Financing of the American Revolutionary War
Once resettled, Salomon resumed his activities as a broker. He became the agent to the French consul as well as the paymaster for the French forces in North America. In 1781, he began working extensively with Robert Morris, the newly appointed Superintendent for Finance for the Thirteen Colonies.
From the period of 1781–84, records show Salomon’s fundraising and personal lending helped provide over $650,000 (approximately $16,870,212.74 in 2013 dollars ) in financing to George Washington in his war effort. His most meaningful financial contribution, however, came immediately prior to the final revolutionary war battle at Yorktown.
In August 1781, the Continental Army had trapped Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis in the Virginian coastal town of Yorktown. George Washington and the main army and Count de Rochambeau with his French army decided to march from the Hudson Highlands to Yorktown and deliver the final blow. But Washington’s war chest was completely empty, as was that of Congress. Without food, uniforms and supplies, Washington’s troops were close to mutiny. Washington determined that he needed at least $20,000 to finance the campaign. When Morris told him there were no funds and no credit available, Washington gave him a simple but eloquent order: “Send for Haym Salomon”. Salomon raised $20,000, through the sale of bills of exchange, and Washington conducted the Yorktown campaign, which proved to be the final battle of the Revolution.
Salomon negotiated the sale of a majority of the war aid from France and the Dutch Republic, selling bills of exchange to American merchants. Salomon also personally supported various members of the Continental Congress during their stay in Philadelphia, including James Madison and James Wilson. He requested below-market interest rates, and he never asked for repayment.
Salomon is believed to have granted outright bequests to men that he thought were unsung heroes of the revolution who had become impoverished during the war. One example is Bodo Otto, a senior surgeon in the continental army. Otto joined the army at the age of 65 and served for the entire war. Among other things, he established the hospital at Valley Forge, where he often used his own funds to purchase medical supplies. Due to Salomon’s bequest, Otto was able to rebuild his medical practice in Reading, Pennsylvania at war’s end.
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the Revolutionary War but not the financial problems of the newly established nation. America’s war debt to France was never properly repaid, which was part of the cascade of events leading to the French Revolution.
The financier died suddenly and in poverty on January 8, 1785, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after contracting tuberculosis in prison. Due to the failure of governments and private lenders to repay the debt incurred by the war, his family was left penniless at his death at age 44. The hundreds of thousands of dollars of Continental debt Solomon bought with his own fortune were worth only about 10 cents on the dollar at the time of his passing.
His obituary in the Independent Gazetteer read, “Thursday, last, expired, after a lingering illness, Mr. Haym Salomon, an eminent broker of this city, was a native of Poland, and of the Hebrew nation. He was remarkable for his skill and integrity in his profession, and for his generous and humane deportment. His remains were yesterday deposited in the burial ground of the synagogue of this city.”
Haym Salomon, financier of the American Revolution
|Born||April 7, 1740
|Died||January 6, 1785 (aged 44)
|Resting place||Mikveh Israel Cemetery, Philadelphia|
|Known for||Prime financier during the American Revolutionary War.|