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Jews and U.S. Independence Day

Jews and U.S. Independence Day

Secret messages were sent in Yiddish?!

by

Most of us have heard of Haym Soloman, the Jew who was largely responsible for providing the war chest during the Revolutionary War. But did you know that his legendary life was often bumpy, involving jail sentences, covert activities, and poverty at the time of his death and lawsuits? Or that a tiny Dutch Island run by mostly Jews, was key to winning the war? Or a British born colonial Jew, a Loyalist named Abraham Wagg, wagged his tongue and mostly his pen to high British officials, offering himself as peacemaker?

A tiny Dutch Island run by mostly Jews, was key to winning the war?

We Jews were 2500 strong during colonial times, yet our investment in the war, as usual, far outweighed out numbers. But more, our very engagement marked a critical change in the status of Jews in the New World, giving us the right and freedom to fully participate in both war and peace. For example, did you know that at the time, in Britain, Jews could only become officers if they took a Christian oath? In this new land, Jews were allowed and did serve as officers ranking as high as colonel. About 15 of the 100 Jewish soldiers on the American side served as officers in the colonial army, which roughly matched the proportion in the army as a whole. We also played a major role in finance, privateering, and supplying Colonial troops. Jew and non-Jew alike worked side by side, without legal hindrance – a major factor of a new sort of Jewish freedom which laid the groundwork for future acceptance of Jews in U.S. society. Let’s look at just a few.

*Safety in Savannah

The name? Mordecai Sheftall. And like all good Jews, he organized a committee in 1776 and became Chairman of a Committee of Safety in Savannah. His mission?

To remove gunpowder from a ship and send it to Boston for Washington’s army. Now, at the time, the governor of Georgia, was a royalist and a tattletale. He whined to London that the Jews “were found to a man to have been violent rebels and persecutors of the King’s loyal subjects. They must not be allowed to return to Georgia.” The result? The Disqualifying Act of 1780, in which the British listed Mordecai Sheftall as “chairman of the Rebel Parochial Committee,” who interfered with the King’s business (like it wasn’t his!). This act stopped Georgians from future political activity in the state, excluding, in addition to Moredcai, shopkeepers Levi Sheftall, Sheftall Sheftall, Philip Minis, Cushman Polock, and Philip Jacob Cohen.

*David Franks: A Patriot with a Few Holes

This patriot was also a suspect – several times. This is not mazel. And the VIPs got it wrong. Twice. The Philadelphia-born Franks (1743) started a business in Montreal after the British took over in 1763. As it happened there was a statue of King George lll who had his own problems that was “graffitied” with “This is the pope of Canada and the fool of England.” He had a mouth. And spent a week in jail for sedition. Maybe not the greatest judge of character, who does this luckless man hook up with? Benedict Arnold. (See what I mean? Mazel-less!)

It seems he met Arnold in Montreal and hung around. After Benedict got into tsouris, Franks wanted to clear his name. He did. The court agreed with Franks, writing: “Every part of Major D.S. Franks’ conduct was not only unexceptionable but reflects the highest honor on him as an officer, distinguished him as a zealous friend to the independence of America, and justly entitles him to the attention and confidence of his countrymen.” OK, we move on.

Between 1781 and 1787, he shuttled between Europe and America working for Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, and other American diplomats in Europe. In fact, did you know that early in 1784, Franks carried to Europe one of the three copies of the peace treaty ratified by Congress. His rep suffered among the VIPS. In a letter Jefferson wrote to James Madison, he described Frank’s character. While Franks had a good heart, he had loose lips. Meanwhile his resume didn’t suffer. He became vice-consul at Marseille and participating in the negotiation of a treaty with Morocco, which, in 1787, he brought back to America. His rep among the bigwigs was still dicey. Jefferson wrote to Madison “… Doubtless he will be asking some appointment. I wish there may be one for which he is fit,” describing Franks as “light, indiscreet, active, honest, affectionate.” Which, nebuch, are qualities you look for in a dog walker.

*Who Needs Harvard? Playing Doctor

Is this a doctor or what? I’m talking about Philip Moses Russell, who, born in Philadelphia enlisted with the colonials as a surgeon’s mate in 1777. So what if he didn’t have medical training? Yet, with a scalpel he served in the Battle of Brandywine, and, due to the rotten weather at Valley Forge (1777-1778), his sight and hearing wasn’t terrific. Plus, we need to add exhaustion. Yet, in 1780, General Washington gave him a special commendation “for his assiduous and faithful attention to the sick and wounded, as well as his cool and collected deportment in battle.”

