Jews in the American Revolution

July 5, 2013 | Sharon Alterman

As we celebrate the independence of our nation, have you ever wondered about the Jewish population in colonial America at the time and its role in the Revolutionary War?

Jonathan Sarna, renowned Jewish historian, in his book, American Judaism, provides the answers:

“On the eve of the American Revolution, Judaism remained all but invisible to most colonists. No more than one American in one thousand was Jewish, only five cities had significant Jewish populations and only New York and Newport boasted synagogue buildings; elsewhere Jews prayed in rented quarters or private homes. America’s Jewish communities paled in comparison to those of Curacao, Surinam, and Jamaica. Each of those West Indian communities had more Jews in the mid- eighteenth century than all of the North American colonies combined. It is estimated that there were between 1,000 and 2,500 Jews present in colonial North America at that time….

We know that up to one hundred Jews fought in the Revolution, one of whom was exempted from serving on the city watch on Friday night, that three attained high office in the Continental Army, and that other Jews served as suppliers, bill brokers, moneylenders, shopkeepers, blockade-runners, and even manufacturers on a small scale. Haym Salomon, the best known Jew of the Revolutionary Era, played a significant role as Broker to the Office of Finance.”

Source- American Judaism, Jonathan Sarna, Yale Press, 2004

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