OTD in History… August 1, 1776, Patriot Francis Salvador becomes the first Jewish death of the American Revolution

Dreaming of Equality: Francis Salvador, the American Jewish Revolutionary Patriot

Bernard Zakheim’s Jewish Patriots of the American Revolution

On this day in history, August 1, 1776, South Carolina Provincial Congress representative Francis Salvador becomes the first Jewish casualty of the American Revolutionary War when a Cherokee native siding with the British killed and scalped him in battle. On January 11, 1775, Francis Salvador, the first Jew elected to a colonial public office began his tenure on the revolutionary South Carolina Provincial Congress. Salvador was a recent immigrant to America having arrived in Charleston, South Carolina from London in 1773, a year later, he was elected to the South Carolina assembly becoming the first Jew elected to a political body in modern history, and then in 1775, he was reelected to Second Provincial Congress. Salvador became a Whig and supported the colonial revolt and then the fight for independence from Great Britain.

Salvador actively fought for independence by joining Major Andrew Williamson’s led militia along with friend Richard A. Rapley. During his time in Congress, Salvador was entrusted with “military affairs,” plans, and supplies for the militia. The Patriot’s military men trusted him, Major Williamson confided in Salvador about military plans. On June 27, 1776, Major Williamson wrote in a letter from his Whitehall plantation that he sent ammunition, “powder and bullets” to Salvador. Williamson wrote, he “has no letters from Charlestown than those which he showed to Mr. Salvador when there.” [1]

The British and John Stuart, their superintendent made life increasingly difficult and dangerous for the Patriots on the frontier by aligning with the Cherokee natives and having the natives attack the Patriots. The natives attacked the Patriots in the interior, while Britain attacked them on the South Carolina coast. On July 1, 1776, the natives attacked the residents in the Ninety-Six district, “massacring without distinction of age or sex, all persons who fell into their power.” The residents were not prepared with ammunition to fight back. Salvador rode to Major Andrew Williamson’s White Hall plantation to “raise the alarm” to the militia, “that Mr. Salvador forthwith mounted his horse and galloped to Major Williamson residing 28 miles away and gave the alarm.” [2]

John Drayton recounted in his memoirs:


Throughout July Major Williamson’s militia policed the district capturing two Loyalists. On July 18, 1776, Salvador wrote a letter to Drayton recounting what was happening in his district:


The next day on July 19, 1776, Salvador sent another letter to Drayton, telling him about “another battle” where the “Tories quitted the Indians after the repulse at Lindleys.” At the end of the letter, Salvador informs Williamson about the increase in the militia, writing, “We have day increased to 600 men.” [5] Salvador’s letter recounts “of fleet in Charlestown Harbor; disputes in Provincial Congress between the Vice-president and Pinckney. He vises the promotion of individuals in the army criticizes the release of the notorious Cunningham, and many other subjects.” On July 22, Major Williamson, wrote from his camp at Barker’s Creek, “Mr. Salvador has been with me since my first the field; he thinks of making a campaign to the nation.” [6]

In July 1776, Drayton writes to Salvador about Charles Lee:


On July 24, Salvador was already in the field with Williamson and the militia. Drayton wrote to Salvador:

In the early morning hours on August 1, 1776, Williamson’s contingent and Salvador met up with an ambush by Loyalists and the natives. At around two in the morning, the Tories and Cherokee Indian allies attacked at Esseneka, shooting and scalping Salvador alive. Hertzberg recounts, “Shot three times, [Francis] Salvador fell from his horse, was scalped while still alive, and died of wounds within the hour, Salvador, then 30, was the first Jew to die for the cause of the Patriots.”[9] Captain Smith saw what happened but in the dark mistaken the man standing over Salvador was his manservant. In less than an hour, he was dead.

