Send For Haym Salomon

“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.”

Haym Salomon

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.

Time after time between 1781-1783 Salomon somehow raised the funds necessary to keep the government and army going until the Treaty of Paris ending the War was signed.  Salomon died at age 45 in 1785.  Over the years he had lent out of his own resources some $800,000 to the American government, the equivalent today of 40 billion dollars, most of which was never repaid.  His family sought payment from the government for part of the debt, but the funds were never forthcoming.

There is a bit of misinformation about Salomon and the Great Seal of the United States going around the internet.  Supposedly George Washington out of gratitude asked Salomon if there was anything that he could do for him.  Salomon supposedly responded that he wanted nothing for himself, but that for his people, the Jews, he wanted the Star of David on the Great Seal.  See the video below:

It is a charming fable, but there is nothing to support it.  Haym Salomon has been remembered in postage stamps, statues and the SS Haym Salamon liberty ship that saw service in World War II.  However the true memorial to Salomon and all the other patriots of the Revolution is a lasting one:  the United States of America.

Published in: on January 19, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. I’ve always found his story interesting. Unfortunately, I am unable to find many books on him. Is there any certain book you would you suggest?

  2. Regrettably there is no scholarly biography that I am aware of, only a few kid books. There is a huge void in studies of the American Revolution regarding the financing of the war from the Patriot side, and the lack of a decent biography of Salomon is symbolic of this lacunae.

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