You know Hancock and Washington, Franklin and Jefferson. You may know Greene and Knox, Henry and Hale. And we know you know Hamiltonit’s pretty hard to get away from it these days!
However, it is highly unlikely that you know the name Haim Solomon. This is unfortunate. Because he was the man who arranged the money to keep the Continental Army alive in the darkest of times and found the money to continue the revolution when many were ready to throw in the towel. He also helped found the country’s first “national” bank, the Bank of North America. Solomon’s contributions to the war and the founding of the nation are rarely discussed, but they were very important.
Chaim Solomon was born in 1740 into a Polish Secession Jewish family. He traveled extensively through the banking and financial centers of Western Europe, learned a thing or two, and moved on. Penniless, he arrives in New York City via England while the colony is in the midst of a revolution. His money expertise and ability to converse in several European languages make him invaluable to foreign traders and a financial broker in New York’s bustling merchant community.
Solomon also forms an important friendship with Scottish lunatic Alexander MacDougall. McDougall was a businessman and once a “politician,” in his active disdain for class systems, hereditary titles, and anything else that reminded him of British rule in the colonies in his homeland. was known. McDougall was a trader and privateer (pirate) during the French and Indian War, and street leader of the Sons of Liberty in New York. He liked to surround himself with upstart men like Solomon, and especially liked to smash his head and lash out at the king.
In the summer of 1776, the Sons of Liberty attempted to burn New York City to the ground, denying the British troops stationed in New York shelter. This was a whim of General Washington, and his sons nearly destroyed his quarter of the existing building before being rounded up. Solomon was captured by the British in September of that year and held in custody for 18 months, some of which were confined to a boat and tortured as a spy. He succeeded in convincing the prisoners that he would be more useful as a translator, and was hired as a liaison between British officers and their Hessian mercenary allies.
Solomon uses this role to gain access to enemy military installations and undermine German support for Britain.he is sabotaging from inside, persuaded the Hessians to stop fighting for the King of England. These rebellious activities are discovered and Solomon is arrested again. This time, he took out the gold coins sewn into his clothes and bribed the guards to let him go. He flees to Philadelphia and arranges for his wife and his son to meet there. Solomon arrives penniless for the second time in a new American city and is forced to start over.
By this time the tide had turned and the Continental Army was beginning to rack up victories. However, the Army is still severely underfunded. General Washington has no ready cash and is hampered by his financial inflexibility. He frequently asks the Continental Congress to send money, but rarely does it. With this breach, Haim Solomon is poised to play the role that suits him best as an intermediary in emerging America.
Now that the commercial finance business has resumed, Solomon begins to channel the personal profits from the business directly into the revolution. Records from the time show that he made interest-free “loans” to James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and even Don Francesco Rendon, the secret ambassador to the Spanish court, many of which were repaid. did not
according to Jewish American Historic Preservation Society:
Three years after arriving in Philadelphia in 1781, Salomon’s prodigious ability and multilingual ability placed him near the economic center of the American Revolution. He became the agent of the French consul and payroll to the newly allied French forces in North America. The French, Dutch (via Sint Eustatius), and Spanish governments used Salomon to broker loans to help finance the American Revolutionary War.
Huge loans through his brokerage business were turned into much-needed specie for the Revolutionary War government and military. Paper money had little hard gold or silver value. Salomon’s fees for intermediary services to the beleaguered US government were very small, if any. Curiously, partly because he was Jewish, French, Dutch, Spaniards and Americans alike viewed Jews in an anti-Semitic stereotypical role. . They saw the Jew as Shylock from Shakespeare’s imagery. They viewed the Jews as medieval moneylenders. Ironically, their prejudices have watered Salomon’s path to success.
Salomon’s brokerage business grew so large that he became the largest depositor of a North American bank led by Robert Morris.
Solomon arranged some of the most important financing for the war effort and worked with Robert Morris, the revolution’s chief banker, to be central to the colonials’ final victory. When George Washington sees a once-in-a-lifetime chance to trap and destroy Lord Cornwallis in Yorktown, money is in short supply, and Solomon is coming. Washington cannot move his troops into siege positions to take advantage of Cornwallis’ historical error because he must feed his marching troops. Robert Morris again turns to his broker, Solomon, who comes up with an important $20,000 when the Treasury itself is empty. Within a day, the French and American forces had gathered the necessary funds and headed for Yorktown to lay siege to the city. Cornwallis’ supply lines were cut off and he soon gave up.
The war is over and the colonies are victorious. The painting below, by John Trumbull, depicts the surrender of Lord Cornwallis after the Siege of Yorktown.
In the 1780s, the United States was just beginning to take off as a new nation, but was once again short on funds, borrowing from nearly every prominent merchant in Europe and the colonies. Morris and his Founding Fathers turn to brokers again. “I sent for Salomon, hoping he would try every conceivable way to raise money, and then I went looking for the money myself… Salomon, the broker, came and found the money and the means. I urged him to do whatever it takes to get it.”
Legend has it that in the aftermath of the war, George Washington asked Haim Solomon what he wanted in return for his remarkable service to the nation. Solomon is said to have said that he wanted Jews to be recognized in some way, not for himself. Washington is said to have arranged the 13 stars representing the colonies on the Great Seal of the United States in the shape of the Star of David.
If you look at the back of a one dollar bill, it looks like this:
I’ve been told by urban legend debunkers that this story about the planet isn’t true, but a myth due to the Jewish desire to be included in the early history of the nation’s founding. They are probably right. It’s too fantastical to be true, but it would be great if it were true.
Chaim Solomon once again tries to rebuild his fortune when it becomes apparent that the loans he made to early America will not be repaid for some time. Early in 1785 he died at the age of 44 from tuberculosis. His estate was worth $350,000 at the time of his death, but compared to the principal plus an estimated $600,000 plus interest owed to him, the sum was a pittance and his family Money that can never be used up. I’m watching
Unlike most of the American Revolutionary War heroes we learn about in grade school, Solomon was not originally from the British or American colonies. He is not a politician, a military man, or a wealthy landowner-turned-aristocrat founding father. But without his contributions and ability to mediate, he could not have outfitted, armed, and fed Washington’s army. He may not have been able to surrender at Yorktown, which ended the war, and he may not have been able to finance the nation’s founding in the early days.
Chaim Solomon was the country’s financier at a time when capital was scarce, credit was tight, and everything depended on the flow of money to keep Britain on the run. He was the broker who saved America.
This post was originally posted on July 4, 2013.