Francis Salvador was the first Jew to hold office in the Thirteen Colonies, and later became the first Jew to die under arms for the American Revolution.
Salvador was born in London, England, in 1747 to a wealthy Sefardic family. After his marriage, he acquired 7,000 acres in Ninety Six District, Carolina Colony, where his family had already bought land claims in the 1730’s. He emigrated alone, intending to send for his wife, Sarah, and their four children as soon as he was able. Arriving in Charleston in December 1773, Salvador quickly joined the American cause. He became close friends with the rising leaders of the Revolution in the South, including Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Rutledge, William Henry Drayton, Henry Laurens, and Samuel Hammond.
In 1774, Salvador settled at Coroneka, commonly called Cornacre. According to the laws of the time, Jews could neither hold office nor vote, but no colonists objected when Salvador was elected as one of several frontier representatives from Ninety-Six District to the Provincial Congress. With his election, Salvador became the first Jew elected to public office in the Thirteen Colonies in North America. He was re-elected to the second Provincial Congress in 1775, holding the post until his death.
When the Provincial Congress first met in Charleston in January 1775, Salvador was chosen for important committee assignments: drawing up the declaration of the purpose of the congress to the people, obtaining ammunition, assessing the safety of the frontier, and working on the new state constitution. The group also framed a bill of rights and composed an address to South Carolina’s royal governor, setting forth the colonists’ complaints against the Crown. Salvador was appointed to a commission that tried to convince the Tories in the northern and western parts of the colony to join the American cause.
The second Provincial Congress assembled in November 1775. Salvador was one of the champions for independence; he urged his fellow delegates to instruct the colony’s delegation to the Continental Congress to cast their vote for independence. Salvador chaired the Ways and Means Committee of this second Provincial Congress, at the same time serving on a select committee authorized to issue bills of credit as payment to members of the militia. He was also selected for a commission to preserve the peace in the interior parts of South Carolina.
In early 1776, the British induced Indian allies to attack the South Carolina frontier to create a diversion in favor of British operations on the sea-coast. On 1 July 1776, the Indians began attacking frontier families in Ninety Six District. Salvador rode from his lands to the White Hall plantation of Major Andrew Williamson, 28 miles away, to raise the alarm. Salvador took part in the engagements that followed. On 31 July, Major Williamson captured two white Loyalists. They led his 330-men militia into an ambush by their fellow Tories and Cherokee allies at the Keowee River. Alexander Cameron, deputy to Captain John Stuart, led the Tory forces. During this engagement, Salvador was shot and fell into the bushes, but was discovered and scalped by the Cherokee that night. He died from his wounds, just 29 years old.
Concerning his death, Colonel William Thomson wrote to William Henry Drayton, in a letter dated “Camp, two miles below Keowee, 4 August 1776”, as follows:
“Here, Mr. Salvador received three wounds; and, fell by my side… I desired [Lieutenant Farar] to take care of Mr. Salvador; but, before he could find him in the dark, the enemy unfortunately got his scalp: which, was the only one taken… He died, about half after two o’clock in the morning: forty-five minutes after he received the wounds, sensible to the last. When I came up to him, after dislodging the enemy, and speaking to him, he asked, whether I had beat the enemy? I told him yes. He said he was glad of it, and shook me by the hand – and bade me farewell – and said, he would die in a few minutes.”
A patriot journal, The Rememberance, wrote of Salvador: “He was universally loved and esteemed.” Monuments in his memory can be found at various locations in South Carolina.
Originally published in the Pesach 2020 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.