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:

Commemorating
Francis Salvador
1747 – 1776
First Jew in South Carolina to hold public office
And
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.***

9 comments:

Homschlr4ever said...

Thank you so much for your blog. I homeschool teenagers and we have found some great information and enjoy reading your essays and comparing them to our history books. It's been great for opening up discussions.
Keep up the good work!

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Andy454 said...

Every country has its own forgotten hero, but surely we know what they have done to his country. I love the way you write in this point of view..Keep up a good work.

William B said...

Amazing! Did Francis Salvador die of the plague? I've heard of the Black Plague and the Bubonic Plague, but never the Bronze Plague. Better stay away from those historical markers in case it's catching!

Kalender 2013 said...

Nice post, i think this is a nice post





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NadiaDean said...

Francis Salvador died from wounds in battle with Cherokee warriors in 1776 while fighting alongside his friend and neighbor Col. Williamson. To learn more, read A Demand of Blood: The Cherokee War of 1776, now available at www.valleyriverpress.com.

Anonymous said...

For Freedom: www.youtube.com/KCPorg

Mark in Spokane said...

What a story! You should post this over at American Creation.

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