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July 4: Revolutionary Jews

Lawrence Bush
July 4, 2010

valley-forgeAt the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on this date in 1776, fewer than 2,500 Jews lived in the American colonies, but their role in the Revolution was not inconsequential. Aaron Solomon of Gloucester, MA fought at Bunker Hill early in the war. Abraham Levy and Phillip Russell stood the watch at Valley Forge. Frances Salvador, the first elected Jewish public official (to the Continental Congress in 1774), lost his life helping to defend colonists in Georgia and South Carolina against attacks by the Cherokees, who were allied with the British. Haym Solomon and other Jewish financiers helped finance the Continental Army (see January 6th’s Jewdayo). Perhaps most significantly, large quantities of weapons were run past the British blockade from Dutch St. Eustatius, a tiny Caribbean island where Jewish merchants were a major presence. British Admiral George Rodney captured the island in 1781 and was busy burning its homes and synagogue while the British army under Lord Cornwallis was being besieged to the point of surrender at Yorktown.
“For happily the Government of the United States ... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” —George Washington, 1790, letter to the Touro Synagogue

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.