Despite America’s tolerance and acceptance of religious minorities as compared to the rest of the world, there existed a lack of political equality for Jews in America. Acceptance, a little as there was, presented a challenge to the Jewish community: balancing a desire to integrate into mainstream culture with a desire to maintain a unique heritage. Colonial Jewish families typically downplayed their Jewish identity with their neighbors while maintaining their ancient customs and traditions among themselves. This was symbolized by Touro synagogue, the oldest synagogue still standing in America, built in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1763.
As for participation in the conflict, there were Jewish merchant blockade runners, Jewish soldiers in the Continental Army, and Jewish officers. Two of the most famous Jewish Patriots were Jonas Philips and Haym Solomon.
Philips, a blockade runner, wrote his supply list in Yiddish --
גוּט טַק אִים בְּטַגְֿא שְ וַיר דִּיש מַחֲזוֹר אִין בֵּיתֿ הַכְּנֶסֶתֿ טְרַגְֿא - a sample of Yiddish that means, May a good day come to him who carries this prayer book into the synagogue. But his plan didn’t work, for when the British boarded the ship, they thought the Yiddish was a code, seized the ship, and sent the note to England to be decoded. In 1793, there were no “weekends,” and court was held on Saturdays. Records show that Philips was fined for refusing to testify in a Philadelphia court on the Jewish Sabbath because of his religious obligations.
In 1774, Francis Salvador, a Jew, was elected to the General Assembly of South Carolina. He also served in the South Carolina‘s revolutionary Provisional Congress. At age 29, Salvador was killed during a fight with the British and their Cherokee allies near the Keowee River in South Carolina. During the battle, he was shot and fell into the bushes, but was discovered and scalped by the Cherokee that night.
In an August 4th, 1776 letter from Colonel William Thompson to William Henry Drayton, Colonel Thompson wrote about Salvador’s death:
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."
Unfortunately, like most states after the war, South Carolina placed religious qualifications on who could hold office that barred other Jews from being elected.
Despite this lack of equality, Jews in colonial and post-revolutionary America were usually accepted as members of the larger society. Jews often adopted the customs and fashions of their neighbors, went into business with them, and made friendships with those outside their religious community.