Major Williamson witnessed what happen to Salvador and he recounted what happened in an August 4, letter to John Rutledge, the President of South Carolina:


Drayton memorialized Salvador in his memoirs, writing:


Salvador was the first Jewish casualty of the American Revolution. According to historian Howard Sachar, Salvador was also, “One of the first Charlestonians killed in action [was the beloved Francis Salvador] ambushed and scalped by Indians in the pay of the British.” [12]

Most historians agree that Salvador probably never knew that the Continental Congress declared independence. Salvador ardently supported independence and wanted South Carolina to vote in favor of it. The colony only learned about independence over three weeks later. On July 24, 1776, Drayton wrote to Salvador, updating him on news from the Congress: “No news yet from Philadelphia; every ear is turned that way anxiously waiting for the word ‘ Independence.’ I say, ‘ God speed the passage of it ‘Amen’ say you.” [13]

Salvador was remembered for his devotion to his religion to the cause of American independence, even early histories of the conflict in South Carolina. Nineteenth-century historian John A. Chapman in eulogized Salvador, writing, “He was a native of England of Hebrew parents and a Hebrew in religion. . . . He was a member of the General Assembly and warmly attached to the cause of Independence. . . . He was highly accomplished, honorable, and generous; he lived honored and respected, and his death was much lamented.” Chapman pointed out Salvador’s importance to South Carolina’s history, “Mr. Salvador’s name appears in every history of the State of South Carolina.”[14] Huhner points out Salvador’s important place in history, “Thus perished this Jewish patriot. How remarkable was his career. In the brief period of three years he, a stranger, attained a prominent place in the history of his adopted country. As a Jew by birth and a Jew by religion, he sat in a representative assembly and in the Provincial Congress and gained the esteem and friendship of the leading men of his day.” [15]

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the history of Jews in the colonial and Revolutionary-era is less important than it was at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1981, historian Jonathan Sarna’s claimed, “There is no dearth of literature on the subject of Jews and the American Revolution. Jewish historians have chronicled the actions of Jewish Patriots, described and analyzed the contribution of Jewish financiers and merchants, and even devoted space to the controversial subject of Jewish Tories.” [16] The era no longer appeals to the majority of historians of the American Jewish experience.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Amateur historians studied and wrote about the early era of American Jewish history more often and this is where Francis Salvador and the Salvador family received much more of a starring role in histories. Most historians look at the start of the mass Jewish immigration of East European Jews after the Russian pogroms of 1881 and the period after when nearly four million Jews flooded the American shores than the early period. Jacob Radar Marcus the doyen of modern American history focused most of his research on the early period. His writing on the topic has long been the standard; Jonathan Sarna called his published in 1951 “path-breaking.” Marcus followed up with the four-volume Marcus brought together the professional study of history and that of the three-hundred-year-old American Jewish experience.[17]

In 1975, Samuel Rezneck wrote his book, the most recognizable history of Jews during that era. More recently there has been a resurgence of interest in Jewish history in the early era of American life. Historian Oscar Reiss wrote his volume, , (2004) which extended his survey of Jews of that era until the end of the Revolutionary period. Early American historian William Pencak delved into the same period in examining the interaction of Jews with Christians in the colonies and the port cities Jews settled, New York, Newport, Charleston, Savannah, and Philadelphia (2005). Pencak took a neutral viewpoint rather than from a Jewish perspective.

While historian Fritz Hirschfeld examined the limited relationship between General and then-President George Washington and the small Jewish community in (2005) Hirschfeld looked at Washington’s brief encounters during the French Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and his 1790 exchange of addresses with the six Jewish congregations. Hirschfeld’s book followed historian Paul F. Boller’s 1962 article, “George Washington and the Jews,” which mostly examined the exchanges of addresses.

The turn of the twenty-first century saw a resurgence in the study of the Revolutionary era with the publications of David McCullough’s biography, in 2001 and then examination of the year published in 2005. Taking over Marcus’ study of the era is Eli Faber, who is now the foremost historian of that era of Jewish history having written in 1992, and then contributing chapters to history anthologies. Most historians relegate the colonial and Revolutionary era to the many American Jewish history survey books.

