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The British captured the eight-square-mile Caribbean island of St. Eustatius in the Dutch Antilles on this date in 1781. The population included more than 100 Jews, mostly Sephardic traders, merchants, and slavers. They and other residents of the free-trade port played a key role in keeping the Continental Army supplied with armaments throughout the American Revolution, in deals facilitated by Haym Solomon, who negotiated bills of exchange between the American colonies and France and the Netherlands. The British attack on St. Eustatius resulted in the destruction of the island’s synagogue and the brutalization of the Jewish community — but also diverted the British naval commander George Rodney from coming to the rescue of the British fleet that would be destroyed in the Chesapeake Bay, which ultimately led to the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia.
“Solomon... was a Polish Jew who spoke several languages, including German. He served as George Washington’s spy among the British forces by becoming a translator for the British in passing orders to their Hessian troops. Zealous as a saboteur (he was caught helping French and American prisoners to escape and persuading Hessians to defect), he was apprehended and imprisoned by the British. He escaped... and rebuilt a fortune while putting his talents and the proceeds of his successful ventures at the disposal of members of the Continental Congress and the Revolution. The Continental Congress appointed Solomon Broker to the Office of Finance of the United States, and the French consulate appointed him Treasurer of the French Army in the United States. Solomon staked his entire fortune in support of the military effort, as did another Jewish financier, Isaac Moses, founder of the Bank of New York.” —Samuel Kurlansky