Haym Salomon

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Haym Salomon
Haym Solomon.jpg
Haym Salomon, financier of the American Revolution
BornApril 7, 1740
Leszno, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
DiedJanuary 6, 1785(1785-01-06) (aged 44)
Philadelphia, U.S.
Nationality American
Other namesHaym Solomon
OccupationBroker, auctioneer
Known forPrime financier of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
ReligionJudaism
 
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Haym Salomon
Haym Solomon.jpg
Haym Salomon, financier of the American Revolution
BornApril 7, 1740
Leszno, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
DiedJanuary 6, 1785(1785-01-06) (aged 44)
Philadelphia, U.S.
Nationality American
Other namesHaym Solomon
OccupationBroker, auctioneer
Known forPrime financier of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
ReligionJudaism

Haym Salomon (or Solomon; April 7, 1740 – January 6, 1785) was a Jewish American businessman and political financial broker who immigrated to New York from Poland during the period of the American Revolution. He helped convert the French loans into ready cash by selling bills of exchange for Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance. In this way he aided the Continental Army and was possibly the prime financier of the American side during the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Haym Salomon was born in Leszno (Lissa) Poland in 1740 to an Ashkenazi Jewish family who stemmed from Spanish and Portuguese Jews who migrated to the Jewish communities of Poland, and lived there for many generations. Although all Jews in Eastern Europe spoke Yiddish (Judeo-German), some claim that because Salomon left Poland while still young he did not know how to properly read and write Yiddish. In his youth, he studied Hebrew.[2] During his travels in western Europe, he acquired a knowledge of finance as well as fluency in several other languages, such as German. He returned to Poland in 1770 but left for England two years later in the wake of the Polish partition. In 1775, he immigrated to New York City, where he established himself as a financial broker for merchants engaged in overseas trade.[3][4]

Revolutionary activity[edit]

Haym Salomon commemorative stamp

Sympathizing with the Patriot cause, Salomon joined the New York branch of the Sons of Liberty. In September 1776 he was arrested as a spy but the British pardoned him, but only after having had him spend 18 months on a British boat, in order to use his abilities as an interpreter for their Hessian mercenaries, who were German soldiers siding with the British, as Salomon spoke German. Salomon used his position to help prisoners of the British escape and encouraged the Hessians to desert the war effort. In 1778 Salomon was arrested again and sentenced to death, but he managed to escape, whereupon he made his way with his family to the rebel capital in Philadelphia.[5]

Financing of the American Revolutionary War[edit]

Once resettled, Salomon resumed his activities as a broker. He became the agent to the French consul, as well as the paymaster for the French forces in North America. In 1781, he began working extensively with Robert Morris, the newly appointed Superintendent for Finance for the Thirteen Colonies.[6]

From the period of 1781–84, records show Salomon's fundraising and personal lending helped provide over $650,000 (approximately $8.8 billion in 2013 dollars) in financing to George Washington in his war effort. His most meaningful financial contribution, however, came immediately prior to the final revolutionary war battle at Yorktown.[7]

In August 1781, the Continental Army had trapped Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis in the Virginian coastal town of Yorktown. George Washington and the main army and Count de Rochambeau with his French army decided to march from the Hudson Highlands to Yorktown and deliver the final blow. But Washington's war chest was completely empty, as was that of Congress. Without food, uniforms and supplies, Washington's troops were close to mutiny.[7] Washington determined that he needed at least $20,000 to finance the campaign. When Morris told him there were no funds and no credit available, Washington gave him a simple but eloquent order: "Send for Haym Salomon". Salomon raised $20,000, through the sale of bills of exchange, and Washington conducted the Yorktown campaign, which proved to be the final battle of the Revolution.[4]

Salomon negotiated the sale of a majority of the war aid from France and the Dutch Republic, selling bills of exchange to American merchants. Salomon also personally supported various members of the Continental Congress during their stay in Philadelphia, including James Madison and James Wilson. He requested below market interest rates, and he never asked for repayment.[8]

Salomon is believed to have granted outright bequests to men he felt were unsung heroes of the Revolution who had become impoverished during the conflict. One example is Bodo Otto, senior surgeon in the continental army. Otto joined the army at the age of 65 and served for the entire war. Among other things, he established the hospital at Valley Forge where he often used his own funds to purchase medical supplies. Due to Salomon's bequest, Otto was able to rebuild his medical practice in Reading, Pennsylvania at war's end.

The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the Revolutionary War but not the financial problems of the newly established nation. America's war debt to France was never properly repaid, which started the cascade of events leading to the French Revolution.

