall, aware that he had made substantial sacrifices, appealed to the president of the Continental Congress: “I want nothing but justice, to be repaid my advances to the publick.” It was a voice crying in the wilderness. He did receive a partial payment in Continental paper, which was not very helpful. Twenty years later the family was still petitioning the authorities for full payment. Sheftall as Georgia quartermaster was assisted by his sixteen-year-old son, Sheftall Sheftall, who enjoyed the impressive title of assistant deputy commissary of issues. In 1780, as agent for the Continental Congress, young Sheftall was appointed flagmaster of a flag-of-truce ship, the Carolina Packett, which successfully carried out its mission of bringing supplies to General Moultrie and his men imprisoned in British-held Charlestown.22

Mention has been made of purveyors who served the British. Let it be kept in mind: at one time or another the British occupied every coastal town where Jewish communities had been established. Local businessmen inevitably sought the patronage of the occupying forces. Numbered too among the purveyors and quartermasters servicing the British armed forces were Jewish sutlers and supplymen who had accompanied the so-called Hessians, German mercenaries. Some of them remained in the United States after the war and became American citizens. Most notable in this group were the Marc (Mark, Marcus) brothers, Jacob and Philip, commissaries for the Third English-Waldeck Regiment. After the peace was signed, they settled in New York where they were admired as dry goods importers, merchants of distinction. We have already spoken of David Franks, of Philadelphia, who was the American agent of a powerful British consortium caring for English and Loyalist prisoners in American hands, unfortunates in need of food, clothing, and spending money. Taking care of these men and women was a challenging and, frequently, a thankless job. When, in December, 1778, the British authorities refused to pay the bills submitted, the suppliers found themselves faced with uncollectable unpaid expenditures for 500,000 rations. The actual subpurveyors, to whom contracts had been farmed out, were Whigs, some of them Jews, men Franks had known for years. One of his subcontractors was Joseph Simon of Lancaster, a former partner of William Henry in the firm of Simon & Henry, rifle manufacturers. During the war, Simon, on his own account, supplied arms to the new government. Out on the western frontier, in Pittsburgh, one of his companies furnished goods to the commissioner for Indian affairs whose job it was to pacify the natives. Simon’s son-in-law Michael Gratz and Michael’s brother Barnard provided the New Yorkers with Indian goods in the hope of keeping the Iroquois happy.23

All along the western frontier from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, the Indians had to be bought off; the new United States could not risk warring with the English on the east coast and with the turbulent Indians on the western frontier. During the Revolution, the Gratz brothers served as purchasing agents and purveyors for Virginia, the largest of the states. One of their tasks was to help George Rogers Clark defend Virginia in a wild backcountry extending from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Mississippi. It was Clark’s mission to safeguard Kentucky, to watch the Indians, to drive the British out of the West and to threaten Canada. The Gratzes shipped goods to Clark; they were among his prime suppliers. Other Jews, too, saw possibilities in government supply: Levy Marks, né Lippman Schneider, the tailor, asked Congress to let him supervise the manufacture of clothing for the army, but Congress turned a deaf ear to him. New York’s well-known fur entrepreneur and merchant, Hayman Levy, manufactured garments, breeches and shirts, for his state. The actual work was done in the Philadelphia poorhouse.24

In the Carolinas and in Georgia, Jewish merchants were equally active in supplying the troops. The Continental forces everywhere were desperately eager for food and clothing. General Francis Marion, who did business with Mordecai Myers of Georgetown, South Carolina, paid off in indigo, a staple much sought after for dyeing cloth. Still farther south, in Georgia, the quartermaster work of the Sheftall brothers was supplemented by the Minises among others. Head of the Minis clan was the aged matriarch Abigail; her son Philip, reputedly the first white child born and reared in the colony, was also an army purveyor carrying on his business, it is probable, independently of mama. In 1779 when the allied French and American expeditionary force attempted to retake Savannah from the English and the Loyalists, Abigail came to the aid of the Whig invaders. She was a competent businesswoman. At that time nearly eighty, she ruled, one suspects, with an iron hand over five unmarried daughters and her son. Abigail’s Whig sympathies made it difficult for her to remain in Georgia after the Americans and French were defeated. She had no choice but exile in Charlestown. Fortunately for her the British liked her; she had friends in Loyalist circles, and her property escaped confiscation.25



Army supply during the War was only one facet of commercial life. For most Jewish merchants, sales to the government were minor; in short, they were primarily shopkeepers and merchants trying to sell the army some needed items. If a merchant was reluctant to deal with the Congress or the state or the troops, it was because of the likelihood of payment in a declining medium; the hardpressed government was simply not the most desirable of customers. To be sure, districts and regions controlled by Whigs constituted a sellers’ market; goods were scarce. In the towns occupied by the British, however, goods were plentiful; merchants could not be indifferent to the stability of the English pound. Jewish shopkeepers who had not gone into exile, Whigs or Loyalists, had no trouble carrying on trade; a number of them probably made money. Some goods were brought into Whig ports when privateers captured prizes. Privateers, armed merchant ships sailing under letters of marque and reprisal were licensed to prey on enemy shipping. It has been estimated that hundreds of such marauders set sail from Whig harbors scouring the seas looking for prizes; the cargoes lost by the British ran into the millions of pound sterling. Some of these American privateers were merchant-shippers engaged in exporting and importing goods; they were armed primarily for the purpose of protecting themselves from enemy seizure. Most privateers set out deliberately to seize vessels flying the British flag; they were heavily armed and carried large boarding crews; in a way they were licensed pirates.26

