Do you know Haym?
American history is filled with men and women who gave greater importance to their country than to their own personal safety and well-being. This concept of “service-above-self” is not unique to America, however, it seems to thrive when the ideals of freedom and liberty are at stake.
Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton are names we immediately recognize as Founders of this great nation. They were patriots who risk everything for an experiment. An experiment in self-governance. They were filled with the fire of revolution, yet every fire requires fuel and oxygen to survive. It could be said the spirit and actions of these men provided the fuel while the oxygen existed in the deeds of other men. Men of lesser notoriety but of equal importance. One such man was a Jewish immigrant named Haym Solomon. This is the story of Haym.
Haym was born to Portuguese Jewish parents in 1740. His early years were spent in Poland where he and his family were eventually forced to leave due to political unrest and extreme anti-Semitism. As a young adult he traveled extensively throughout Europe acquiring fluency in several languages and displaying a knack for finance. Both skills would serve him well in later life.
In 1772, Haym sailed for the American colonies and soon found himself amongst the rebellious revolutionaries. His close associations with many of the founders led him to joining the rancorous “Sons of Liberty”. This secretive, patriotic organization was held in contempt by the British as it was thought to be responsible for the Boston Tea Party, the torching of New York and other revolutionary mischief.
Haym’s membership in the “Sons” soon led to his arrest and imprisonment by the British as a spy. While in prison he quickly noticed a communication barrier between the British and their Hessian (German) allies. It seems many of the British couldn’t speak German and, in turn, the Hessians understood no English. Careful not to appear as aiding the enemy, Haym simply informed his British jailers that he was fluent in German. Before long he found himself as the unofficial translator.
Never one to miss an opportunity, Haym used his new role to persuade over 500 Hessians to switch allegiances and fight with the Americans. His close relation with a Hessian General eventually assisted him in escaping imprisonment. Unfortunately, he was recaptured and sentenced to death. The night before his hanging, he successfully encouraged the dereliction of his guard with the enticement of gold guineas he had hidden in his clothing.
After escaping a second time, Haym made his way to Philadelphia where he put his talents in finance to use for the revolution. He became one of America’s most successful brokers of Bills of Exchange which were the primary method of financing the Revolution. Robert Morris, Superintendent of Finance and member of the Continental Congress relied heavily on Haym to keep the country’s coffers filled so the war could be brought to a successful conclusion.
Perhaps the most impactful and honored actions of Haym’s involvement in the Revolution occurred near the war’s end. In September, 1781 General Washington had succeeded in besieging British General Cornwallis’ troops at Yorktown in Virginia. America was one victory away from freedom. As General Washington prepared his troops, he contacted Robert Morris for funds to purchase ammunition, supplies and pay for the troops. A dejected Morris informed Washington there was no money. The Army had no funds nor did the Continental Congress. The long, protracted war had drained the nation and many of its citizens. There was nothing left.
Washington, without hesitation, messaged backed four simple words, “Send for Haym Solomon.” The Father of our nation, knew one man who could succeed in providing the assistance needed at this critical time, and he did! With tenacity and speed, Haym secured the funds Washington so urgently required to conclude the revolution.
On October 19, 1781 General Cornwallis surrendered. The last major battle of the Revolutionary War was over and the task of building a new nation based on the rule of law and principled in the concept of self-governance was to begin.
Haym would continue to assist in building the fledgling country after the war. He was responsible for no less than 75 transaction that secured funds for the new United States. He also provided numerous private loans to individual founding fathers at little or no interest.
Sadly, Haym’s benevolence to the Revolution and the economic downturn of 1783 left him in financial ruin. On January 6, 1785 Haym would succumb to tuberculosis and die penniless leaving a wife and four children destitute. He had given his life to the service of his adopted country.
Throughout the years, Congress made several feeble and unsuccessful attempts to honor Haym. In 1893 Congress rejected a bill to fund $250 for a Commemorative Medal. In 1911 a University in his name was proposed then rejected. Finally, in 1941 a monument featuring Haym, Robert Morris and George Washington was erected in Chicago. This would be followed in 1975 with a 10 cent postage stamp featuring a likeness of Haym with the words “Financial Hero”
While Haym may have died in debt, it is we who owe a debt of gratitude to a man who played such a vital role in the founding of our nation. Haym used his talents not to amass personal wealth but rather to support the cause of building the nation we now enjoy. His actions resulted in being imprisoned twice, narrowly escaping a death sentence and ultimately leaving his family in poverty.
Now you know Haym!
So on behalf of the grateful citizens who enjoy the freedoms you sacrificed to ensure, we reverently and belatedly express our heartfelt gratitude! “Thank you Haym.”
Photos Courtesy of Wikipedia
Kirk N. Hovious is a Honolulu based entrepreneur and freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org