Haym Salomon, Spy and Financier of the American Revolution

Haym Salomon

 National Archives at College Park / Public Domain

Born to a Sephardic Jewish family in Poland, Haym Salomon emigrated to New York during the American Revolution. His work in support of the American Revolution—first as a spy, and later brokering loans—helped the patriots win the war.

Fast Facts: Haym Salomon

  • Also Known As: Chaim Salomon
  • Known For: Former spy and financial broker who worked in support of the American Revolution.
  • Born: April 7, 1740 in Leszno, Poland
  • Died: January 6, 1785 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Early Years

Haym Salomon (born Chaim Salomon) was born on April 7, 1740 in Leszno, Poland. His family was part of a group of Sephardic Jews descended from Spanish and Portuguese immigrants. As a young man, Haym traveled all over Europe; like many Europeans, he spoke several languages.

In 1772, Salomon left Poland, following the country’s partitioning that essentially removed its status as a sovereign nation. He decided to try his luck in the British colonies, and he emigrated to New York City.

War and Espionage

By the time the American Revolution broke out, Salomon had already established himself as a businessman and financial broker in New York City. At some point in the 1770s, he became involved in the patriot movement and joined the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization that fought against British taxation policies. Salomon had a supply contract with the patriot army, and at some point in 1776, he was arrested in New York by the British for espionage.

Although it is not known for certain that Salomon was a spy, the British authorities seem to have thought so. However, they decided to spare him from the traditional death sentence for spies. Instead, they offered him a pardon in exchange for his linguistic services. The British officers needed translators to communicate with their Hessian soldiers, most of whom spoke no English at all. Salomon was fluent in German, so he served as an interpreter. This didn’t exactly work the way the British wanted it to, as Salomon used his translating as an opportunity to encourage as many as five hundred German soldiers to desert the British ranks. He also spent a lot of time helping patriot captives escape from British prisons.

He was arrested for espionage again in 1778, and sentenced to death once more. This time, there was no offer of pardon. Salomon managed to escape, fleeing to Philadelphia with his wife and children. Although he was virtually penniless when he arrived at the rebel capital, within a short amount of time he re-established himself as a merchant and financial broker.

Financing the Revolution

Once he had settled comfortably in Philadelphia and his brokerage business was up and running, Salomon was appointed to the role of paymaster general for French troops fighting on behalf of the colonists. He was also engaged in selling securities that supported Dutch and French loans to the Continental Congress. In addition, he advanced funds personally to members of the Continental Congress, offering financial services below market rates.

Over a three year period, Salomon’s financial contributions to George Washington and the war effort totaled well over $650,000, which translates to upwards of $18M in today’s currency. Much of this money was funneled into Washington’s accounts in the latter part of 1781.

In August of 1781, British general Charles Cornwallis and his troops were penned in near Yorktown. Washington’s army had Cornwallis surrounded, but because Congress was essentially out of money, the continental troops hadn’t been paid in some time. They were also low on rations and crucial uniform components. In fact, Washington’s soldiers were close to staging a coup, and many were considering desertion as a better option than staying in Yorktown. According to legend, Washington wrote to Morris, and asked him to send Haym Salomon.

Statue of Robert Morris, George Washington and Haym Salomon rests on Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Bruce Leighty / Getty Images

Salomon managed to secure the $20,000 in finances that Washington needed to keep his men fighting, and ultimately, the British were defeated at Yorktown, in what would be the final major battle of the American Revolution.

After the war ended, Salomon brokered numerous loans between other nations and the newly formed United States government.

Final Years

Sadly, Haym Salomon's financial efforts during the war led to his downfall. He had loaned out hundreds of thousands of dollars during the Revolution, and because of the unstable economy in the colonies, most private borrowers (and even government entities) were unable to repay their loans. In 1784, his family was nearly penniless.

Salomon died on January 8, 1785 at the age of 44 from complications from tuberculosis, which he had contracted while in prison. He was buried at his synagogue, Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia.

In the 1800s, his descendants unsuccessfully petitioned Congress for compensation. However, in 1893, Congress decreed that a gold medal be struck in Salomon's honor. In 1941, the City of Chicago erected a statue featuring George Washington flanked by Morris and Salomon.

Sources

  • Blythe, Bob. “The American Revolution: Haym Salomon.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/revwar/about_the_revolution/haym_salomom.html.
  • Feldberg, Michael. “Haym Salomon: Revolutionary Broker.” My Jewish Learning, My Jewish Learning, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/haym-salomon-revolutionary-broker/.
  • Percoco, James. “Haym Salomon.” American Battlefield Trust, 7 Aug. 2018, www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/haym-salomon.
  • Terry, Erica. “Haym Solomon: The Man Behind the Myth of the Dollar's Star of David.” Jspace News, 12 Dec. 2016, jspacenews.com/haym-solomon-man-behind-myth-dollars-star-david/.