Jewish financier-patriot Haym Salomon raises money for George Washington to conduct the Yorktown campaign
Exceedingly rare partly-printed DS, in French, signed “Haym Salomon" and "Rob't Morris, S. I. of Finance,” one page, 9 x 4.25, March 27, 1782. A fourth bill of exchange issued in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Haym Saloman for 3000 Livres Tournois, payable at the Grand Bank of Paris, with the upper right annotated "Pour Compte des Estats Unis de L’Amerique." Signed at the conclusion by Robert Morris as the Superintendent of Finance, and countersigned on the reverse by Salomon. In fine condition, with fold separations repaired and reinforced by complete silking on the reverse. Accompanied by a full letter of authenticity from PSA/DNA. An extraordinary historic American financial instrument coveted equally by autograph specialists, numismatists, and historical enthusiasts.
Exchanges of this type were the method used when unpredictable modes of transportation were used to ship the exchange forms domestically and abroad, often on multiple vessels in case of loss or capture. In nearly all cases with American bills of exchange such as this, the ‘First’ was usually paid, redeemed, or retired before any subsequent ones would be redeemed. Copious record-keeping was necessary and paying out a rich sum like this was taken seriously at all points of potential redemption. Additionally, such instruments were issued to pay the interest of the domestic debt of the United States and to allow it to draw on its gold reserves in Europe to raise immediate specie in order to purchase supplies and prosecute the War for Independence. Such bills of exchange ‘were the eighteenth-century equivalent of modern checks; they enabled persons having funds available in other places to raise money for local use’ (Edgar J. McManus, in American National Biography).
The bills would be sold, usually at a discount, to merchants, financiers, and patriots. The most significant of the ‘bill brokers’ was Haym Salomon (1740-1785), who was born in Lissa, Poland, and emigrated to New York City shortly before the outbreak of the Revolution. He acted as a secret agent against the British in occupied New York, was arrested twice, and condemned to death, before bribing his way out of prison and fleeing to Philadelphia. He re-established his brokerage firm and became the principal bill broker for Hopkinson and then for Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris. Salomon, who was fluent in French, essentially acted as paymaster general for Rochambeau, and advanced money to army officers and Congressional delegations. He also personally advanced funds to members of the Continental Congress (including James Madison) and other federal officers, charging interest and commissions well below the market rates. Salomon also played a prominent role in the Philadelphia and national Jewish community affairs. In 1783, Salomon and other prominent Jewish Philadelphians addressed the Pennsylvania Council of Censors to request the removal of a religious test oath required for office-holding under the state constitution.
His health compromised by his imprisonment by the British, Salomon died in January 1785, holding more than $350,000 in depreciated Continental currency and heavily discounted government notes and securities; the market value of his estate was about twelve cents to the dollar. The Pennsylvania Packet mourned him as ‘an eminent broker…remarkable for his skill and integrity in his profession and for his generous and humane deportment.’