Jewish community[edit]

Pennsylvania Historical Marker, 44 N 4th Street, Philadelphia (July 2014)

Salomon was involved in Jewish community affairs, being a member of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, and in 1782 made the largest individual contribution towards the construction of its main building. In 1783, Salomon was among the prominent Jews involved in the successful effort to have the Pennsylvania Council of Censors remove the religious test oath required for office-holding under the State Constitution. These test laws were originally written to disenfranchise the Quaker majority (Quakers objected to taking oaths at all), but many were caught up in this anti-democratic ploy. It was Salomon's old friend Robert Morris, who actually introduced legislation to end the test laws in Pennsylvania. In 1784, Salomon answered anti-Semitic slander in the press by stating: "I am a Jew; it is my own nation; I do not despair that we shall obtain every other privilege that we aspire to enjoy along with our fellow-citizens."

Death[edit]

The financier died suddenly and in poverty on January 8, 1785 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Due to the failure of governments and private lenders to repay the debt incurred by the war, his family was left penniless at his death at age 44.[7]

His obituary in the Independent Gazetteer read, "Thursday, last, expired, after a lingering illness, Mr. Haym Salomon, an eminent broker of this city, was a native of Poland, and of the Hebrew nation. He was remarkable for his skill and integrity in his profession, and for his generous and humane deportment. His remains were yesterday deposited in the burial ground of the synagogue of this city."[3]

Legacy[edit]

Haym Salomon marker, Mikveh Israel Cemetery, Philadelphia

The grave-site of Haym Salomon, Mikveh Israel Cemetery is located in the 800-block of Spruce Street in Philadelphia. Though unmarked, there are two plaque memorials. The east wall has a marble tablet that was installed by his great-grandson, William Salomon, and a granite memorial is set inside the cemetery gate. In 1980, the Haym Salomon Lodge #663 of the fraternal organization B'rith Sholom sponsored a memorial in the Mikveh Israel Cemetery on the north side of Spruce Street between 8th and 9th Streets in Philadelphia. A blue ribbon panel and committee, including Robert S. Whitman, Sidney Bruskin and Marvin Abrams, all lodge past presidents, arranged for the renovation of the walls and walkways of the cemetery. They then arranged for and oversaw the installation of a large, engraved memorial marker of Barre Granite just inside the cemetery gates, inscribed "An American Patriot".[9]

Commemoration[edit]

There is a legend that during the design process of the Great Seal, Washington asked what compensation Salomon wanted in return for his financial contributions to the American Revolutionary War. He replied that "he wanted nothing for himself but that he wanted something for his people". As a result, the 13 stars representing the colonies on the seal were arranged in the shape of the Star of David.[10]

When Morris was appointed Superintendent of Finance, he turned to Salomon for help in raising the money needed to carry on the war and later to save the emerging nation from financial collapse. Salomon advanced direct loans to the government and also gave generously of his own resources to pay the salaries of government officials and army officers. With frequent entries of "I sent for Haym Salomon", Morris' diary for the years 1781–84 records some 75 transactions between the two men.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ John Buescher. "Jewish Immigration During the Revolutionary War". Teachinghistory.org. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  2. ^ Amler, Jane Frances (Aug 2004). Haym Salomon: Patriot Banker of the American Revolution (1st ed.). New York: Rosen/PowerPlus Books. p. 6. ISBN 978-0823966295. 
  3. ^ a b Milgrim, Shirley. "The Story of Mikveh Israel Cemetery". USHistory.org. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Moran, Donald N. (October 1999). "Haym Salomon -The Revolution's Indispensable Financial Genius". Liberty Tree and Valley Compatriot Newsletter. Sons of Liberty Chapter; Sons of the American Revolution. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Haym Salomon". National Park Service, US Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  6. ^ Wiernik, Peter. History of the Jews in America. New York: The Jewish Press Publishing Company, 1912. p. 96. Salomon is mentioned nearly 75 times in Morris's personal correspondence relating to selling bills of exchange to raise cash for the Revolution.
  7. ^ a b c "Haym Solomon: The Man Behind the Myth of the Dollar’s Star of David". Retrieved 29 June 2014. 
  8. ^ Wiernik, Peter. History of the Jews in America. New York: The Jewish Press Publishing Company, 1912. p. 95.
  9. ^ On June 17, 1980, the Philadelphia public was advised of this fact in the Philadelphia Morning Inquirer, complete with a background story and photograph of the event.
  10. ^ "The Stars on the American Flag and the Great Seal". Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Heald Square Monument". City of Chicago. Retrieved 2012-12-10. 
  12. ^ "Haym Salomon Statue Re-Dedication". Tom LaBonge. Retrieved 13 March 2011. 
  13. ^ The SS Haym Salomon is MC Hull #987 and was launched May 17, 1943. It was sold for private use in 1947 and scrapped in 1971.

Further reading[edit]

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