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How Francis Salvador fought for the country’s independence

How Francis Salvador fought for the country’s independence
August 2020

He was elected to office despite rules forbidding Jews to serve

Salvador’s monument at Washington Square, next to City Hall

On the first of August in 1776, Francis Salvador made Revolutionary War and religious history. Born almost 30 years prior into a wealthy Sephardic Jewish family in London, he was mentored by his uncle Joseph Salvador, the only Jewish director of the British East India Company. A charitable man, Joseph bought more than 100,000 acres of land in South Carolina (near present day Greenwood) as a possible settlement for poor English Jews. After financial reverses, Francis came to America in 1773 to check on that land and bought some for himself, where he raised indigo using enslaved people.

In Charleston, he became caught up in the Revolutionary cause. Despite laws forbidding Jews to serve, he was elected to the First Provincial Congress in 1774, making him the first professing Jew elected to office in the 13 colonies. As a member of the Second Provincial Congress, Salvador encouraged the colony’s delegates at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to vote for independence.

Not just a politician advocating for liberty in this city, he put his words into action, fighting against the British in the Upcountry. It was there on August 1, 1776, that he was shot and then scalped by British allies, the Cherokees, making him the first Jew to die in the Revolution. He was 29 years old.

Decades after his death, with religious liberty won, Charleston boasted the largest Jewish population in the country. In 1950, a monument in Washington Square was dedicated to Salvador’s memory.