Money Man of the American Revolution was Haym Solomon
Fighting a war with weapons and tactics is one matter; financing a war is a different business. Not only does an army travel on its stomach, but it also marches on shoe leather. Kings and dictators confiscate what their armies require. Lincoln used inflation and high-interest Yankee bonds to bankroll Hooker, Burnsides, Meade, and Grant. When Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania, they paid for what they requisitioned with worthless Confederate dollars.
Haym Solomon, a Jewish financier, was one of the unsung heroes of the American Revolution.
No American commander had a worse time financially than George Washington, and no American congress has ever dithered and dallied as did the Continental Congress when the topic of war funding was broached. As Washington waged a war of attrition against the well-funded British military, he had to fret over how to make his payroll and how to pay his army's creditors.
In defense of Congress, Robert Morris was the official financer of the Revolutionary Army; however, it was New York immigrant Haym Solomon, a Polish Jew, who produced the money miracles when General Washington was in dire straits.
Robert Morris was a native of Liverpool who came out to the colonies as a 13-year-old lad accompanying his tobacco merchant father. In time Morris became as shrewd a trader as any in Philadelphia and he caught the eye of newspaper "magnate-turned-revolutionary" Benjamin Franklin. Morris, Franklin, and George Washington were bound by the ideals of liberty and severance from British rule. Furthermore, the three men were members of the fraternal and secretive order of Free Masonry.
When George Washington won an unexpected victory over British forces at Princeton in January 1777, Parliament sanctioned more soldiers for British Generals Clinton and Cornwallis, but it also authorized covert financial shenanigans against the fledgling rebels--subterfuges such as counterfeiting colonial paper money and discrediting American envoys in Holland and France. Their plan was to cause Washington's army to mutiny from lack of pay and necessities.
Since Philadelphia was a city rife with Tory sentiment, the Continental Congress despaired of conducting any secret negotiations. A select committee of men known only within their own circle made the financial arrangements for the struggling American army. So perilous was the status of the army that often their existence was a day-to-day affair.
George Washington was almost as adept as a spymaster as he was at fighting the war of attrition. The great commander had a system for planting incorrect information on the status of his army to confuse his British pursuers. The Culper Ring in New York was one of many such disinformation ruses. Nathan Hale was a part of this ring, as was the mysterious Agent 355, believed to be a young woman who moved easily within the circle of British Major John Andre and other notables.
Because Robert Morris was constantly under surveillance, Washington resorted to someone of lower profile whom he could trust. One of Washington's youngest staff officers was Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Franks, a son of the senior partner of the import-export firm of Levy-Franks in Philadelphia. Isaac Franks was barely out of his teens, yet he was forage master for Washington's army that lay encamped about Long Island.
When Robert Morris found it nearly impossible to coerce financial contributions from the states for the war effort, Isaac Franks suggested that Washington contact his -- Franks' -- brother-in-law, the currency broker, Haym Solomon. In the hard war years that followed George Washington ordered his private couriers more than once to "Send for Haym Solomon."
Haym Solomon was a 36-year-old Polish Jew who'd immigrated to the colonies just one year prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1776. Before the year was out, Haym Solomon had established himself in the import-export trade along New York's waterfront and he'd become a part of the John Lamb Sons of Liberty circle in that city. Lamb was one of the most zealous anti-British men on the continent -- years earlier his father had been deported to the colonies from London as a common thief. However, John Lamb was the catalyst for revolution among the business elites of the colony's leading port. Lamb kept up an active correspondence with hard-core revolutionaries such as Samuel Adams, Aedanus Burke, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry "Highthorse Harry" Lee, and Charleston's Christopher Gadsden.