Privateering was a form of speculation; ships were bought or chartered, shares were sold; and then, loaded with men and munitions, the vessels went on the hunt for British ships and cargoes. Jews, like others, speculated in privateers and were owners and bonders, since the government, observing the amenities of eighteenth-century civilization, demanded that these roving entrepreneurs supply a bond requiring them to behave with decency. The privateers included a number of French Jews; some were shipowners; one was master of a vessel; the French agent in Charleston was a Jew. These anti-British allies combined business and patriotism. On occasion, however, like other Americans, Jewish merchant-shippers suffered as much from their own privateers as from the enemy. The Lopez family referred to such American adventurers as “voracious pirates.” During the War, Aaron Lopez attempted to salvage some of his assets in British Jamaica by running a valuable cargo of goods through the British blockade to a safe port in New England. American privateers seized his schooner, Hope, and brought it into a Connecticut harbor where the Court of Admiralty for the state—in connivance with the privateers, it would seem, deprived Lopez of his ship and cargo. Lopez appealed to the Continental Congress, which decided in his favor, but the costly war-protracted litigation continued for five years before he won a satisfactory judgment. Even then, it is not certain that Lopez was ever able to collect the judgment awarded him.27

Every privateer nursed the hope that he would make his fortune overnight. Indeed, one American crew in a small one-mast vessel captured prizes worth over $600,000. Impoverished Mordecai Sheftall decided to try his luck. He had just been released from British captivity and his capital was almost gone. He determined on a bold stroke to recoup his losses. Somehow managing to secure a twenty-ton sloop, the Hetty, he sold shares in her to put together some working capital, loaded her with thirty men, including a Negro slave, and armed her with eight guns, tomahawks, blunderbusses, and boarding pikes. Then the Hetty set sail on what was to be a most inglorious adventure. The English captured and scuttled her, but the persistent Sheftall had the vessel raised and reoutfitted. He tried his luck once more but never struck it rich, indeed it is questionable whether any of the Jewish merchants of that day made any “big money” lying in wait for British merchantmen. After a fashion, privateering was a form of blockade-running. Many American merchant ships—not privateers—got through the English naval barrier, for the enemy could not guard every cove and inlet of the long coast. Goods brought in were sold at huge profits, but even after the cargoes were landed there was still another hazard: Congress might seize the supplies landed and pay off in Continental dollars of very dubious value.28

One of the country’s large-scale blockade-runners was the firm of Isaac Moses & Company. Moses was the senior partner; his two associates were Samuel Myers and Moses Myers, who were not related. Moses and his partners, individually or as a company, were frequently involved in privateering and bonding. One of Moses’ partners in such ventures was Robert Morris; the Revolutionary notable, a notorious speculator, worked with other Jews, too, in risk transactions of this type. Isaac Moses and his partners were essentially merchant-shippers. Of necessity, therefore, they became blockade-runners during the War, daring ones. The firm maintained an Amsterdam purchasing office which shipped its goods to Dutch St. Eustatius in the Caribbean. From there the company’s ships made the run to an American port, trusting to fate that they could slip past the cordon set up by the English cruisers. Isaac Moses and his associates were devoted Whigs. Shortly after the War broke out in 1775, when the Americans set out to conquer Canada, the three partners voluntarily offered the Congress $20,000 hard currency in exchange for Continental paper which, as they might have foreseen, ultimately proved virtually worthless. If it was any consolation, they received the grateful thanks of John Hancock for their generous gift.29

Isaac Moses & Company operated on a large scale; Jonas Phillips, of Philadelphia, was a small-scale but enterprising merchant who sold almost anything from a needle to goloshoes and umbrelloes. One of his blockade-running letters, written in July, 1776, has been preserved. It was dispatched via Dutch St. Eustatius to an Amsterdam kinsman, a prominent Jewish merchant in that city. Enclosed in the letter was a broadside copy of the Declaration of Independence which had just been published. The Declaration may well have impressed Phillips. Congress had already decided on independence by July 2nd; Phillips closed his store and celebrated from the 3rd through the 7th. In his letter to Amsterdam, the Philadelphian did not discuss the revolt in any detail, merely remarking laconically that the Americans had 100,000 soldiers, the British 25,000 and a fleet. What was going to happen? Only God knew, but before the war was over England would be bankrupt! In an appendix to the letter, Phillips got down to business, asking for dry goods, clothing, notions, and medicines. The letter was written in Yiddish or Juedisch-Deutsch, no doubt with the expectation that, even if the British intercepted it, they would let it pass through because they could not make out its Hebrew script. That was a vain hope on Phillips’ part, for the ship which sailed from St. Eustatius was taken and the letter was impounded; the English censor held it upside down and decided it was a coded message. It remains today in the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane.30


It was imperative that the Americans carry on foreign trade because they needed consumers’ goods. Blockade-runners brought in rum, gin, sugar, tea, coffee, spices, cloth of various types and descriptions, blankets, drugs, medicines, notions. Obviously the goods that managed to get through sold at a large advance over sterling cost. In payment for goods received, the Americans shipped out foodstuffs, naval stores, and tobacco. Domestic, interstate commerce was by coastal shipping or by wagon transport. British cruisers and privateers always made the coastal traffic risky. There was considerable intercolonial trading in yard goods, clothing, tobacco, snuff, candles, salt, flour, flaxseed, hemp, hides, skins, and furs. Hauling goods over the unpaved country roads was difficult, especially in the winter when the mire made them almost impassable. Carters might often enough prove thievish; guerrillas abounded; enemy raids were frequent and brutal. Petty retailers had problems securing long-term credits; customers were slow in settling their debts; the perennial inflation was devastating. Philip Minis, acting in 1779 as a commission agent for former Governor William Houstoun of Georgia, sold five slaves, which brought over £416,666; $20,000 was the price asked for a pair of horses. Connecticut shopkeeper Michael Judah of Norwalk, who had worked hard all his life, accumulated some savings only to see them practically wiped out by the galloping inflation. Another victim of the inflation was Eleazar Levy, a successful Canadian fur entrepreneur; on retirement he made his home in New York City; the English in Canada had treated him harshly. Levy invested his capital in a mortgage on West Point, the present-day military academy, but during the war the government took over his lands and deforested them in large part. He was never able to collect from the mortgagor who, apparently, would have been willing to settle his debt with almost worthless paper bills. Impoverished, Levy was compelled to turn to Shearith Israel; the congregation carried him on a pension for the rest of his life.31

People could not do without goods. Jewish shopkeepers, present in most states of the new republic, attempted to answer the emphatic demand for necessities. The shopkeepers in the villages and towns, petty retailers, turned to regional suppliers, large-scale merchants in the distribution centers of Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Lancaster, Richmond, Charlestown, Georgetown, and Savannah. Somehow these retailers and the merchant-shippers, who were also wholesalers and manufacturers, managed to ferret out and procure goods even in the darkest of days. The equally important task of distributing the wares was undertaken by shopkeepers in the towns and in the backcountry. The commercial activities of small and large storekeepers were crucial in an agrarian economy where industry and manufacturing were minimal and the ports were closed by the British blockade. Farmers and townspeople had to have yard goods and tea; soldiers had to be supplied with uniforms, blankets, and shoes. This relatively successful job of helping to keep commodities flowing was the Jewish contribution to the war effort, modest though it was.32



Petitioning the constituent convention in September, 1787, at Philadelphia, Jonas Phillips said that “Jews have been true and faithful Whigs”; they had assisted the newly independent states with “their lives and fortunes.” There is much truth in what Phillips wrote. It may have been modestly, but Jewish merchants had helped support the new republic; they did business with the states and the Congress, both of them constantly in the market for wares. They sold goods to the army on credit, advanced funds, often at crucial moments; they bought loan office certificates (bonds of a sort), signed bills of credit, accepted certificates of indebtedness issued by quartermasters, commissary and purchasing agents, and served as quartermasters. Though a tiny minority in the population, these urban traders played a role by no means unimportant during the long decade when American finances were chaotic. The Jews were suppliers, bill brokers, moneylenders, shopkeepers, blockade-runners, and even “manufacturers” on a small scale. They were involved in such economic, financial undertakings, not because they were more ardent than other Whigs but because business was their m√©tier. At times large sums were at stake. Simon Nathan, an English Jew who had come to the states by way of Jamaica and Havana, was at odds with Virginia for many years because, so he maintained, the state was evading its financial obligations to him. Nathan had presented drafts on Virginia drawn by George Rogers Clark; the funds had been used to pacify the West and expel the English. The bills in question amounted to over $50,000. It is clear in a personal memo that he prepared that Nathan’s financial and supply dealings with Virginia were extensive. Nathan insisted that he had bought the bills in Havana and New Orleans at par—not in devalued currency. This the governor and the Council of Virginia ultimately denied, insisting that the bills had been purchased at discount. Negotiations for payment dragged on for years, and at one stage Nathan’s attorney felt impelled to ask the Virginia Executive Council not to be prejudiced against his client because he was a Jew.33


In 1781, Jacob Hart contributed to a loan to help equip Lafayette’s troops, preparing then to advance on the British in Yorktown. It was a crucial campaign. When in 1780, a year of defeat, mutiny, and treason, a special fund was established to provision the troops, Isaac Moses pledged his credit for £3,000. Moses was the richest Jewish merchant among the exiles who had found a haven in Philadelphia. Haym Salomon, at the time a storekeeper in the town, was one of Philadelphia’s more obscure Jews, though—to his surprise no doubt—in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries he would be acclaimed as “the financier of the Revolution.” Who was Haym Salomon? Salomon or Solomon—there are a variety of spellings—was born to a poor family in Lissa, Poland, about the year 1740. There is every reason to believe that his education, both in Jewish and in secular subjects, was woefully inadequate. At an early age, so it appears, he left home and became a wanderer. He must have lived in many lands for he had a working knowledge of several European languages, among them French. Salomon learned a great deal about business and finance and the mysteries of bills of exchange. When he landed on these shores, probably no earlier than 1775, he brought very little money with him. There were at this time several other men who bore the name Haym Salomon, or another of its variants; it is not always possible to be sure that the historical data at hand refer to the Lissa-born “financier.”34

