The broker you should be thanking this 4th of July
When discussing the Revolutionary War, most history buffs would think of George Washington, Samuel Adams, or Benjamin Franklin. It sounds odd I know, but you should really thank Haym Salomon this holiday weekend in which we celebrate our independence.
The American Revolutionary War couldn’t have been won without Haym Salomon.
Just who was Haym Salomon?
The son of Jewish refugees from Portugal, Haym Salomon was born in Poland in 1740. Through his young adulthood he spent a great deal of time traveling Europe and studying finance. He became fluent in several languages as well, such as German.
With an extensive knowledge of financial markets and the ability to speak multiple languages, he immigrated to New York City in 1775. He became a financial broker and enjoyed great success financing trade between merchants overseas.
A Colonial sympathizer
Though Haym did business with many loyalists, he sympathized with the Colonials. When fighting broke out in 1772 he joined the “Sons of Liberty”. In 1776 he was arrested by the British as a spy.
Hyam was required to spend 18 months on a British boat as a translator between British soldiers and German soldiers who sided with them. During this time he helped prisoners escape and influenced many Germans to abandon the war.
Along with many Sons of Liberty members, he was arrested again in 1778 on more serious charges and sentenced to death. He’d expected this eventuality however, and had hidden in his clothes some gold coins. By bribing a guard he managed to escape and resettle in Philadelphia with his family. He quickly resumed his position as a financier.
Haym’s war efforts
Haym gained notoriety thanks to his success as a broker between nations. He was appointed as an agent to the French, Dutch, and Spanish, and worked closely with Robert Morris – the superintendent of finance for the Colonies. He did very well financially, and amassed a great deal of wealth.
With his newfound wealth he became very generous to the Colonial efforts. He made many loans to the government which went unrepaid. He also worked for Congress, handling financial transactions for little or no pay.
Haym raised massive amounts of money for George Washington’s war effort over the next several years. One estimate was over $650,000. In today’s dollars that’s easily over 16 million.
Perhaps the most impactful fundraising Haym did was in 1781 during the battle of Yorktown. The continental army had trapped Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis, and George Washington along with the French wanted to end the war. They needed $20,000 to march from the Hudson Highlands to Yorktown, but had no money to do it.
George Washington knew the right person for the job was Haym. He gave the order to send for him, and ultimately gave him the task of raising $20,000. Haym delivered, and the battle of Yorktown was the final battle of the American Revolution.
A legacy to be proud of
On March 25th, 1975 the USPS issued a commemorative stamp honoring Haym Salomon.
At age 44 Haym contracted tuberculosis and died owning $354,000 of Continental securities. Inflation had devalued those assets to $44,000. Hyam died with $45,000 in debt and therefore bankrupt. He gave his adult life and his financial estate to support the war effort.
In 1941 the City of Chicago built a statue of Haym Salomon, George Washington, and Robert Morris. Underneath Haym reads “Haym Salomon, Gentlemen, Scholar, Patriot. A banker whose only interest was the interest of his Country.”
If only the bankers and brokers of today cared so much for the greater good of our country!