Historical Markers
Haym Salomon Historical Marker
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Haym Salomon

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
45 N. 5th St., Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
September 7, 1997

Behind the Marker

Historians are hard pressed to name more than a few Philadelphia merchants who actively supported the War for American Independence. The city's merchant community tended to adopt a "logic of moderation," preferring to leave political resistance to radical activists. Even those who signed the Declaration of Independence were more likely to be lawyers or land speculators than the commercially oriented members of the Second Continental Congress. Still others became Loyalists and left Pennsylvania for England.
<i>Statut de Kalisz</i>, Illustrated version of the Charter of privileges for Jews in Poland, in 1264, with text showing portraits of Kazimierz Pulaski and Haym Salomon, as well as a scene of Saint George slaying the dragon.
Illustration of Statut de Kalisz, by Arthur Szyk, 1928.

At the same time, the Revolutionary War would have been impossible to prosecute, much less win, if not for those patriotic merchants who raised and deployed capital, equipped armies and outfitted privateers, negotiated weapons contracts with foreign adventurers, and, during the Continental Army's darkest hour, subsidized the war effort out of their own pockets. markerRobert Morris is generally known as the "financier of the Revolution." But other merchants" personal wealth and efforts also were indispensable to the American cause, including Polish immigrant Haym Salomon.

Born in Lissa, Prussia-Poland in 1740, Salomon emigrated to New York sometime in the early 1770s. There, he found work as a merchant's clerk and learned enough to strike out on his own as a "sutler," or licensed retailer, to soldiers at Lake George, north of Albany. He later worked as a provisioner to ship captains passing through New York City. When the city was occupied by the British in the summer of 1776, Salomon was arrested as a spy, then released into the custody of a Hessian general who valued his linguistic and commercial skills. Arrested again in the summer of 1778 on allegations that he had encouraged Hessians to desert, the British confiscated his property and sentenced him to hang. But with the help of the Sons of Liberty, he escaped and fled penniless to Philadelphia, which had been recently recovered by the Continental side.

In Philadelphia, Salomon played a prominent role in the affairs of a growing Jewish community. He served as a member of the governing council of Mikveh Israel Synagogue, and participated in the nation's first rabbinic court of arbitration. He also participated in the successful battle to repeal the test oath, which had barred Jews and other non-Christians from holding public office in Pennsylvania until its revocation in the new state constitution of 1790. Using his familiarity with foreign languages and trade, Salomon became a broker of commercial bills, stocks, and loans, both public and private. In particular, he was able to turn loan instruments growing out of the recent treaties between France and the United States into hard currency in an economy that at times verged on hyperinflation. Either unable to afford an office or because he did not need one, Salomon advertised that he could always be found for business at the markerLondon Coffee House, at Front and Market Streets.

In 1781, Robert Morris, who had become the Superintendent of Finance to the Continental Congress, hired Salomon as an assistant and broker to work with French bills of exchange. Later that year, after the American victory at Yorktown brought the war to a successful conclusion, their efforts to keep the fledgling nation afloat financially became even more difficult. Inflation continued to grow and war weariness made many Americans less willing to make sacrifices for the public good. The Continental Army often went unpaid, and the Congress operated on the edge of bankruptcy during this period. Under these desperate circumstances, Salomon loaned about $600,000 in specie to the United States government.

After 1784, Salomon turned increasingly to private business. He facilitated real estate transactions and became actively involved with Morris and others trying to establish the Bank of North America. In his declining years, Salomon faced harsh criticism from commercial rivals in Philadelphia, who clearly resented his success in moving between public and private enterprise. Like other Jewish merchants, he was accused of profiteering by a fiercely anti-Semitic society, and protested that the charges were "cast so indiscriminately on the Jews of this city for the faults of a few." Salomon died suddenly at the age of forty in 1785, and was then buried in Mikveh Israel Cemetery.

Despite the financial setbacks he suffered near the end of his life, Haym Salomon's contributions to the patriot war effort placed him among the first ranks of revolutionaries who defended political and religious freedom in this country.
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