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Jewish Legion Under Baron De Kalb Fought for American Independence, Sesqui Records Show

July 28, 1926
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Major Benjamin Nones Came from France to Champion Cause of Liberty (Jewish Daily Bulletin)

The Jewish Legionaires from all over the world who helped General Allenby conquer Palestine in the World War, had their American forerunners 150 years ago in the War for Independence, when a Hebrew legion, consisting of 400 men, officered by Jews, fought valiantly under Baron De Kalb in some of the bloodiest engagements of the conflict.

This interesting fact, long buried in more or less obscure historical archives, has been brought to light in connection with the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition. The exposition authorities are honoring the memories of distinguished persons of the Revolutionary period, particularly Philadelphians. and the hope was expressed here that time will be found to honor those 400 Jewish soldiers and their commander. Major Benjamin Nones.

It is around Major Nones, the immigrant founder of an eminent American Jewish family, that interest is particularly centered now. The record of his patriotic services is complete, but that of the Hebrew Legion he founded is not, although it has been definitely established that a Jewish battalion took part in the Battle of Camden, South Carolina.

Nones was born in Bordeaux, France, and came to Philadelphia in 1777. He enlisted as a private. The fact that Nones came here in 1777 is taken to indicate that he came for the sole purpose of fighting, but, unlike most of the others who came for that purpose, he remained to become an influential figure in American life.

After being made a Major for gallantry on the battlefield Nones served on the staff of Lafayette and then on that of Washington.

Of his experience as a private under General Pulaski, Nones himself wrote that he “fought in almost every action which took place in Carolina, and, in the disastrous affair of Savannah, shared the hardships of that sanguinary day.”

Henry Morais, author of the authoritative history, “Jews of Philadelphia,” published in the 1890’s, wrote that Nones “became Major of a Hebrew ### of 400 men attached to Baron De Kalb’s command. At the battle of Camden, South Carolina, on August 16, 1780, when De Kalb fell mortalle wounded Major Nones-together with Captain Jacob De La Motta and Captain Jacob De Leon. both of Charleston-bore his chief from the battlefield.”

As to the courage of the men of the Hebrew Legion, and more particularly that of Major Nones, the following letter, originally written in French, dated Charleston, December 15, 1779, and bearing the signature of Captain Verdier, is a testimony:

“It is but just that I should render an account of the conduct of those who have most distinguished themselves for bravery in the Legion. I take advantage of the occasion, and with much pleasure, in my capacity of captain of volunteers attached to the suite of General Pulaski, to certify that Benjamin Nones has served as a volunteer in my company during the campaign of this year, and at the siege of Savannah in Georgia, and his behavior under fire in all the bloody actions we fought, has been marked by the bravery and courage which a military man is expected to show for the liberties of his country, and which acts of said Nones gained in his favor the esteem of General Pulaski, as well as that of all the officers.”

Major Nones, some years after the war, was appointed Interpreter of French and Spanish to the United States government in this city.

The Major was extremely proud of his race. and his character may well be judged by the reply he made to one who quarreled with him in politics. He was a warm supporter of Jefferson and his principles, at a time when the great Virginian himself was ostracized by Philadelphia society because of his Republicanism.

In reply to a man who attacked him for being “a Jew, a Republican, and poor.” Nones wrote in a letter to the United States Gazette that he gloried in his Judaism, and declared that he had no desire to change either his religious or his political feelings.

“I am a Jew,” he wrote, “and, if for no other reason, for that reason am I a Republican.” In those days to be a Republican in politics was very different from what the name connotes today. Nones, in his letter, defended his people and asserted that his poverty might have been caused by too scrupulous an honesty.

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