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Chapters in American Jewish History are provided by the American Jewish Historical Society, collecting, preserving, fostering scholarship and providing access to the continuity of Jewish life in America for more than 350 years (and counting). Visit www.ajhs.org.
In the pantheon of American Jewish heroes, Haym Salomon (1740-1785) has attained legendary status. His life was brief and tumultuous, but his impact on the American imagination was great. 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 graces East Wacker Drive in Chicago, and Beverly Hills, California, is home to an organization called the American Jewish Patriots and Friends of Haym Salomon.
However, Salomon’s life was not all triumph. A successful financier in the early 1780s, he died in 1785 leaving a wife and four young children with debts larger than his estate. When his son petitioned Congress to recover money he claimed his father was owed by the government, various committees refused to recognize the family’s claims. In 1936, Congress did vote to erect a monument to Salomon in the District of Columbia, but funds for the actual construction were never appropriated.
Born in Lissa, Poland, in 1740, Salomon spent several years moving around Western Europe and England, developing fluency in several languages that served him well for the remainder of his life. Reaching New York City in 1772, he swiftly established himself as a successful merchant and dealer in foreign securities. Striking up an acquaintance with Alexander MacDougall, leader of the New York Sons of Liberty, Salomon became active in the patriot cause. When war broke out in 1776, Salomon got a contract to supply American troops in central New York. In 1777, he married Rachel Franks, whose brother Isaac was a lieutenant colonel on George Washington’s staff. Their ketubah resides at the American Jewish Historical Society.
(Image to the left: Ketubah (marriage contract) of Haym Salomon and Rachel Franks. Courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society.)
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