One thing is sure: this man became an ardent Whig. In 1776 he was working as a sutler with the troops on the Canadian frontier, and when he returned to New York, then occupied by the British, he was arrested and imprisoned. Obviously he was on a proscription list. Tradition has it that he was a member of the radical vigilante-type Sons of Liberty—which is not farfetched. There is another tradition—this one quite without basis—that he was commissioned by Washington to burn down the king’s fleet and the town’s warehouses. Salomon might well have perished in jail had he not been rescued by Hessian mercenaries in great need of competent personnel who spoke English and were conversant with American methods of procuring supplies. Most probably it was Jewish purveyors among the Hessians who secured his release; the English commonly enough found it advantageous to enlist prisoners. Salomon went to work for the Hessians, primarily as a commissionaire for the officers. He also did business on his own account as a merchant, as a ship’s chandler, as a distiller, and as an interpreter. He was an enterprising man and here in New York he had an opportunity to exploit his talents. He made a small fortune. In 1777 while in New York working for the English mercenaries, Salomon married into a branch of the Franks family—the poor branch. He was then thirty-seven; his bride Rachel was fifteen. She had an older brother Isaac who was also a patriot. Apparently the two men had very little else in common, although there are intimations that as brothers-in-law they were not unfriendly despite their later business rivalry.35

Brother Isaac (1759–1822) had enlisted at the age of seventeen, equipping himself at his own expense when in 1776 he joined Colonel John Lasher’s regiment of volunteers. It was then that Franks heard read, for the first time, the Declaration of Independence, and, as he later wrote, “we all, as with one voice, declared that we would support and defend the same with our lives and fortunes.” After fighting in the Battle of Long Island, Franks retreated, only to be captured and imprisoned in New York by the British. Months later, he escaped to the safety of the Jersey shore, crossing the Hudson in a leaky skiff with one paddle. For the next four years he served in the quartermaster’s department and was finally commissioned as an ensign in the Seventh Massachusetts Regiment. All in all he had served his country as a soldier for seven years when he was finally separated from the service in 1782. He was now twenty-three, a seasoned veteran. Shortly after his resignation, he became a merchant and bill broker in Philadelphia and managed to save enough money to buy the Deshler home in Germantown. It had once been British headquarters. It was this same house that Washington rented at the time of the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic in 1793. In submitting his bill to the president, Franks did not hesitate to charge him for missing and broken kitchen utensils and for cleaning the place after the presidential entourage had vacated the premises. In later years, Franks, now a militia lieutenant colonel, found it necessary to petition for a pension and to augment his income by serving as chief clerk of the state supreme court. Unlike his brother-in-law Salomon, Isaac Franks seems to have had no interest in Jews or Judaism. He married out of the faith in 1782 and reared a family whom he admonished to be good Christians. Like his two fellow colonels, David S. Franks and Solomon Bush, he was what later generations would call an assimilationist. Living in the open society of the new American republic, the three colonels saw no need to survive as loyal Jews.36

What the English did not know was that Isaac Franks’s brother-in-law, Haym Salomon, was an unofficial underground agent for the Whigs. He induced Hessians to desert and helped imprisoned French and American officers to escape. When someone betrayed Salomon, he fled, on August 11, 1778, leaving behind him his wife, an infant child, and the estate he had amassed. In Philadelphia where he now established himself, he struggled for some two years as a shopkeeper and bill broker before again achieving a degree of financial security. Like the many other bill brokers in town, several of them Jews, he bought and sold bills of exchange drawn on Americans and Europeans. He also handled all types of government paper and currencies, both Continental and state, lent money, and discounted notes. Here is where the real profit lay, for by late 1782 some moneylenders were demanding no less than 5 percent interest per month; others were charging even more. No later than 1781—possibly earlier—he was doing a great deal of business with the French. His linguistic skills were invaluable to him and may have been one of the chief sources of his relatively sudden affluence. Among his French clients were the resident French diplomat and the French army paymasters. Spain, like France, welcomed the colonial revolt against British imperialism, and the Spanish agent here in the United States was also his client.37

By June, 1781, Salomon had become the broker for Robert Morris who had just assumed office as Superintendent of the Office of Finance. Salomon was already recognized as a skilled and reputable dealer. It is a tribute to him that he was selected by Morris out of a crowd of more than twenty brokers in the city. In his diary, where Salomon is mentioned more than 100 times, Morris always refers to him as Mr. Salomon. There is one exception: shortly after he begins employing him, he speaks of him as “the Jew broker.” This possibly pejorative adjective never occurs again in the diary when Salomon is mentioned. Morris had him sell bills of the French, Spanish, and Dutch and undertake a variety of other financial and fiscal tasks. Large amounts were involved. The proceeds of the sales were deposited in the Bank of North America and were then drawn on by Morris to meet governmental expenditures. In all probability the reason Morris picked Salomon to work for him was the imperative need to raise cash to outfit the troops who were to corner the English at Yorktown. Salomon was one of the first to hear of the victory over Cornwallis and to retail it in one of the taverns which served as his bourse. A Loyalist physician hearing Salomon’s report retorted sarcastically that if the British commander was in distress, Salomon was in even worse trouble, for as an unbeliever in Jesus Christ he was surely going to Hell. The crowd laughed at the Jew’s humiliation. The French volunteer who reported this incident, Pierre √Čtienne Du Ponçeau, remarked: “The Jews were yet a hated and despised race”—but, as General Cornwallis would have been the first to agree, the last laugh was Salomon’s.38