*S.S.G (Smuggling, Spying, and Gelting)

Here he is. The greatest of them all, Hyam Salomon. If this isn’t a Jew who deserves a Revolutionary star, who is? Hyam held the titles: “Broker to the Office of Finance of the United States,” as well as “Treasurer of the French Army in America.” The Polish-born (Lissa, 1740) Salomon who, at 32, immigrated to New York in 1772, continued his European career as a currency trader. At the start of the revolution, he traded Continental currency for hard Dutch and French currencies. He kept the revolutionary coffers afloat. But the price was high – in life and in death. We back up.

Earlier, after a fire that destroyed much of New York City, the British forces imprisoned Salomon. Realizing his language skills could be useful with British German mercenaries, they released him. The crafty Salomon, however, covertly encouraged the Hessians to desert. Arrested again ( 1778) Salomon had his property confiscated. He was sentenced to hang. Probably with the help of the Sons of Liberty, Salomon escaped –and fled without a penny to Philadelphia where his wife, the well-known Rachel Franks, and their child joined him.

In Philadelphia, Salomon resumed his brokerage business. The French Minister appointed him paymaster general of the French forces fighting for the American cause. The Dutch, and Spanish governments also used him to support their loans to the Continental Congress.

In 1781, Congress established the Office of Finance to save the colonists from fiscal ruin. Salomon allied himself with Superintendent of Finance William Morris and became a star brokering bills of exchange to meet colonial expenses. It gets better. Not only did he supply the colonials with war gelt … things got personal as he gave interest-free loans to machers, including Madison. Madison confessed that "I have for some time ... been a pensioner on the favor of Haym Salomon, a Jew broker." Eh …. Hmmmm.

Salomon was also a macher in Jewish affairs. He was on the governing council of Philadelphia's Congregation Mikveh Israel, treasurer of Philadelphia's society for indigent travelers, and was part of the nation's first known rabbinic court of arbitration. Salomon led the successful fight to repeal the test oath which barred Jews from holding public office in Pennsylvania.

Praise and statues he got. Repayment, he didn’t. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp hailing Salomon as a "Financial Hero of the American Revolution." A monument to Salomon, George Washington and Robert Morris is on East Wacker Drive in Chicago. Beverly Hills, California, is home to an organization called the American Jewish Patriots and Friends of Haym Salomon.

However, Salomon, who died in 1785 left a wife and four young children in debt. When his heirs tried to claim monies owed from the U.S. government they got – bupkes.

This is an odd, but fascinating example of cliché gone wrong. In 1784, in defense of Jews being considered Shylocks, he wrote a critical article protesting the unjust charges, saying: that such charges were "cast so indiscriminately on the Jews of this city at large . . . for the faults of a few." His passionate defense brought him national approbation.

Most important, his risks and sacrifices, human and financial, are forever linked to idealism and the success of the Revolution, and freedom.

*An Island in the American Sun

How many of us have heard of St. Eustatius or thought it was a middle-ear disease. Yet this Dutch Caribbean Island, through mostly Jews, smuggled vital goods through the British blockade. Moses and Company based in Amsterdam, made sure goods were shipped through local Jewish shippers to American ports. And yes, they suffered. In 1781, when British Admiral George Rodney seized the island, punishment was meted out. The truth is, through Jewish wholesale merchants provided the colonials with gunpowder, clothes, and other essential goods. Bernard and Michael Gratz, sent uniforms. Josephs Simon sent rifles. Virtually none of these who risked their business and their lives were paid or re-paid.

Jewish shippers and smugglers also played a key role in supplying the American cause. Jews from the Dutch Caribbean island St. Eustatius smuggled vital goods through the British blockade. One firm that had particular success in smuggling goods was Isaac Moses and Company. The Amsterdam-based firm, in accordance with Dutch sympathies, shipped goods to St. Eustatius and local Jewish shippers transported them to American ports. In 1781, when British forces under Admiral George Rodney seized the island, its population, and particularly the Jews, were punished for their assistance to the American cause. When on July 4th, 1776, the

Declaration of Independence was written, a copy was sent to Amsterdam via St. Eustatius. It was intercepted by the British. A letter with the Declaration was also intercepted, and thought to be a secret code about the document that needed to be deciphered – the letter was written in Yiddish!

Yes. We Jews, fought, suffered, and many wound up bankrupt … all because they chose to caste their fate with the fledgling country: America.

July 1, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 2

(1) cara rosenburg, July 12, 2017 9:25 PM

is this all true?

Marnie, July 14, 2017 7:16 PM

It's all true!

Hi Cara ... All the information is heavily researched and (please God) correct.

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