(1747 - 1776)
When we think of Jewish heroes of the American Revolution,
Haym Salomon, the "financier" of the patriot cause or Isaac
Franks, aide-de-camp to General George Washington, are the first names
that come to mind. Rarely do we hear of South Carolina's Francis Salvador,
the first identified Jew to be elected to an American colonial legislature,
the only Jew to serve in a revolutionary colonial congress and the first
Jew to die for the cause of American liberty.
Francis Salvador was born in London in 1747, the fourth
generation of Salvadors to live in England. His great grandfather Joseph,
a merchant, established himself as a leader of England's Sephardic community
and became the first Jewish director of the East India Company. When
George III ascended the British throne, Joseph Salvador arranged an
audience for the seven-man delegation that officially congratulated
the king on behalf of the Jewish community.
Even before Francis Salvador’s birth, his family
developed interests in America. Salvador's grandfather teamed with two
other leaders of the London Jewish community to raise funds to send
some of London's destitute Jews to the new British colony in Savannah,
Georgia. The Georgia trustees subsequently voted to ban Jewish immigration
to Georgia but not before grandfather Salvador and his two associates
had landed forty-two Jewish settlers in Savannah in July, 1733. When
the founder of the colony, James Oglethorpe, intervened on behalf of
the Jews, the trustees decided to let them stay. The Salvador family
then purchased personal land holdings in South Carolina.
As a young man, Francis Salvador was raised in luxury
in London. He was well educated by private tutors and traveled extensively.
At age twenty, he married his first cousin, Sarah, and took his place
in the family shipping firm. The devastating effects of a 1755 earthquake
in Lisbon, where the family had extensive interests, weakened the family
fortune. The failure of the East India Company completed its ruin. By
the early 1770's, virtually the only thing left of the Salvador family’s
immense wealth was the large plot of land they had purchased in the
South Carolina colony.
In 1773, in an attempt to rebuild the family fortune,
Francis Salvador moved to South Carolina. Intending to send for his
wife Sarah and their children when he had prepared a proper home for
them, Salvador arrived in Charleston in December and established himself
as a planter on a seven thousand acre tract he acquired from his uncle.
Salvador found himself drawn to the growing American movement against
British rule and unhesitatingly threw himself into the patriot cause.
Within a year of his arrival, at the age of 27, Salvador was elected
to the General Assembly of South Carolina. He became the first Jew to
hold that high an elective office in the English colonies. He would
hold the post until his sudden death.
In 1774, Francis Salvador was elected as a delegate
to South Carolina’s revolutionary Provincial Congress, which assembled
in Charleston in January 1775. The Provincial Congress framed a bill
of rights and prepared an address to the royal governor of South Carolina
setting forth the colonists' grievances against the British crown. Salvador
played an important role in the South Carolina Provincial Congress,
which appointed him to a commission to negotiate with Tories living
in the northern and western parts of the colony to secure their promise
not to actively aid the royal government.
When the second Provincial Congress assembled in November
1775, Salvador urged that body to instruct the South Carolina delegation
in Philadelphia to vote for American independence. Salvador played a
leading role in the Provincial Congress, chairing its ways and means
committee and serving on a select committee authorized to issue bills
of credit to pay the militia. Salvador was also part of a special commission
established to preserve the peace in the interior parts of South Carolina,
where the English Superintendent of Indian Affairs was busily negotiating
treaties with the Cherokees to induce the tribe to attack the colonists.
When the Cherokees attacked settlements along the frontier
on July 1, 1776, massacring and scalping colonial inhabitants, Salvador,
in an act reminiscent of Paul Revere, mounted his horse and galloped
nearly thirty miles to give the alarm. He then returned to join the
militia in the front lines, defending the settlements under siege. During
a Cherokee attack early in the morning of August first, Salvador was
shot. He fell into some bushes, where he was subsequently discovered
and scalped. Salvador died forty-five minutes later. Major Andrew Williamson,
the militia commander, reported of Salvador that, "When I came
up to him after dislodging the enemy and speaking to him, he asked whether
I had beaten 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."
His friend Henry Laurens reported that Salvador’s
death was "universally regretted," while William Henry Drayton,
later Chief Justice of South Carolina, noted that Salvador had "sacrificed
his life in the service of his adopted country." Dead at twenty-nine,
never again seeing his wife or children after leaving England, Salvador
was the first Jew to die waging the American Revolution. Ironically,
because he was fighting on the frontier, he probably did not receive
the news that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia had, as he urged,
adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Jewish Historical Society