Salomon was even more useful to Morris after the capture of the British army at Yorktown than before. The financial condition of the government became increasingly desperate; as Morris’s diary indicates, Salomon was constantly called in to help resolve recurring crises. Like Morris, he too worked heroically to maintain the credit of the nation. The entry in Morris’s diary for August 29, 1782, is especially eloquent: “I sent for Mr. Haym Salomon several times this day to assist me in raising money.” By July, 1782, at Salomon’s request, Morris permitted him to advertise that he was the country’s official broker. In his frequent advertisements from then on, Salomon informed his clients that he was the “Broker to the Office of Finance, to the Consul General of France, and to the Treasurer of the French Army.”39

Since Salomon’s reputation as a responsible bill broker was well-established as early as 1782, both here and abroad, notables in trouble, in need of cash, turned to him. Among them were members of the Continental Congress. By March, 1780, Continental currency in relation to silver had fallen forty to one; it is clear that necessitous delegates like James Madison and Edmund Randolph had to turn to moneylenders if they were to remain in Congress. Madison borrowed from Michael Gratz, of Philadelphia, and Jacob I.Cohen, of Cohen & Isaacs in Richmond. The Richmond firm carried Randolph, and he in turn permitted Madison to use his credit with Cohen & Isaacs. In the summer of 1782 Madison turned to Salomon and not in vain. Writing to Randolph, Madison said: “I have for some time past been a pensioner on the favor of Haym Salomon, a Jew broker.” That was in August; in September, Madison wrote again to Randolph about his connection with Salomon: “The kindness of our little friend in Front Street (Salomon) near the coffee-house is a fund which will preserve me from extremities, but I never resort to it without great mortification as he obstinately rejects all recompense.” Is it worth noting that Madison in his August letter refers to Salomon as a “Jew broker,” but in the next letter, a month later, Salomon has become “our little friend.” Randolph refers to his generous financial supplier, Cohen, of Cohen & Isaacs as a “little Levite.” (Randolph obviously knew that, according to Deuteronomy 10, the Cohens as a priestly elite belonged to the tribe of Levi.) If we were to draw anthropological conclusions from the letters of Madison and Randolph we might assume that the Jews of the Revolutionary period were all small in stature, all “little” men. At all events quite apart from his consciousness of the courtesy and generosity of individual Jewish businessmen, Madison, one of the chief architects of the Constitution, was committed—and had always been committed—to equality before the law of all white men. For him, this was as mandatory in Virginia as in the federal polity.40

Toward the end of December, 1783, the Jews of Philadelphia protested against the anti-Jewish disabilities spelled out in the Pennsylvania constitution of 1776. As Jews they could not in good conscience take the requisite Christian test oath and thus could not hold public office. Haym Salomon was a member of the committee of Jews who expressed its vigorous dissent to the state Council of Censors. He could never forget that he had risked his life in the years 1776–1778 to help American prisoners and to further the cause of his country. He had no wish to remain a second-class citizen in Pennsylvania. The protest in which he joined was to no immediate avail; the test oath was not removed till 1790 when a new constitution was written. By that time Salomon was dead. The attempt to deny Jews political equality in Pennsylvania was in large part due to a vigorous campaign carried on by Christian bigots, among them the distinguished Lutheran minister, Henry Melchior Muehlenberg. This anti-Jewish prejudice cropped up again in 1784 when an attack was made on Jewish moneylenders. The leader in this Judeophobic sortie was Miers Fisher, a Quaker lawyer and former Tory exile. By attacking the Jews, Fisher may have thought to divert attention from his Loyalism during the late war. Fisher and his confederates pleaded with the Pennsylvania state legislature to charter a new bank which would reduce the current rate of interest and protect borrowers from the exactions of Jewish brokers. Salomon, it would seem, answered Fisher in Philadelphia’s Independent Gazetteer for March 13, 1784, signing himself. “A Jew Broker.” (The actual author of the reply was probably the editor of the paper, Colonel Eleazar Oswald). Salomon, not averse to fighting fire with fire, pointed out that Fisher was a typical Quaker, one of those sectarians notable for financial exploitation and treasonable conduct during the Revolution. Actually, Fisher and his friends were not primarily interested in attacking Jews or reducing the rate of interest or helping impecunious borrowers. They wanted to open a new bank so that they too could reap the lush profits enjoyed by the Bank of North America. Robert Morris and his associates, frightened at Fisher’s attack on their financial citadel and dreading the thought of a rival, made stock available in their closely held corporation. Nothing further was heard about a charter for a new bank.41

