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Guilty By Association? – A July 4th Treat

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Historic references to David Salisbury Franks (c. 1740-1793) do not mention anti-Semitism. Franks had a far more serious cloud hanging over him–the unfortunate honor of serving as an Aide-de-Camp to General Benedict Arnold.

A native of Philadelphia, Franks spent his early adulthood in Montreal, where he was a successful merchant and the parnas (president) of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. His sympathetic feelings for the rebelling colonies led Franks to join the Colonial Army, becoming the army’s paymaster (sometimes using his own funds to pay the troops).

Quickly rising in rank, Franks had attained the rank of major when he was assigned as an aide-de camp to the military governor of Philadelphia and later commander of West Point, Benedict Arnold. When General Arnold attempted to supply the British with the plans for West Point, suspicion inevitably fell onto his two aides-de-camp, Franks and Richard Varick. And while even George Washington believed in their innocence, Franks and Varick demanded a full court-martial to clear their names.

Exonerated, Franks continued his military/political career as a courier of important dispatches to John Jay in Spain and Benjamin Franklin in France, including a copy of the signed peace treaty. He then served as a U.S. diplomat in England, France, Spain and Morocco. But his political opponents used old suspicions to end his career. In 1789, Franks left the diplomatic service and received 400 acres in honor of his Revolutionary War service. His final years were spent working for the Bank of the United States.

In 1793, Franks died during a Yellow Fever outbreak that ravaged Philadelphia. A neighbor, after rescuing Franks’ body from the burial cart and a pauper’s grave, had his body interred in the Christ Church Burial Yard rather than the Jewish cemetery.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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