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George Washington's IOU to the Jews

It is said to have been the wish of George Washington that the Jews of the United States should be recognized for the invaluable monetary support they gave him during the decisive battle of Yorktown. Congress honored his wishes by way of the Great Seal of the United States. To better explain the circumstances surrounding this honor, we need to start with a great if not somewhat forgotten Jewish patriot. His name is Haym Solomon.

He was a Polish born Jewish businessman who immigrated to New York City in 1775. There he served as a financial broker for merchants engaged in overseas trade. He also served as a political broker who, along with English born Robert Morris, was a prime financier of the Colonial Army during the American Revolutionary War. He helped convert French loans into cash by selling bills of exchange under the direction of Morris who served as the Superintendent of Finance. He was a member of the New York branch of the Sons of Liberty. In 1776, he was arrested by the British as a spy and sentenced to 18 months as an interpreter for German solders hired to fight for the British. In 1778 he was arrested for espionage and sentenced to death. He escaped  from prison and fled to Philadelphia. There he went back to work as a successful broker. From 1781-1784 he held fundraising activities that raised approximately 16 million dollars (in 2022 dollars value) to help finance General Washington's war efforts.

Battle of Yorktown

In August of 1781, the Continental Army had surrounded the British army under the command of Cornwallis in Yorktown Virginia. However, Washington did not have the funds for one final attack that would cause Cornwallis to surrender. He also did not have the money to buy food and clothing for his troops who were now close to mutiny. Washington sent word to Morris that he needed $20,000 immediately but Morris replied that there was none available in the treasury. Washington then famously said, “Send for Haym Solomon”. Haym immediately raised the money through the sale of bills of exchange. With these funds, Washington attacked Cornwallis and won the final battle of the Revolution.

George Washington met with Haym and asked him what he might want as a personal reward for his undaunting service to the success of the Continental Army. Haym said that while he wanted nothing for himself, he would like for the small Jewish community in colonial America to be recognized for contributing to the financial support needed for the war campaign. Washington would no doubt have had discussions with his administration as to what the country could do to symbolically preserve the legacy of the Jewish support that America received in its time of need.

Great Seal of the United States of America

In 1776, Congress commissioned the creation of the “Great Seal of the United States”. The committee that worked on this project include Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all very close friends of Washington. We know from existing drafts that Franklin and Jefferson wanted to incorporate Judeo-Christian biblical motifs into the Seal design. These same types of motifs were also reflected in the symbols used by the Masonic fraternity of which all these men, including Washington and Haym, were members. In fact, Haym received his Master Mason degree in 1784 the year before his death. Every member of the Continental Congress knew who Haym was and the heroic contributions made by him. And, Haym had personal relationships with these men and was known to have loaned large amounts of money to Jefferson and George Mason with no interest charges.

After four years and with the input and supervision of these men and other committee members, Charles Thomson executed the final Seal draft in 1780. The Seal was officially adopted by Congress in 1782. It was immediately used to authenticate certain documents issued by the federal government of the United States. In 1935, the front and back of the Seal was printed on both sides of the one dollar bill. And the bill featured the image of none other than George Washington. The Great Seal can also be found on passports, military insignia, embassy placards and various flags. The Seal of the President of the United States is directly based on the Great Seal.

Seal of the President of the United States

So, here is the way that the designers of the Great Seal worked in an acknowledgment to the Jews of the United States. There are two great symbols that represent Israel. The first is the Star of David which represents it’s government. The second is the menorah which represents it’s religion. First, the Seal committee used 13 stars to represent the 13 original colonies. However, they fit them discretely inside the Star of David which is also known by the Jews as the Seal of Solomon. Now how cleaver was that! The Star of David is located directly above the head of the eagle with the power of God radiating out from it. Next, they took the image of the eagle and designed its tail feathers in such a way that when you turn the image upside down, the tail feathers become a Menorah with its seven white burning candles sticks.

While most Americans do not know of Haym Solomon, the Federal government had not forgotten him. The Continental Congress remembered the Jews of America by including them in the Great Seal. Federal and state governments also made contribution to keep his legacy alive. In 1893 Congress ordered a gold medal struck and circulated in honor of his service to his country. In 1975 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring him. The stamp read, “Haym Salomon a Financial Hero who raise most of the money needed to finance the American Revolution…”. In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Haym Salomon was named in his honor.

In 1939 Warner Brother produced a movie called Sons of Liberty featuring Claude Rains who portrayed Haym. In 1941, the city of Chicago erected a monument that depicts George Washington grasping hands with  Haym and Robert Morris. In 1946 the city of Los Angeles erected a statue of Haym in a local park as did several other localities in the New York area.

Unfortunately, Haym is an example of the old adage, no good deed goes unpunished. He made a personal loan to the federal government of $600,000 which was never repaid. His family tried repeatedly for generations to recoup these assets but were unsuccessful. He had also made loans to other governments and private lenders who were unable to repay their loans due to the economic effects of the war. Thus, on January 6, 1785 at the age of 44, he died in poverty leaving his family penniless. He is buried in the Mikveh Israel Cemetery located in the City of Philadelphia. His grave stone simply reads, “An American Patriot".

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