October 17, 1781. An eerie silence takes hold over the battlefield outside Yorktown, Virginia. After weeks of non-stop artillery shells and rifle fire, the rhythmic pounding of a drum is all that is heard. Through the wispy smoke that floats above the battlefield, a British officer can be seen waving a white flag. General Cornwallis has surrendered Yorktown, ending the last major battle of the American Revolution. The surrender of Yorktown and the nearly 8,000 British troops convinced the British Parliament to start negotiating an end to the war. On September 3, 1783, the treaty of Paris was signed. The war was over.

If not for Haym Salomon, however, the decisive victory at Yorktown never would have happened.

Haym Salomon was born in Leszno, Poland, in 1740. In 1770, he was forced to leave Poland for London as a result of the Partition of Poland. Five years later, he left London for New York City, where he quickly established himself as a broker for international merchants.

Sympathetic to the Patriot cause, Haym joined the New York branch of the Sons of Liberty, a secret society that did what it could to undermine British interests in the colonies. In 1776, he was arrested by the British and charged with being a spy. He was pardoned on condition that he spend 18 months on a British ship serving as a translator for the Hessian mercenaries, as he was fluent in Polish, French, German, Russian, Spanish and Italian. During those 18 months, Haym used his position to help countless American prisoners escape. He also convinced many Hessian soldiers to abandon the British and join the American forces.

In 1778, he was arrested again and sentenced to death for his involvement in a plot to burn the British Royal fleet in the New York Harbour. He was sent to Provost to await execution, but he managed to bribe a guard and escape under the cover of darkness.

He fled New York, which was under the control of the British army, and moved to Philadelphia, the capital of the Revolution.

He borrowed money and started a business as a dealer of bills of exchange. His office was located near a coffee house frequented by the command of the American forces. He also became the agent to the French consul and the paymaster for the French forces in North America. Here he became friendly with Robert Morris, the newly appointed Superintendent of Finance for the 13 colonies. Records show that between 1781 and 1784, through both fundraising and personal loans, he was responsible for financing George Washington over $650,000, today worth approximately over $13 million.

By 1781, the American congress was practically broke. The huge cost of financing the war effort had taken its toll. In September of that year, George Washington decided to march on Yorktown to engage General Cornwallis. A huge French fleet was on its way from the West Indies under the command of Comte De Grasse. The fleet would only be able to stay until late October, so Washington was facing immense pressure to lead an attack on Yorktown before then.

After marching through Pennsylvania, with little in the way of food and supplies, Washington’s troops were on the verge of mutiny. They demanded a full month's pay in coins, not congressional paper money which was virtually worthless, or they would not continue their march. Washington wrote to Robert Morris saying he would need $20,000 to finance the campaign. Morris responded that there was simply no money or even credit left. Washington simply wrote, “Send for Haym Salomon.” Within days, Haym Salomon had raised the $20,000 needed for what proved to be the decisive victory of the Revolution.

Haym’s chessed continued after the war. Whenever he met someone who he felt had sacrificed during the war and needed financial assistance, he didn’t hesitate to do whatever he could to help.

He was also heavily involved in the Jewish community. He was a member of Congregation Mikveh Yisroel in Philadelphia, the fourth oldest synagogue in America, and he was responsible for the majority of the funds used to build the shul’s main building.

He also served as the treasurer to the Society for the Relief of Destitute Strangers, the first Jewish charitable organization in Philadelphia.

On January 8, 1785, Haym died suddenly at the age of 44. Due to the fact the government owed him hundreds of thousands of dollars, his family was left penniless.

His obituary in the Independent Gazetteer read:

Thursday, last, expired, after a lingering illness, Mr. Haym Salomon, an eminent broker of this city, was a native of Poland, and of the Hebrew nation. He was remarkable for his skill and integrity in his profession, and for his generous and humane deportment. His remains were yesterday deposited in the burial ground of the synagogue of this city.

Although there is little proof, many believe that when designing the American Great Seal, George Washington asked Salomon what he wanted as compensation for his generosity during the war. Salomon responded “I want nothing for myself, rather something for my people.” It is for this reason that the 13 stars are arranged in the shape of the Star of David.