“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.”
One of the main problems confronting the American patriots during their struggle against Great Britain was financing the Revolution. Largely cut off from trade with Europe by British blockade and occupation of the major American ports throughout the War, American finances throughout the conflict were in a state of perpetual collapse. Somehow the Americans, barely, found the funds to keep their armies in the field until victory was achieved, and one of the prime heroes of the financial portion of the American Revolution was merchant and financier Haym Salomon.
Born in Lezno, Poland in 1740, Salomon was a descendant of Jewish refugees from Portugal. As a young man he traveled throughout Western Europe gaining the mercantile skills that would serve him throughout his career and displaying a facility in learning languages, becoming proficient in eight. In 1775 he settled in New York City as a financial broker for foreign merchants. He swiftly became an ardent patriot and joined the local Sons of Liberty.
After the British conquered New York City, Salomon was arrested as a spy and served 18 months. The British made use of his linguistic skills to communicate with their Hessian mercenaries. Salomon secretly urged the Hessians to desert and helped other Americans escape captivity. Arrested again by the British in 1778, and this time sentenced to death, Salomon escaped and made his way to Philadelphia. Resuming his work as a financier, he swiftly rose to prominence, becoming the agent of the French consul to America and paymaster of the French forces in North America.
In 1781 he began to work closely with Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance for the Continental Congress. He skillfully sold $600,000.00 in bills of exchange to raise desperately needed funds for the War effort. He played a pivotal role in the Yorktown campaign. Washington needed at least $20,000.00 to finance the sending of his army to Virginia. Told by Robert Morris that there were no funds and no credit, Washington gave him this order: Send for Haym Salomon. Working his financial wizardry, Salomon raised the funds that allowed the Continental Army to win the War at Yorktown. (more…)