Last night we continued our Hanukkah celebration with a big dinner with the kids (as a mixed Jewish/Catholic couple we celebrate both sets of holidays). I thought that this was a good time to honor one of the least known early American heroes, Francis Salvador who holds the distinction of being the first Jewish person elected in the United States and the first Jewish person to die for American freedom. We previously discussed the story of Commodore Uriah Levy, another figure often overlooked in early historical accounts. Our history is rich with such early Jewish figures at the founding and rise of the American Republic. As with this picture of Navy personnel celebrating Hanukkah, this nation continues to rely on patriotic Jewish Americans who answer the call of duty.
Salvador was a Sephardic Jew and his interesting backstory is also little discussed in history books. His uncle was the only Jewish director of the British East India company and he inherited wealth. In London, there was a large Sephardic population and, in 1733, the London Sephardic community sent 42 Jews to Savannah, Georgia with the first settlers in the South. So, from the very founding of the colonies, we had a Jewish population.
Notably, despite anti-Semitic laws barring Jews from voting or holding office, he was elected as a delegate to South Carolina’s Provincial Congress. Salvador was an early supporter of American independence. In 1776, the British caused an Indian upraising to attack settlers along the South Carolina frontier. Salvador ran to the aide of his neighbors and fought many miles from his home in various battles. When two loyalists were captured, they lied about the enemy location and led Major Andrew Williamson and the 330 militia members (including Salvador) into an ambush along the Keowee River. Salvador was hit and fell into the bushes. His comrades tried to recover him but it was dark and by the time they found him, he had been scalped by a Cherokee fighter. Here is the account from Colonel William Thomson in a letter to William Henry Drayton on August 4, 1776:
Here, Mr. Salvador received three wounds; and, fell by my side. . . . I desired [Lieutenant Farar], to take care of Mr. Salvador; but, before he could find him in the dark, the enemy unfortunately got his scalp: which, was the only one taken. . . . He died, about half after two o’clock in the morning: forty-five minutes after he received the wounds, sensible to the last. When I came up to him, after dislodging the enemy, and speaking to him, he asked, whether I had beat the enemy? I told him yes. He said he was glad of it, and shook me by the hand – and bade me farewell – and said, he would die in a few minutes.
Salvador’s bravery was recognized at the time and his death was the first of many of Jewish Americans fighting for this country.
His history however would not be complete without noting that Salvador was also a slave owner. He owned a plantation of some 7,000 acres in Ninety Six District, Carolina Colony and bought slaves to work the land. It is a shameful element that we find in many of our Revolutionary figures. Here was a man who faced anti-Semitic laws barring him from even voting or holding office. He was fighting for the independence of a new nation based on the natural rights of all humanity. Yet, like many in his generation, he fought for independence while enslaving individuals to work on his land. It is a horrible contradiction on every level: social, political and religious. It is part of our conflicted legacy in dealing with the scourge of slavery. We cannot recognize his sacrifice without condemning his status has as a slave owner. At best, we can put this life into the historical context of the American Revolution.
21 thoughts on “Remembering Francis Salvador, The Jewish Person To Be Elected And To Give His Life For the United States”
This is the Democratic Party.
well maybe they heard about how lincoln wanted to repatriate to liberia. which was a swell idea. a democrat stopped that plan from going ahead, which would have saved us all a lot of grief
Thank you for this, Professor Turley – found it very interesting right up until the last paragraph which was rather senseless. Americans didn’t invent slavery. They abolished it. While you’re at it, you may as well also blame him for the lack of suffrage for women, the ineffectiveness of firearms and the poor hygiene relative to today’s standards.
Don’t fall for the marxist racism ploy. Don’t be a sap.
Don’t forget Dr Solomon, Jew, Dentist and Eagle Scout who died defending wounded soldiers on Saipan
Benjamin Lewis Salomon (September 1, 1914 – July 7, 1944) was a United States Army dentist during World War II, assigned as a front-line surgeon. When the Japanese started overrunning his hospital, he stood a rear-guard action in which he had no hope of personal survival, allowing the safe evacuation of the wounded, killing as many as 98 enemy troops before being killed himself during the Battle of Saipan. In 2002, Salomon posthumously received the Medal of Honor. He is one of only three dental officers to have received the medal, the others being Alexander Gordon Lyle and Weedon Osborne.
@Vince Wahler – thank you for telling me about Dr. Salomon, this is the first I’ve read about him – what a courageous American warrior!
Prof Turley, Mr. Salvador could not have died for “The United States” because that entity did not exist until more than 10 years after he died.
Excellent post, Professor Turley!
Well said and very true.
“It is a horrible contradiction on every level: social, political and religious. It is part of our conflicted legacy in dealing with the scourge of slavery. We cannot recognize his sacrifice without condemning his status has as a slave owner. At best, we can put this life into the historical context of the American Revolution.”
You’re properly judged by the standards of your times not by people who know little to nothing of the circumstances. They’re blind men judging an oil portrait. Oh you get the texture and the frame right but none of the depth, context, circumstances and insight of actually being present in the moment. People forget that witnesses have the best evidence, not observers. Sanctimony is a sin and an irony considering we’re all flawed people.
It baffles me why people feel it necessary to dredge up and condemn those that those that practiced what was the legal norm for millennia while ignoring the social and moral evolution in Europe and early US. Brazil that received the majority of African slaves did not Abolish slavery until 1888. Which is decades latter than than Europe and the US. There is no advantage to demonizing the dead on any practice that has ceased to exist centuries ago. . What is even worse is applying it to all of any race or people that are living today. .
Ain’t no tribe I’d rather be!
Take me back to Cher O Keeeee!
Back to Cherokee!
The Brits encouraged the Cherokees to attack the settlers
And the first of my ancestors in this country were Iroquois. We are all brothers no matter the tribe or country of origin. In 1888 the Acoma Pueblo requested the US recognize the Jew Solomon Bibo as their leader.
Nobody is monochromatic in their morals.
We are all mixtures of good and bad; we just work to be more good than bad.
And we are judged on a shifting, ever evolving scale.
More, we need to judge others less and strive more ourselves. Let them worry about their own behavior.
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