The Jewish Role in the Birth of America

July 03, 2019

The Jewish Role in the Birth of America

As we prepare to celebrate our nation’s independence with flags and fireworks, it is interesting to look at the diversity of our country in faith and ethnicity that stretches all the way back to the first European colonists. And this includes the Jewish community.

Many may think that Jewish immigration to America occurred primarily in the last 150 years. But, the truth is Jews have been a part of the American story since the beginning. One of the earliest documented groups was a band of 23 Jewish refugees from Brazil who settled in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (later to become New York, a British colony). By the start of the Revolutionary War, there was an estimated 2,000 Jews (primarily Sephardic), living in the 13 colonies.

And most of these early Jewish colonists fought on the side of independence. In fact, the first patriot to be killed in battle in the Georgia colony was a Jewish man named Francis Salvador.

Many others in the Jewish community helped to finance the war, lending money to the Continental Congress. One lender in particular, Haym Salomon, lent $200,000 in the war’s closing days to help the war effort. Sadly, he was never paid back and died bankrupt.

Much was given to America’s independence by the early (and small) Jewish community in the colonies.

President George Washington remembered the Jewish Contribution in a letter that he wrote in 1790, when the first synagogue was opened in Newport, Rhode Island.

"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Many of the early Christian settlers, fleeing religious persecution in Europe, saw their flight to the Americas as akin to the Israelites fleeing Egypt. In fact, the founding fathers revered the morals and laws within the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and embedded language references from the Hebrew Bible in the founding documents.

But, that did not always translate into a full embrace of the Jewish community in the early United States. Because of that, the Jewish population in America only grew to about 6,000 by the early 1800’s. It was only in the 1830’s, when a new wave of Reform German Jews arrived, that the population of Jewish Americans began to expand as they assimilated into the broader American culture.

The 4th of July celebration is for all Americans, no matter if your American lineage goes back to the earliest settlers or if it only goes back several months. But, we all need to remember that America has always had multicultural roots - since its beginning. And we should all be proud of the part that we all played in the growth of our country over the centuries.

Thanks to for source material references.