During the period of his residence in Philadelphia, something less than seven years, Salomon served the community and himself as a merchant. It was not at all unusual for merchants of calibre to buy and sell bills of exchange on the United States and Europe. With one exception, there were no banks in the country, and businessmen employed these bills to pay their creditors and to collect from their debtors. Salomon never made large sums selling bills at a modest commission for the canny Morris. As a “banker,” he did better buying and selling the different government obligations and discounting notes. It was certainly lucrative to discount the bills of Cornwallis’s captured officers, interned in nearby Lancaster. He seems to have had no difficulty in selling English prisoners’ bills in British-held New York and even in London, and this at a time when there was no formal treaty of peace. He was a merchant in the traditional sense; he had a shop and a storage room where he stocked, stored, and sold dry goods; some wares were handled only on commission. The commodities he listed in his advertisements included dry goods, liquor, groceries, tobacco, hemp, indigo, and real estate.

The extent of his commercial reach was certainly not comparable to an Aaron Lopez’s, yet Salomon too was a merchant-shipper: he did business not only locally but in England, France, Holland, and Sweden. His goods were sent as freight on vessels owned by others, although at one time he had a share in the Sally which traded with Spain. It is not improbable that his ship was named for a daughter born at Philadelphia in 1779. Probably no broker or merchant in the country could match the volume of his advertising. He placed more than a thousand ads in American newspapers between the years 1781 and 1785; they appeared in English, French, German, and Dutch. He emphasized the goods he had on hand and the services he was prepared to offer. In 1784, he decided to move back to New York, his first American home and soon to become the national capital; Jewish exiles of substance, men like Isaac Moses and Hayman Levy, were also returning to New York where they had their roots. Salomon knew or suspected that there would be a brighter future for him as a broker, as a merchant—and as a Jew—in the city on the Hudson. He bought a house on Wall Street, announced that he would carry on a brokerage and auction business, and chose as his partner a young native-born American, Jacob Mordecai, a man of education and culture; Salomon was well aware of his own inability to write a good English letter in a fair hand. The Wall Street store was opened but his final illness prevented him from leaving Philadelphia and taking charge.42

Salomon, an observant, devoted Jew, conducted no business on the Sabbath and Holy Days. Respectful of traditional rabbinic talmudic learning, he urged an uncle, a scholarly man, not to come here—there was no real “Jewishness” in this country, nothing analogous here to the fervent piety and learning of Poland. If Salomon was not active in congregational life and politics, it was probably because he was deemed a newcomer and, even more probably, because he was unwilling to be saddled with congregational office. He was eager to build his estate during the war years, to provide for his young wife and their constantly growing family. When on one occasion he was elected to a minor office in the synagog, he paid the requisite fine and refused to serve. Yet in 1783 he accepted election to the synagogal board, possibly because he wanted to play a part in urging the Pennsylvania state authorities to modify their constitution which imposed a political disability on Jewish citizens. The following year, when the declining Jewish community in Philadelphia was torn by dissension, he intervened to bring the warring parties together. He was known as a generous man and was highly respected for his concern for others. This may explain why he did agree to serve as treasurer of the short-lived Travellers Aid Society (Ezrat Orchim), the first Jewish charity organization in the United States of which there is a record; it was an integral part of the philanthropic arm of Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel. By 1782, already affluent, Salomon became the largest contributor to Mikveh Israel’s building fund. He promised to pay one-quarter of the total cost and he did; his was probably American Jewry’s first matching grant. Salomon was hardly the richest Jew in town; the wealthy Isaac Moses was the second biggest giver; his gift was about a third as large as Salomon’s. As the most liberal donor, Salomon was accorded the honor of opening the doors of the sanctuary in the formal dedication ceremony. After his death, to commemorate his generosity, the congregation annually invoked God’s blessing upon him on Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish year. Today, more than two hundred years later, that blessing is still intoned in the Philadelphia congregation.43

Once Salomon had means, he set out in 1782 to help his impoverished family. An importunate uncle who began making demands was sent a substantial gift. His mother received a valuable gold chain with the understanding that it was never to be sold; it was to be treasured as a prestige piece. A burial lot was bought for the family in Poland, and to make sure that his father would not be compelled to move on, the dutiful son purchased denization rights in the town where the family was then settled. But Salomon was concerned with more than material things. He believed in education if only because he had suffered its lack. He could not write a polished Yiddish letter. True, he could read the Hebrew prayers, but there is no reason to believe that he knew what the words meant. He wrote home that he was willing to subsidize any member of the family who showed an aptitude for rabbinic studies. Above all, he said that he wanted the younger generation back home given a good general education—which meant for him knowledge of the “Christian languages.” He was a simple, genial man as his personal letters make clear. Trying to serve as an amateur matchmaker, he kept pushing his unmarried friends to marry. During the last few years of his brief life stories of his generosity even reached Europe. Such reports are always exaggerated. A European worthy chose him to settle an American estate. People abroad venerated him as a nadiv, a noble benefactor.44

