Had Henry Wadsworth Longfellow been Jewish he might have written, “Listen, my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Francis Salvador.” Longfellow, of course, was not Jewish, nor does the name, “Francis Salvador,” fit the rhyming scheme or meter of his famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.” But, Salvador, a Jew from South Carolina, would certainly have been an apt subject for a Longfellow poem.
Born in England into a wealthy Sephardic family, Salvador came to South Carolina after his family’s wealth declined with the failure of the British East India Company. (His great grandfather was its first Jewish director.) In Charleston, Salvador was attracted to and quickly became involved in the patriot cause. Within a year, at the age of 27, Salvador was elected to the General Assembly of South Carolina, the first Jewish to hold that high an elective office in the English colonies. In 1774 he was also elected as a delegate to South Carolina’s revolutionary Provincial Congress, which framed a bill of rights and set forth the colonists’ grievances against the Royal Governor of South Carolina. He strongly pushed the Provincial Congress to vote for American independence.
Along with his political service, Salvador fought in the South Carolina Militia. It was there where he earned the nickname, “the Southern Paul Revere.” Urged on by the British, Cherokee Indians attacked colonial settlements along the frontier on July 1, 1776. Salvador jumped on his horse and rode 30 miles to sound the alarm. Later, he returned to the frontier to fight on the front lines. Sadly, on August 1 st he was shot and scalped. Francis Salvador thus became the first Jew to perish in the fight for American independence.
If you had never heard of Francis Salvador before you read this, let alone heard of his not so famous ride, do not feel bad. Most of us were never taught American Jewish history in any depth. Fortunately, there is an easy, fun way to vastly improve your knowledge. If you have not done so already, I urge you to take a day trip this summer to Philadelphia to the National Museum of American Jewish History. Watch future email blasts and the Sentry for information regarding both an adult and youth trip this fall to this museum.
In the meantime, I share Francis Salvador’s story with you on this July 4 th to remind us of the original meaning of this day and our special Jewish connection to it. Barbeques and the beach are a great American tradition. But, even greater is our tradition and commitment to the cause of liberty and equality of all people, whatever their faith, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. As Jews we should be proud of the role the small Jewish community of that time played in the American Revolution; most Jews in the colonies supported the revolution and we were instrumental to its success. And let us be grateful to those, Jews and non-Jews, who fought – and continue to fight – for our freedom to live as Jews without repression, discrimination or fear. God bless America.
Happy Fourth of July!
Rabbi Jordan Millstein