Friday, January 21, 2011

Francis Salvador: Forgotten (or Perhaps Never Known) American Hero

Just off of Highway 52 in Charleston, South Carolina rests the beautiful and famous Washington Park. Along with being a popular location for weddings and other social gatherings, Washington Park also serves as the location for several historical monuments, including statues of George Washington, memorials for the southern Confederacy, and plagues dedicated to the memory of local and national heroes.

Amongst these various plagues, tucked away in an obscure corner of the park, resides an obscure memorial to one Francis Salvador:

The plague reads:

Francis Salvador
1747 – 1776
First Jew in South Carolina to hold public office
To Die for American Independence

He came to Charles Town from his native London in 1773 to develop extensive family landholdings in the frontier district of ninety six. As a deputy to the provincial congresses of South Carolina, 1775 and 1776, he served with distinction in the creation of this state and nation, participating as a volunteer in an expedition against Indians and Tories, he was killed from ambush near the Keowee river, August 1, 1776.

Born an aristocrat, he became a democrat, an Englishman, he cast his lot with America.
True to his ancient faith, he gave his life for new hopes of human liberty and understanding.

Erected at the time of the Bicentennial celebration of the Jewish community of Charleston.

Approved by the historical commission of Charleston SC

Chances are that most Americans have never heard of Francis Salvador. If I am being honest, I can't recall ever hearing about him until graduate school, and even then it was only in passing. In reality, Salvador's story isn't all that dramatic, which is probably one of the many reasons he goes relatively unrecognized. Yet despite his historical obscurity, Salvador's story is worthy of our attention, for it is a story of faith, patriotism and sacrifice.

Born in 1747, Salvador was the fortunate decedent of the very successful Joseph Salvador: businessman and leader of the Portuguese Sephardic Jewish community in Britain. Thanks to his sharp business instincts, Joseph Salvador had gained incredible wealth and prestige, which made him the natural choice to become the head of the British East India Company. In addition, Joseph Salvador also became an advocate for impoverished Jews living in Britain, whom he aided by assisting in their settlement in Georgia (a difficult prospect, since Jews were a relatively unwelcome group in the "New World").

Thanks to his family's success, Francis Salvador's early years were spent in luxury. But as is often the case with life, the storms of economic and world turmoil caused the Salvador family to lose much of its wealth and prestige. After the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed their Portuguese property and the East India Company collapsed, draining the family's resources, the Salvador family was left with only one prospect: immigrate to the American colonies (where they held property) and start anew.

Francis Salvador arrived alone at South Carolina in 1773. His hope was to establish himself on his family's land and then send for his wife (Sarah) and their three children. The timing of his arrival, however, brought a new set of unanticipated challenges that eventually pulled Salvador in a different direction. The fires of the American Revolution, which were blazing hotter with each passing day, led Salvador to become a passionate and vocal voice for American independence. Within a year of his arrival, Salvador won a seat in the South Carolina General Assembly. In 1774, South Carolinians elected Salvador to the Revolutionary Provincial Congress, which began to meet in January 1775, and in which Salvador regularly revealed his passion for the cause of independence.

In addition to his political service to South Carolina, Salvador also fought in the South Carolina Militia, where he earned the nickname, "Southern Paul Revere" for his brave late night ride to warn the countryside of an impending Cherokee attack. And though his service in both the militia and the elected assembly were, by all accounts, exemplary, Salvador's service to the cause of liberty was short-lived. During a military engagement on July 31st, 1776, Salvador was shot and later scapled by a group of hostile Cherokee Indians and local Loyalists. And though he lived long enough to see the militia defeat the Cherokee/Loyalist attack, Salvador eventually succumbed to his wounds and died at the tender age of 29.

The response to Salvador's death was felt throughout the colony. As historian Michael Feldberg points out in his book, Blessings of Freedom:
A Friend, Henry Laurens, reported that Salvador's death was "Universally regretted", while William Henry Drayton, later chief justice of South Carolina, stated that Salvador had "sacrificed his life in the service of his adopted country." Dead at twenty-nine, never again seeing his wife and children after leaving England, Salvador was the first Jew to die in the American Revolution. Ironically, because he was fighting on the frontier, Salvador probably never received the news that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia had, as he urged, adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Francis Salvador's legacy is usually nothing more than a side note in the history books. For the most part, Salvador is remembered for being the first Jew killed in the American Revolution and little more. And though his death is noteworthy, the life of Francis Salvador is deserving of much more than a simple side note or an obscure memorial. In reality, Salvador is the embodiment of what made the American Revolution special. He was a foreigner, a Jew and a wealthy English aristocrat who became a trusted comrade alongside his fellow native, Christian American revolutionaries.