The evidence available indicates that our little friend on Front Street was a good citizen. When the Charlestown exiles, banished by the British, reached Philadelphia, their city of refuge, Salomon was one of those who contributed to their relief. Like many of his friends in Mikveh Israel, he too joined the Masons. It certainly must have meant something to him to belong to a fraternity preaching the gospel of humanity, equality, and the dignity of the individual. Surely he could never forget that he had come from Poland, a country where Jews were despised and frequently attacked. His parents and dear ones still lived there. Salomon was one of the chief supporters of a fund designed to finance a balloon ascension, looked upon as a civic obligation. In 1783, he was among the 800 Philadelphians who appealed to Congress to return from Princeton whither it had fled to escape the unpaid mutinous troops marching on the city. Signers, prominent citizens, promised financial help. Eight Jews of substance signed this petition, 1 percent of the total. These numbers may well serve to put American Jewry in perspective; the Jewish elite was still in the city awaiting the signing of the definitive peace treaty.45

Haym Salomon—Moses Hayyim, the son of Solomon—died on January 6, 1785, about forty-five years of age; he left behind him a twenty-three year old widow with three young children and a fourth on the way. One of the New York newspapers reported that he left a large estate. It did seem substantial, but much of it was in Continental currency and depreciated securities. The letters of administration show that in fact Salomon died insolvent. Some of his creditors were also his executors and made sure that their debts were satisfied. Nothing was left for the family; the widow was permitted to keep her household furnishings. Had he survived another five years when Hamilton’s fiscal program was adopted and the domestic debt funded at par, he would have done well. He had lived only ten years in America; the last five were, economically, the fruitful ones.46

Some forty years after his death, Salomon’s posthumous son, Haym M. Salomon, born in 1785, examined his father’s papers and came to the conclusion that the United States government owed huge sums to his father’s estate. There is no way to know whether the son actually believed this or only pretended to believe it. As early as 1827 he began collecting evidence to substantiate his claims and sought data from former President James Madison. In 1846 he began appealing to Congress for reimbursement and from then on made numerous attempts to induce the national legislature to acknowledge the debt and to compensate the heirs. Haym, Jr., contended, as did the family later, that the records of the Bank of North America reflected advances made by Haym Salomon to the government. The large sums deposited were not government funds; they were not the proceeds of bills made out to the United States by foreign powers, sold by Salomon, and deposited by him in the bank as the agent for Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance. The funds deposited were Salomon’s! The demands made by young Salomon and his descendants amounted to well over $800,000 to say nothing of accumulated interest. Incidentally, if the father had been able to lend the government such staggering sums, he would have been the richest man in the country—by far! Haym Salomon was the real financier of the American Revolution; it owes everything to him, not to Robert Morris: so the claim of his enthusiastic latter-day admirers. It was he who restored the country’s credit when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was he and, no one else, who negotiated the substantial loans with France and Holland. Millions! He was the paymaster of the French army; all monies of the French armed forces were disbursed by him. The French and Spanish agents in this country were dependent on him for support; the help he gave them enabled them to carry on their work. His aid to these foreign dignitaries was matched only by what he did for notable members of the Continental Congress, for James Madison, Edmund Randolph, James Wilson, Arthur Lee, Baron Steuben. Whatever profit he made on his various deals for the government was turned back to it. Louis XVI of France honored him with a title! In a later addition to the story, Louis XVI asked good Ben Franklin who would underwrite the French subsidies? “Haym Salomon,” answered Franklin. To which His Majesty responded that was all the assurance he needed.47

Most committees on Revolutionary claims did recommend that the debt be honored but no bill was ever passed by Congress acknowledging as just the demands of the son or his descendants, though a later generation in 1893 would have been content with the striking of a gold medal as a tribute. Yet the myth has been accepted by committees of the House and Senate on Revolutionary claims and by a Committee on the Library. Indeed, for well over a century eminent Americans have euphorically rehearsed the achievements of Morris’ bill broker: William Seward, Presidents Taft, Wilson, Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. In an address in 1916, Taft said that Salomon was the Jew who stood by Morris and financed the Revolution. It is not surprising that so many notable American Gentiles believed the myth; the Jews can work magic with money! The Presidents, too, were never unmindful of the Jewish vote. In 1925, the secretary of the Federation of Polish Jews of America published a brochure in which he alleged that Washington had sent Salomon a message with an urgent request for money. The need was desperate. It was the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, when Salomon was in the synagog. Without hesitation he made an appeal for funds; he himself gave $240,000, and the other worshippers contributed the balance to make a total of $400,000! A year later Senator K. D. McKellar of Tennessee moved for an appropriation of $658,007.13 for the Salomon family. Senator McKellar was a well-known conservative in sympathy with the immigration quota laws passed during his term in the Senate. Had a twentieth-century Salomon, an immigrant Polish Jew, attempted to enter the country, he may very well have been denied permission under the quota laws of the 1920’s.48

Gaining new strength in the twentieth century, the Salomon myth has continued to flourish. The latest version maintains that Washington himself called Salomon in and asked him what reward he sought for his remarkable contribution to the country. Salomon wanted nothing, but when Washington persisted, he answered that he would be content if the arrangement of the thirteen stars on the American seal would be in the form of a six-pointed star, the Jewish Shield of David. This was done as anyone can see who examines the Jewish star on a one-dollar bill, above the eagle and the e pluribus unum! When in 1975 a bicentennial commemorative stamp was issued by the postal service to honor Salomon, the fictional element was emphasized in the legend on the back of the stamp:


Businessman and broker Haym Salomon was responsible for raising most of the money needed to finance the American Revolution and later to save the new nation from collapse.

