He never knew as he lay dying that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia had just signed the Declaration of Independence.
He emigrated to America from England in 1773 after an earthquake in Portugal ruined his family’s extensive holdings in the East India Company. He hoped to rebuild his fortune in South Carolina. However, once in America, he became hardened in his convictions and resolved that America should separate from England. He was the first Jew to be elected to public office in the colonies. The British, in an effort to redirect the colonists’ prosecution of the war against England, incited the Cherokee Indians to attack. Just like Paul Revere, on July 1, 1776 he rode his horse 30 miles to warn that the “Indians were coming.” On August 1, 1776 he fought in a battle against the Cherokees. During this settlement siege he was shot and scalped. He died within the hour. The name of our hero is Francis Salvador. He was 29 years old and the first Jew to be killed in the Revolutionary War.
Salvador and ‘our’ forebears came here for a second chance. In their quest for a fuller, richer life…they also bettered their ‘new world’ for countless others. At the JHSNJ we have many histories in our archives on local men and women who came to North Jersey from afar for just that reason and succeeded tremendously on making their mark in America. One such person was Ida Geisler Cohen, a teacher from School No. 6 in Paterson, who emigrated from Mexico to Paterson in the early 1920’s. In 1929 she married Meyer Cohen, a fire captain in Paterson. She is still remembered fondly 70 years later by many Paterson natives as their loving teacher. Also, David Greenberg, a savvy real-estate investor, came to Paterson penniless from Hungary all alone at age 17 in 1919. He had to borrow the $2.00 wedding license fee when he married Daisy Klein in 1921. Among his many accomplishments was his success in finding jobs and places to live for well over 200 displaced persons after the Holocaust. Another one was William Offenberg, a Fair Lawn entrepreneur who emigrated from Poland in 1939 and in the 1960’s and 70’s became a passionate advocate for Russian Jewry. He, along with his wife Francis, took prominent roles in many Jewish organizations throughout their entire marriage.* Our archives are filled with many personal stories that span years and eras. Together, we need to preserve their stories for all time.
Ida Geisler Cohen, David Greenberg and William Offenberg made the world bigger because they were committed individuals. They left their imprint with their love and good deeds and for that they enriched their adopted countries. They served as powerful community presences in trying times. Greenberg and Offenberg rescued displaced persons and fiercely fought the ‘good fight’ for the freedom of others. They and many others, like Francis Salvador, aimed for the higher aspirations of life. They were not idle dreamers. On the contrary, they chose instead to walk the path of ‘terra firma’.
On this July 4th and forever after, let’s recall pioneers like Francis Salvador who paved the way so that we here in the United States might walk on solid ground.
Dorothy Douma Greene, President
*To learn more about William Offenberg, please go to our web-site (jhsnj.wordpress.com) and read our October 2013 Newsletter devoted entirely to Mr. Offenberg.