To this day Haym Salomon remains one of the most forgotten members of the founding generation. Yet the Revolution may have failed without the financial support and mind of this Polish-born Jew. Still he remains, sadly, but a footnote in the founding of the United States.
When Salomon arrived in America in 1775 he immediately embraced the Patriot cause. Shortly after he arrived in New York City, he joined that city’s branch of the Sons of Liberty. Not long thereafter he established a brokerage house for international trade. For much of the war he worked alongside Robert Morris to help finance the Patriot cause.
In 1776, he was arrested by the British and accused of being an American spy. After eighteen months of incarceration, where he served as a translator for German mercenaries, he was pardoned. While imprisoned he worked to convince Hessians to adopt the American cause and encouraged British soldiers to desert. Arrested by the British again in 1778, Salomon, this time was sentenced to execution. Managing to escape his captors he made his way to Philadelphia, bringing his family with him. Finding a firm footing in the American capital, Salomon once more entered the world of finance, starting a new brokerage house. Fluent in French, Salomon became the logical choice to serve as the American agent to the French counsel. Once France officially entered the war, he became the American paymaster for the French that served in the United States. His work with Morris began in earnest in 1781 when Morris was appointed Superintendent of Finance for the United States. Between 1781-1784 he personally loaned to the American cause $650,000 helping the nation to some sense of financial stability.
With the Yorktown Campaign in full swing, as the joint American-French Army moved south from New York to capture British General Lord Cornwallis’ army, Salomon made his most significant contribution to the American cause. The Continental Troops had yet to be paid. Washington had no money and neither did Congress. Rumbles of mutiny spread in the American ranks. Washington estimated that he needed $20,000 to conduct operations, feed, provision, and clothe his army. Robert Morris wrote Washington that there was no money no be had. As a rejoinder, Washington demanded that Morris, “Send for Haym Salomon.” Salomon once again put to work his exceptional financial skills securing the necessary loans for the cash that Washington needed. Thus, Washington and his French allies were able to defeat the British at Yorktown, Virginia and bring an end to eight years of fighting.
Sadly, Salomon died four years later, at the age of 44, a pauper in debtor’s prison. The government which he had helped to shore up its finances never could repay the debts it owed to him.