Francis Salvador, the first Jew to hold an elected office in the Americas, takes his seat on the South Carolina Provincial Congress on this day in 1775.
Born in 1747, Salvador was descended from a line of prominent Sephardic Jews who made their home in London. His great grandfather, Joseph, was the East India Company’s first Jewish director. His grandfather was influential in bravely moving a group of 42 Jewish colonists to Savannah, Georgia, in 1733 despite the colony’s prohibition on Jewish settlers. The Salvadors then purchased land in South Carolina.
After the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed their Portuguese property and the East India Company collapsed, draining the family’s resources, the American property was all the Salvadors had left. In 1773, Francis Salvador left his wife and children in London to establish himself in South Carolina with the hope of rebuilding his family’s fortune. Within a year of his arrival, Salvador won a seat in the South Carolina General Assembly. In 1774, South Carolinians elected Salvador to the revolutionary Provincial Congress, which began to meet in January 1775, and in which Salvador spoke forcefully for the cause of independence.
On July 1, Salvador earned the nickname “Southern Paul Revere” when he rode 30 miles to warn of a Cherokee attack on backcountry settlements. Exactly one month later, while leading a militia group under the general command of Major General James Wilkinson, Salvador and his men were ambushed by a group of Cherokees and Loyalists near present-day Seneca, South Carolina. Salvador was shot and scalped by the Cherokees. Although he survived long enough to know that the militia had won the engagement, he never learned that the South Carolina delegation to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia had taken his advice and voted for independence from Britain.
Salvador was the first recorded Jewish soldier killed in the American War for Independence. He died at the age of 29, never having managed to bring his wife and children from London to the new country for which he fought so bravely.