Founding Fathers? How about Founding Pisano!
This weekend is Independence Day, which means there will be plenty of readings of The Declaration of Independence. When a new nation was announced to the world.
Many remember, with good reason, the legacy of men like Washington and Jefferson during this truly American holiday. Well, what if I told you, another important figure needs to be added to your history lesson?
That name is Filippo Mazzei. Yes, an Italian.
Signore Mazzei became an important friend and political confidant to Thomas Jefferson. A physician from Tuscany, Mazzei led an incredibly interesting life. In addition to practicing medicine, he was a winemaker, merchant, surgeon, and horticulturist.
Mazzei sailed to Virginia in 1773 to feed his interest in the political life of the Colonies and to conduct agricultural experiments. The Virginia Legislature had promised Mazzei some land in Augusta County and, on his way to the Shenandoah Valley, he stopped to see Jefferson.
Mazzei was persuaded by Jefferson to settle in Albemarle County. Jefferson gave him a tract of land on the south side of Monticello. Mazzei purchased about 700 more acres by 1778 and named his farm Colle.
Mazzei began to establish his reputation as a patriot. He joined the “Independent Company” of Albemarle County volunteers when the British landed troops at Hampton, Virginia, in 1775. Mazzei began to speak in various churches about Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on religious freedom and he signed a “petition of dissenters” that was presented to the General Assembly’s Committee on Religion. It was then Jefferson gave Mazzei a copy of the “Rough Draught” of the Declaration of Independence. It was Signore Mazzei who suggested the concept of “all men were created equal,” which became a key part of the Declaration of Independence. He returned to Europe to work on behalf of the Colonies to find funding and arms to fight the British. For his important contributions to the founding of the United States, he was granted Virginian citizenship.
He continued to work on behalf of our new nation after the American Revolution. Signore Mazzei published a four-volume history of the colonies, Recherches Historiques et Politiques sur les États-Unis de l’Amérique Septentrionale (1788), and relied on his Virginia connections for material for the book. This was the first history of the American Revolution to be published in French, and the book served as a source of fact about the Revolution, and as a counterweight to British propaganda and French misinformation.
Sadly, Mazzei’s contributions are rarely mentioned in history. However, his contemporaries thought quite highly of him:
“[Philip Mazzei] possesses first rate abilities …. He has been a zealous whig from the beginning and I think may be relied on perfectly in point of integrity. He is very sanguine in his expeditions of the services he could render us on this occasion and would undertake it on a very moderate appointment.” ~Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Hancock; October 19, 1778
His contribution was also noted in the 1958 book, A Nation of Immigrants, by President John F. Kennedy:
“The great doctrine ‘All men are created equal’ incorporated into the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, was paraphrased from the writing of Philip Mazzei, an Italian-born patriot and pamphleteer, who was a close friend of Jefferson.”
So our Italian heritage in America goes all the way back to the founding of our great nation. What a great Italian story to add to our American history lesson!