In the late twentieth century, the mythic Salomon is accepted as the real Salomon by practically everyone aware of him, even by the Dictionary of American Biography. A historian has said that old myths never die; they just become embodied in textbooks.49

Despite the fact that Salomon goes without mention in the index to William Graham Sumner’s two volume study of Morris, The Financier and the Finances of the American Revolution (1891), or in any of the standard American histories, he was a figure of some distinction. It is difficult to evaluate in detail what he did as a patriot and as Morris’ broker because some of the records of the Bank of North America were burnt by the British in the War of 1812 and many if not most of Salomon’s personal papers have not survived. Most of the claims of the son, Haym M. Salomon, cannot be substantiated or objectively evaluated. Haym Salomon’s achievements, in fact, need no myth to embellish them. He was the chief broker for Morris at a very important period in American history, for he served as Morris’s agent in cashing bills from our allies; he disposed of all those which the Dutch and French sent here. Actually most of the money allocated by American allies was spent in Europe for supplies which were then shipped to this country. The Philadelphia broker rendered valuable service, through his sale of bills, in raising cash to help outfit the army in the decisive campaign that won the war. More importantly, he was constantly at Morris’s side in the post-Yorktown period when the finances of the country were threatened with collapse. “I sent for Salomon and desired him to try every way he could devise to raise money” (August 27, 1782). At times Salomon’s credit was better than that of the new republic’s. This man was something of an alchemist; he could turn paper into gold. He lent money to notables to help them carry on their work; in some instances, he sought no interest. There were brokers and businessmen who refused to lend money to needy congressmen; the lenders could employ their funds to better advantage at a time when usurious rates prevailed. As a Jew, Salomon was devoted to his people and to his family. His generosity in building his Philadelphia congregation’s first sanctuary has no parallel in American Jewish history until the rise of Harmon Hendricks and Judah Touro in the nineteenth century. He risked his life in New York as an American secret agent; he fought for political liberty and abolition of the discriminatory test oath in the state of his adoption. People have revered his memory to this day, although they have been influenced more by the myth than the reality. Even in his own time he was respected by his Gentile contemporaries. When he passed away a Philadelphia newspaper paid him this tribute: “He was remarkable for his skill and integrity in his profession and for his generous and humane deportment.”50

After Salomon’s burial, no money was left for a headstone; he lies in an unmarked grave in Philadelphia’s Spruce Street Cemetery. East European Jews in this country, frowned upon by earlier waves of Jewish immigrants, wanted a monument to enshrine his memory. They were caught up naturally enough in the Salomon myth. A monument to an eighteenth-century Polish Jewish patriot hero would document their early arrival on American shores; not all Polacks came after 1881! Polish Jews, too, are important; they, too, have made a contribution to the history of this country. These twentieth-century Polish Jewish devotees fostered the myth: Salomon was a friend of Kosciuszko and Pulaski! Attempts in the 1920’s to set up a memorial to honor him made no headway; some Jews were bitterly opposed to the project; there were old-line families who viewed Salomon’s achievements skeptically. How would the Gentiles respond to a monument to a Jew? In 1931 the Jewish historian Max J. Kohler punctured the myth in a brilliant essay, yet at the same time pointed out Salomon’s real accomplishments. Finally, in 1941, Chicago Jews did succeed in erecting an imposing sculptured memorial to Salomon, dedicated on the 150th anniversary of the ratification of America’s Bill of Rights. It portrays Washington eleven feet high, flanked by Robert Morris and Haym Salomon. Thus an American Jew, who has no gravestone to mark his resting place, is honored today by an impressive monument in one of the great cities of this country. Salomon merits this recognition for he was a man of ability, integrity, and courage, devoted to the land which gave him shelter and accepted him as one of its own. He was not a great man; he was a very good American; he was a Jew in the best sense of the term.51


A direct descendant of Salomon was the United States ambassador to Russia and France, William Christian Bullitt. The present-day genealogist is almost tempted to venture that a Christian must have the wisdom of a Solomon to know his Jewish ancestors. In the Collector, a magazine published by a manuscript dealer, a bill of exchange signed by Haym Salomon was offered for sale; the price asked was $3,500. If in his Counting-house-on-High Salomon has been privileged to learn of the fabulous value of but one of his signed documents, he is probably very puzzled, but nonetheless, gratified. Or maybe he is shaking his head dolorously at the thought that inflation—a phenomenon with which he was only too familiar—is still rampant in this country.52

Despite the fact that only one state had emancipated its Jews by the time that the provisional peace treaty was ratified by Congress, the Jews were elated. For them the Revolution meant more than separation from Great Britain. For the first time in Diaspora history they could hope to receive real equality in the political and economic spheres. For Jews, onetime British citizens of lesser quality and lesser opportunity, the Revolution was a social one. This explains the letter which Mordecai Sheftall wrote to a son, April, 1783:

Every real wisher to his country must feel him self happy to have lived to see this longe and bloody contest brot to so happy an issue. More especially as we have obtained our independence.… An intier new scene will open it self, and we have the world to begin againe.53

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