Haym Salomon was a Polish-born American Jewish businessman and political financial broker who immigrated to New York City from Poland during the period of the American Revolution. He helped convert the French loans into ready cash by selling bills of exchange for Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance.
Haym Salomon (anglicized from Chaim Salomon) was born in Leszno (Lissa), Poland in 1740 to a Sephardic Jewish family descended from Spanish and Portuguese Jews who migrated to the Jewish communities of Poland as a result of the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 and remained there for many generations.
Although most Jews in Central and Eastern Europe spoke Yiddish (Judeo-German), some have claimed that because Salomon left Poland while still young, he could not read and write Yiddish. In his youth, he studied Hebrew. During his travels in western Europe, he acquired a knowledge of finance and fluency in several other languages, such as German. He returned to Poland in 1770 but left for England two years later in the wake of the Polish partition. In 1775, he immigrated to New York City, where he established himself as a financial broker for merchants engaged in overseas trade.
His linguistic talents — he was proficient in German, French, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Polish, and English — as well as his financial expertise, which included friendships with key European merchants, helped him make his way in the New World. In the summer of 1776 Salomon was working as a sutler with the American forces in the area of Lake George, New York. Later that summer, after the British occupied New York City, Salomon was imprisoned as a suspected spy. His ability with languages brought him to the attention of a Russian general, who appointed him to a commissary post primarily working with the Hessian officers serving with the English troops. In 1777 Salomon — then thirty-seven — married Rachel Franks, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Moses Franks, a well-known figure in early American Jewish history.
Working with the Hessians, he induced a number of them to leave the British forces and join the colonial army. He also aided French and American prisoners to escape, assisting them with his own personal funds. When Salomon’s activities became known to the British, he decided that he must escape. In 1778 he fled from New York to Philadelphia, leaving behind his wife and month-old child as well as his considerable financial resources which were confiscated by the British.
Eventually his wife and child were able to join him in Philadelphia, where he started over as a commission merchant and bill broker. The French forces in the American states chose him to sell their bills of exchange. In 1781 Robert Morris became the superintendent of finance, with the responsibility of handling the chaotic finances of the young nation. Upon recommendation from several sources, Morris chose Haym Salomon as his chief agent to sell the bills that were coming in from France, Holland, Spain, and other countries. Although Salomon was one of several bill brokers working for Morris, he was so highly thought of that Morris permitted Salomon to advertise himself as “Broker to the Office of Finance.” In addition to assisting the American government, Salomon also loaned money to the delegates attending the Continental Congress.
He was a noted benefactor and contributed a quarter of the costs of building Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel synagogue. However, Salomon died penniless, and his bank account showed canceled checks for over $500,000 paid to the government treasury. His descendants petitioned Congress for a return of the money, which they maintained had helped to finance the independence of the republic. However, an examination showed that the money represented sales of securities for the U.S. government and not personal loans.
The financier died suddenly and in poverty on January 8, 1785, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after contracting tuberculosis in prison. Due to the failure of governments and private lenders to repay the debt incurred by the war, his family was left penniless at his death at age 44. The hundreds of thousands of dollars of Continental debt Salomon bought with his own fortune were worth only about 10 cents on the dollar when he died.
His obituary in the Independent Gazetteer read, "Thursday, last, expired, after a lingering illness, Mr. Haym Salomon, an eminent broker of this city, was a native of Poland, and of the Hebrew nation. He was remarkable for his skill and integrity in his profession, and for his generous and humane deportment. His remains were yesterday deposited in the burial ground of the synagogue of this city."
A statue of Haym Salomon with George Washington stands in the center of Chicago, while his portrait appeared on a U.S. stamp issued during the bicentennial celebrations of the Revolution, the only Jew so honored for his Revolutionary War activities.
Congregation Mikveh Israel
“One of delegates attending the Continental Congress, James Madison, later president of the United States, wrote of Salomon, “The kindness of our little friend on Front Street, near the coffee-house, is a fund which will preserve me from extremities, but I never resort to it without great mortification as he obstinately rejects all recompense.””
In 1777 Salomon — then thirty-seven — married Rachel Franks, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Moses Franks, a well-known figure in early American Jewish history.