The Secret Lives of the Founding Fathers - Legacy Week


By Brian Fencil

We all learned stories of the Founding Fathers that made us believe in their abject divinity–like the myth of George Washington and his cherry tree. But beyond all of the tall tales and regalia, the Founding Fathers led very unique lives featuring–along with sewing the seeds of our nation–debauchery, smuggling, treason, and duels.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Francis Hopkinson

He helped design the seal for New Jersey and the great seal of the US. He also helped in creating the US flag, and when he asked for a “quarter cask of public wine for reward,” he never got it.

John Adams

Adams was an avid hunter and used to bring a gun with him to school, so he could hunt on his way home.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

George Washington

Interestingly enough the father of the American nation, and perhaps the wealthiest citizen of his era, never went to college.

As president, his salary was $25,000 (equivalent to 1 million today); seven percent of which was spent on alcohol. He also had leopard skin robes for each of his horses.

Washington starting losing his teeth when he was 20, and he had several dentures throughout his life. Recently, a set that is on display at the museum of dentistry, was tested and found to be made of gold, ivory, and lead, as well as human and animal teeth.

Button Gwinnett

Never heard of him? He was the second person to sign the Declaration of Independence, but he died the next year in a duel, making his signature the rarest of all the Founding Fathers, and worth about $700k.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Jefferson

Before his death, Jefferson gave detailed instructions on how his gravestone should look, what it should be made out of, and what it should say. He wanted to be remembered for being the author of the Declaration of Independence, the creator of the statue of the state of Virginia, and the father of the University of Virginia. He didn’t want President of the United States to be included.

Jefferson also created his own version of the Bible. Though the principle author of the Declaration of Independence was a Christian, he didn’t agree with how the teachings of Christ were interpreted by biblical sources, including the writers of the four gospels, whom he deemed to be untrustworthy. So, Jefferson created his own gospel by cutting out parts of the New Testament and pasting in his own accounts. Jefferson deleted many supernatural events, such as the feeding of the multitudes, which he thought were “contrary to reason.”

Jefferson was also a well-documented smuggler. While traveling around France, Jefferson learned that Italian rice was preferred over American, so he took a dangerous detour over the Alps to find out why. He found that the Italians were growing a superior, short, grain of rice, which Jefferson wanted to bring back to the States. But, exporting it for planting was illegal, and punishable by death. Stubborn, Jefferson (by some accounts, literally) stuffed his pockets with seeds, and smuggled them out of the country.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Franklin

In 1745, Franklin wrote a response to a reader of his newspaper who had asked for relationship advice. Franklin advised the reader to marry, saying “marriage is the natural State of Man” but if he decides not to take his advice and thinks “sex is inevitable” then he should “prefer old women to young ones.” He listed his reasons:

1. Older women are more knowledgeable
2. “When women cease to be handsome, they study to be good… they learn to do a 1,000 Service small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all Friends”
3. “Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produced may be attended with much Inconvenience.”
4. They are more prudent with discretion.
5. Because of the “deficiency of fluids that fills the muscles appears first in the highest parts [of the body]…covering all above with a blanket and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two women to know an old one from a young.”
6. “The sin is less.”
7.”“The compunction is less.”
8. “And lastly, they are so grateful!”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

John Hancock

His uncle was one of the richest merchants in Boston. When he died, John Hancock inherited the business. As the British started imposing various taxes, Hancock started smuggling in molasses, wine, and other goods. Custom agents started cracking down on smuggling by inspecting ships when they came into port. Once, a custom agent was forcibly held onboard while illegal goods were being unloaded. When other agents arrived, half the ship was empty. Hancock’s ship was seized and he was accused of smuggling; he was also fined an equivalent of $1 million in today’s currency.

On another less savory note, Hancock always kept a bowl of rum by his bed.

Alexander Hamilton

Our first Treasurer and one of the few Founding Fathers featured on a dollar bill without having served as president, Hamilton was also the subject of the first sex scandal that was investigated by Congress. While he presided over the Treasury, he had an affair with a married woman, and was also giving her money. Her husband, James Reynolds, blackmailed Hamilton until word of the affair reached Congress. There was then an investigation, after which Hamilton wasn’t charged with any crime.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Aaron Burr

After he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Vice President Burr, fled to the South, where he started plotting to annex Spanish territory in Louisiana and Mexico to establish an independent republic. In 1806, Burr led well-armed colonists toward New Orleans. The next year, Burr was arrested for treason, but was acquitted, because although he conspired against the US, he had not engaged in the “overt act.”