Though they numbered barely 2,500 souls, or less than one-tenth of one percent of the
population of the 13 colonies, American Jews' "influence loomed far larger," in the
words of Brandeis University's renowned historian Professor Jonathan D. Sarna,
highlighting their prominence in fields such as trade and commerce.
After the outbreak of hostilities, a small number of Jews chose to remain loyal to
King George III of England, but the overwhelming majority sided with the cause of
freedom and the American patriots. As Sarna notes, "They contributed what they
could to the national struggle, shed blood on the field of battle and, after the victory,
joined their countrymen in jubilant celebration."
Many have heard of the exploits of men such as Haym Salomon, a Polish-born New York
Jew who is widely considered to have been one of the leading financiers of General
George Washington's Continental Army. A member of the New York branch of the
Sons of Liberty, which struggled against the king's rule, Salomon was arrested twice for
his revolutionary activity, which ranged from assisting American prisoners to escape
British captivity to raising funds and lending large sums to help sustain the war effort.
In late summer of 1781, when Washington's forces had trapped British General
Charles Cornwallis and his army in Yorktown, Virginia, the Continental Congress'
coffers stood empty, imperiling the opportunity to bring the war to a close. After
Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris told Washington that no funds were available,
the latter issued a clear-cut instruction: "Send for Haym Salomon."
Salomon raised the requisite capital, which enabled the Americans to defeat Cornwallis at Yorktown in what would prove to be the penultimate battle of the war.
Other Jews, such as Mordechai Sheftall, who was appointed to serve as Deputy
Commissary General for the Continental Army, or Francis Salvador, the first Jew
elected to a state colonial assembly and the first to die on the battlefield, have also
attained legendary status.
But there are numerous unsung Jewish heroes of the American Revolution, men and
women who have not received the attention or accolades that they deserve.
Take, for example, 19-year old Reuben Etting of Baltimore, Maryland. After the battles
of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775, ignited the armed conflict,
Etting enlisted on the American side. He was captured by the British and when they discovered that he was Jewish, they gave him only pork to eat. As a Jew, Etting adamantly refused to do so, and instead subsisted on scraps of
food given to him by other prisoners. Weakened by abuse and maltreatment, he died
shortly after being released.
If that isn't heroism, what is? And then there is the bravery displayed by Esther Hays
of Bedford, New York, a young Jewish mother whose husband David was away serving
with the American forces when the British and their loyalist allies captured her town.
Lying in bed with her newborn infant at her side, Hays was confronted by the enemy,
who demanded that she reveal information about a group of patriots that were making
their way to an American camp nearby. Hays resolutely refused to divulge what she
knew, even when British loyalists set fire to her home and burned it to the ground.
Fortunately, Esther and her child succeeded in escaping into the nearby woods with
the help of servants, and managed to survive.
Another little-known story is that of Captain Richard Lushington's unit of American
volunteers which came to be known as the "Jew Company" because so many of its
members were Jews who hailed from King Street in Charleston, South Carolina.
It was, according to historian Professor Samuel Rezneck, "the only instance of a group
mobilization of Jews in one city and into one company" during the Revolution, and
the unit included a cantor, a rabbi's brother and a man who would later found a synagogue.
The "Jew Company" fought bravely at the Battle of Beaufort in South Carolina on
February 3, 1779, inflicting heavy casualties on the British. At least one Jew in the
unit was killed and another wounded during the clash.
Subsequently, in the fall of 1779, the "Jew Company" took part in the failed attempt
led by General Benjamin Lincoln to retake Savannah, Georgia, from the British, as
well as the unsuccessful effort to defend Charleston in early 1780.
Does all of this really matter? I believe it most certainly does.
The record shows that from the very start, Jews made lasting and important contributions
to the birth, growth and development of the nascent republic that came to be known as
the United States of America. And they did so in a manner far out of proportion
to their numbers.
In 1939, my late grandmother, Dr. Miriam Freund- Rosenthal, who later served as
national president of Hadassah, published her doctoral dissertation in the form of a book
entitled, Jewish Merchants in Colonial America.
In the foreword, she wrote that, "the America of today rests on the solid foundations
of the colonial period," and argued that "it is possible and important to show by actual
research and record that the Jews have been an integral part of the United States
since its very beginnings."
Indeed, Jews helped to make America's freedom a reality.That is something that should serve as a source of pride to us all as well as a powerful remind
er, and rejoinder, to those who would dare to suggest otherwise.
Shabbat Shalom and see you in Shul,
dedicated and hardworking people have signed up to help with
the Habitat for Humanity home building project on
Sunday, August 25, in the morning.
If you would like to join the crew,
please call the synagogue office 910.762.1117
email Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our task will be to provide lunch
for all the workers.
We hope you will join us!
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** History of Wilmington and Bellamy Mansion
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