Perhaps the words of his Washington Park memorial capture the true legacy of Francis Salvador best:
Born an aristocrat, he became a democrat; An Englishman, he cast his lot with the Americans; True to his ancient faith, he gave his life; For new hopes of human liberty and understanding.
***Interesting Side note: Despite Salvador's incredible service, the South Carolina Constitution of 1776 prohibited anyone not of the Christian faith from being elected to office. Interesting that the very state, which benefited from Salvador's impeccable service, would prohibit those of his faith from following in his footsteps.***

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Connecticut (Vermont) Declares Independence

On this day in 1777, the great state of Vermont decided to declare its independence not only from Great Britain but from the neighboring state of New York as well. For years, the settlers in the Vermont area had been asserting their right to break from New York, but were unable to do so. Thanks in part to the efforts of Ethan Allen and his "Green Mountain Boys," Vermont was able to finally able to gain its independence and maintain a relatively neutral stance during the American Revolution.

Origionally named New Connecticut, the state's delegates chose to adopt the new name of Vermont, which is an inaccurate translation of the French phrase "green mountain."

Vermont was also the first state to draft an official constitution. Its constitution was one of the most radical to say the least. It guaranteed every male (reguardless of property status) the right to vote, it abolished slavery (making Vermont the first state to do so), and it gave some rights (mostly property rights) to women. Despite their incredible efforts to gain independence, Vermont was finally incorporated into the United States in 1792, making it the first state outside of the original thirteen colonies to join the union.

The origional flag of Vermont was the same flag that was used by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys (a picture of the flag is posted at the beginning of this article). The flag has 13 stars in a scattared pattern, which was to represent the scattered and unsettled nature of the early United States. The green color is, of course, representative of the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pastor Rutherford Apologizes

Last week I posted my review of a video on the history of the Star-Spangled Banner. In the video, Pastor Dudley Rutherford of Shepherd of the Hills Church in California shares a story on the origins of our national anthem that wasn't completely historically accurate. The day after posting my review, Pastor Rutherford contacted me via email and shared his regret that some of the points in his video were a bit misleading.

Well, yesterday Pastor Rutherford posted a new video in which he expresses his regret and apologizes for his video on the Star-Spangled Banner. Take a look:

First, let me say how refreshing it is to see somebody who is sincerely interested in historical integrity. Pastor Rutherford, who is not a professional historian, has more "True Grit" (an excellent movie that you should see, BTW) than many professionals in the historical community. I personally know several historians who could NEVER admit when they had made a mistake because their pride, ego and Ph.D. get in the way. I hope that I can follow Pastor Rutherford's example when I get my history wrong in the future.

Let's be clear here, there are no winners or losers in this debate. Nobody has been proven wrong and nobody is keeping score. This is history, not hockey. Pastor Rutherford's apology is not an admission of guilt but rather a determination to get the history right. And as a result, he comes off the victor. Like I said, I sincerely hope that all of us here at ARB (and the historical community in general) can learn for Pastor Rutherford's brilliant example. Admitting error leads to growth, persisting in one's mistake only makes the individual look like a fool.

Pastor Dudley Rutherford is no fool.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Heartbreaking Loss

On New Year's Eve of 1775, the American forces under Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery were defeated in their late night attack on Quebec. Having arrived at the city almost a month prior, both Arnold and Montgomery were hopeful that they could force the British from their strongholds by surrounding the city and bombarding it with canon fire. Much to their dismay, the British were well supplied and entrenched, and the Canadian population was not eager to support the American cause of liberty as Arnold, Montgomery and even Washington had hoped. As a result, the "rebels" were forced to attack the city on December 31 with everything they had. With year enlistments coming up, along with a horrific shortage of food and supplies, both Arnold and Montgomery knew that they would not be able to hold out for long. Simply put, the attack became an all-or-nothing roll of the dice.

The outcome was disastrous for the Americans. Of the 900 American soldiers who participated in the assault, 100 were killed and another 400 were taken prisoner -- the British only lost 6 in the assault. Among the casualties was none other than General Montgomery, who was killed in the attack. Colonel Benedict Arnold was also severely wounded in the leg, which forced him to relinquish command -- albeit temporarily -- to Daniel Morgan, who had the presence of mind to call off a second assault on the city.

For Washington and the rest of the Continental Army the news of the defeat at Quebec was a terrible pill to swallow. Both Washington and his aides, along with several members of the Continental Congress had hoped that an assault on Quebec would inspire British Canadians to their cause and cut off the British in the north.

They were wrong.