In these survey books and briefly in the books about Jews in the colonial and Revolutionary era we find Francis Salvador’s story, hidden among the anecdotes of Jewish support for the American Revolution. It was not always the same way, in the first half of the twentieth century, filiopietistic Jewish historians, rabbis, congregations, and juvenile literature venerated the Revolutionary hero. Among the titles, Rabbi Bartlett A. Elzas “” (1903?) Rabbi Elzas published extensively about South Carolina Jewish history. Historian Leon Huhner’s short biographical article, “ (1901) Hunhner was the curator at the American Jewish Historical Society and wrote about Jews in the colonial era up to the new nation and the War of 1812 period, examining the lives of significant Jews and state and regional histories.

Some short histories again started to appear in time for the bicentennial of American independence and Salvador’s death. Rabbi Allan Tarshish’s (1970s) and Thomas J. Tobias, and Robert N. S. Whitelaw’s (1970). The Salvador family history finally received the scholarly treatment in Maurice Woolf’s article “Joseph Salvador, 1716–1786,” (1968).

Francis Salvador’s story of the underdog, who became accepted and then a revolutionary hero made his life perfect for juvenile audiences. Among them Tama Levitan’s was written in Yiddish in 1949; Helen K. Hennig’s in 1935, and Lionel Koppman’s , a juvenile book first published in 1953 and then reissued for the bicentennial in 1975. Just recently, Salvador was again featured in a children’s book on the American Revolution, Doreen Rappaport’s in 2003 when interest in that historical era remerged. recounted in story form the Revolutionary exploits of eight heroes known and unknown from the era, Salvador had the honor to be one of the chosen.

Salvador’s contribution was that great to the Patriot cause in South Carolina and American Jewish history that on the bicentennial in 1776, the Jewish community of Charleston, with the approval of the historical commission of Charleston erected a plaque in Charleston City Hall Park dedicated to him. Rezneck notes, Francis Salvador “became the only Jewish soldier of the Revolution to be individually commemorated in the United States.” [18]

The memorial reads:

Interest in Francis Salvador’s story is again gaining popularity with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical Hamilton in 2015. Miranda based his play on historian Ron Chernow’s bestselling biography, (2004). Recently some blog posts have appeared about Salvador. In December 2016, a monetary note with Francis Salvador’s untouched signature sold for USD 4,000 at auction. The note was from “the South Carolina Provincial Congress. November 15, 1775. Five Shillings. Signed, ‘F. Salvador.’” Salvador represented the fulfillment of the promise of political equality for American Jewry but his life has yet to be given the historical examination is deserves despite the cyclical acknowledgments.

[1] Leon Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, no. 9, 1901, pp. 107–122. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43058849, 116.

[2] Ibid. Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,” 118.

[3] John Drayton, , (Charlestown: Printed by A.E. Miller, 1821), 340; I want to apologize for the offensive racial language, which has to be taken in the historical context.

[4] Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,” 118.

[5] Ibid., Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,”

[6] Ibid., Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,” 119.

[7] Ibid., Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,” 119.

[8] Ibid., Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,”

[9] Arthur Hertzberg, , (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 92.

[10] Samuel Rezneck, , (Westport: Conn: Greenwood Press, 1975), 23; http://www.carolinamilitia.com/col-williams-to-gov-rutledge-4-aug-1775/

[11] Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,” 121.

[12] Sachar, Howard M. ,

[13] Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,” 121.

[14] Ibid., Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,” 122.

[15] Ibid., Hühner, “FRANCIS SALVADOR, A Prominent Patriot of the Revolutionary War,”

[16] Jonathan D. Sarna, “THE IMPACT OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION ON AMERICAN JEWS,” Modern Judaism — A Journal of Jewish Ideas and Experience, Volume 1, Issue 2, September 1981, Pages 149–160, https://doi.org/10.1093/mj/1.2.149, 149.

[17] http://americanjewisharchives.org/about/marcus.php

[18] Rezneck, , 24.

About the Author


Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.