Solomon proved his worth as a spy for Washington as well as a finance man. On several occasions Solomon was captured by the British and he used his commanding knowledge of European languages to talk his way, or bribe his way out of prison. Reputedly, he persuaded over 500 Hessian soldiers to desert the British cause for the American side. There are so many legends circulating about Haym Solomon that it is difficult to discern the facts. He did have contact with the Dutch Jewish community on St. Eustatius in the Caribbean, and that settlement of traders was one of the main suppliers of French-made rifles and other war materiel to the patriots. When the British got too hot on Solomon's trail of colonial intrigue, he moved his operations to Philadelphia. Solomon was known to run a private bank and investment brokerage from the back room of Philadelphia's London Coffee House. Here he sold commercial paper, shares in trading ventures, and he made personal loans to the Declaration Signers from his accumulated fortune.
In 1781, George Washington received word that a large army under the command of the Count de Rochambeau would be able to coordinate one brief campaign with the patriot forces. That was when Washington determined to strike a desperate blow against Lord Cornwallis who was encamped close to the Chesapeake awaiting the British fleets of Admirals Graves and Rodney to evacuate his forces to New York.
Robert Morris and Haym Solomon went into overdrive to produce the finances to supply Washington and his allies in the costly venture of moving south toward Yorktown. Philadelphia had probably never seen such wheeling and dealing, and some fantastic schemes were devised to deceive the ever-present Tory spies that hung about the London Coffee House.
What's interesting to us in the Lowcountry is that Daniel deSaussure of Charleston was in 1781 a member of the financial cartel in Philadelphia that included Robert Morris and Haym Solomon. DeSaussure, a wealthy Carolina merchant, had studied in Switzerland, and so had Solomon. Some years later Daniel deSaussure became the president of the Charleston branch of the (1st) Bank of the United States located on the corner of Broad and Meeting Streets, now City Hall.
At one juncture in the 1781 Yorktown financing, Haym Solomon ran afoul of even the lax colonial codes of financial propriety and was implicated in a $50,000 securities fraud. It was a critical moment in the funding of the patriot forces, and, for a while, it looked as though Solomon would be imprisoned by his own people as a huckster. Robert Morris sprang to the rescue and somehow got the tables turned on Haym's accuser and had that man arrested instead. At that point, Solomon threw his own fortune into the army's fund plus he sold another $20,000 in securities -- enough to purchase the critical supplies for Washington's army to move 200 miles south.
Of course, Washington and Rochambeau trapped Cornwallis at Yorktown. One of the ironies for the British was the fact that British Admiral George B. Rodney was too late arriving on the scene. He took a detour to destroy the Jewish settlement at St. Eustatius that had been supplying the colonists with weapons. Rodney burned their settlement, destroyed their small synagogue, and separated families and dispersed the St. Eustatius Jews all over the Caribbean as retribution for their aiding the American rebels.
Regrettably, Haym Solomon died shortly after the Revolutionary War, probably of tuberculosis contracted while a prisoner of the British in New York. He died penniless, having donated everything that he owned to the patriot cause. Attempts to receive restitution from congress fell on deaf ears, partly because it was all that Congress could do to pay a token pension to the soldiers.
During the war there were antisemitic cries raised against Haym Solomon and some of the other Jewish patriots who assisted in the financing of the cause. Solomon's 1781 Philadelphia newspaper editorial "I am a Jew" became one of the most eloquent pleas for religious understanding ever printed. The words, "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," have been cited in numerous patriotic essays.
Some admirers claim that Haym Solomon helped pen a draft of the Constitution before he died. Others claim that he and Morris devised the dollar sign, a clever reduction of the two marble columns entwined in ivy that are found on the 18th century Spanish-milled silver dollar known as the real, or pieces of eight. Some conspiratorial theorists believe that Haym Solomon was part of the shadowy Illuminati group that sought the overthrow of kings and the subsequent establishment of a one-world-government.
No conspiracies have been pinned on the patriot Haym Solomon. Solomon is a true Son of Liberty, and in 1975 the U.S. Postal service issued a stamp in his honor.
(Dr. Thomas B. Horton is a history teacher at Porter-Gaud School. He lives in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant).