Intriguing Tales of America’s Founding Fathers
History textbooks and primary school teachers paint a stoic picture of the Founding Fathers. They were brave, rebellious men with a duty to honor, justice and the American way.
Only, America didn’t exist yet when the Founding Fathers took the helm, and they had no idea what they were doing most of the time. These legendary men were far more eccentric, interesting and bizarre than the general public is initially led to believe. Some of these true stories are sure to surprise you.
Benjamin Franklin Enjoyed Being Nude
If it had been socially acceptable to walk around in the nude during the Colonial Era, Benjamin Franklin would have been one of the first to go clothesless in the streets. The beloved inventor enjoyed what he called “air baths,” during which he would strip down to his birthday suit and write, think and putter about his house.
His writing desk was positioned before an open window, allowing the breeze to caress Franklin’s bare body — something he greatly enjoyed. If only there were a wax recreation of the scene in U.S. history museums! What a sight that would be.
Thomas Jefferson Was an Awful Speaker
Thomas Jefferson is partially responsible for penning the Declaration of Independence, a powerful and eloquent document. Based solely on his writing skills, it’s easy to believe that the man had a way with words. But, Thomas Jefferson was a terrible orator who often got tongue-tied.
Though it’s difficult to apply a late diagnosis to the long-gone Jefferson, he likely had a speech impediment. Fortunately, he found a different way to communicate his ideas to others: a feather quill pen and a sheet of parchment. That’s a good thing, too; without Jefferson, the Revolutionary War might have never happened.
Alexander Hamilton Was Ruthless
Alexander Hamilton would have easily been cast as Littlefinger from Game of Thrones. His life is unlike the lives of other Founding Fathers, beginning with his birth. Hamilton was born in Charlestown, a settlement located on the tropical isles of Saint Kitts and Nevis. But no one knows exactly when he was born, because he lied about his birth year constantly.
He won a community scholarship that allowed him to travel to Boston. From there, he charmed his way into the upper echelon of colonial society. He then proceeded to become an officer, a congressman and an all-around know-it-all.
George Washington Was a Snappy Dresser
George Washington is known for many things, and it’s a shame that his passion for fashion isn’t often discussed. Beautiful clothing was one of Washington’s greatest loves, and he often put himself in massive amounts of debt to have the newest coats, leggings, breeches and cravats. These were typically imported from England, funnily enough.
Washington’s wardrobe wasn’t only extensive and expensive. It was more colorful than most people would imagine. He owned bright blue coats and light pink suits and had a particular soft spot for purple satin. In short, Washington was a fashionisto.
John Hancock Was a Smuggler
John Hancock was a smuggler — and a thumping good one, at that. This little tidbit is still hotly debated among historians, but there’s enough conjecture about it to support the possibility that it’s true.
Hancock was a wealthy man, and he accumulated his wealth by smuggling goods — namely, Dutch tea — into and out of the colonies. When the English levied more tea taxes on the colonists, Hancock’s livelihood was put at risk. He wholeheartedly supported the Boston Tea Party, as it aligned with his best business interests. Who knew that tea was such a powerful motivator?
John Adams Loved Satan
John Adams was a weird guy. He was also the first U.S. President to take up residence in the White House. When he moved in, he made sure to bring his two pups, Juno and Satan. That’s right — John Adams, the second President of the United States of America, had a dog named after the Devil himself.
This probably says more about Adams than it does about his dogs. He was a pretty strange person, after all. Still, it’s puzzling to think of him sitting in the Oval Office, happily calling out for Satan and Juno.
George Washington Cursed Like a Sailor
George Washington may have had refined tastes when it came to clothing, but his mouth was a cesspit. Not only did he suffer from poor dental health, but he cursed wildly, making him foulmouthed in more than one way. Washington was raised to be a proper gentleman, and in many ways, he did fit the bill.
But when he lost his temper, which was often, he’d forget himself completely and let loose a tirade of insults and curses. General Charles Scott said that Washington “swore…till the leaves shook on the trees…he swore like an angel from heaven.”
Alexander Hamilton Had a Scandalous Affair
Hamilton was never satisfied with his tumultuous, dangerous and exciting life. But his affair with Maria Reynolds, a married woman, was a clear case of entrapment. The attractive and alluring Reynolds approached Hamilton, claiming that her husband had abused her and abandoned her. Hamilton fell for her right away.
But, Reynolds wasn’t entirely truthful. She eventually confessed to Hamilton that she and her husband had reconciled, and Hamilton ended things. Reynolds demanded that Hamilton hire her husband in return for her silence. He refused, and the whole thing went public. Hamilton ended up paying the husband several thousand dollars anyway.
James Madison Was a Tiny Man
James Madison was perhaps the tiniest president ever to grace the White House. At only 5 feet 4 inches tall, he was shorter than Elijah Wood, a man who famously played a tiny Hobbit. He also weighed about 100 lbs. A strong breeze could have easily carried him away.
Considering how powerful public image is nowadays, especially in politics, it’s interesting to think that such a petite man was able to win the presidency. Perhaps his personality was so massive, it was able to make up for people’s perceptions about his short stature. Madison was the smallest Founding Father.
Sam Adams Was a Prodigy
Sam Adams technically had 11 siblings, but due to the high infant mortality rate of the time, only two survived past toddlerhood. He was probably his parents’ favorite child, having been accepted into Harvard University at age 14. Sam Adams was also deeply religious, taking pride in his Puritan upbringing.
But his pacifistic ways were corrupted when the British attempted to seize his family’s land and goods. After that, his focus shifted from religion to politics. His childhood, studies, struggle with his family’s assets and dramatic personality change would make an excellent ’80s-style movie montage.
Thomas Jefferson Kept Pet Bears
Thomas Jefferson might have been uncomfortable speaking with people, but he felt fine and dandy while shooting the breeze with his pets. However, unlike most people of the time — or now, for that matter — Jefferson wasn’t interested in only having a few cats and dogs around. He was keen to get a few bears involved. So, he did.
At least, for a short while. A friend of Jefferson’s gave him two grizzly bear cubs in 1807. About a year later, they were re-gifted to Charles Willson Peale, a wildlife enthusiast who was better equipped to care for the bears.
John Adams Wished to Be King
John Adams exhibited some quirky behavior before, during and after his “reign” as president. And a reign it was, as Adams demanded that his servants, fellows and citizens refer to him as “your Highness.” He was pompous, decadent and annoyingly pretentious.
Still, his upper-class affectations had a certain appeal. Adams was a worthwhile diplomat, often able to negotiate with Europe’s most influential and elite forces. Still, he was far from down-to-Earth, something that irked his fellow Founding Fathers quite a bit at times. Hopefully, he didn’t ask them to bow or kiss his ring. But knowing Adams, it’s possible.
Benjamin Franklin Had Issues With Spelling
Of course, Benjamin Franklin is remembered as a brilliant inventor, politician and thinker. While he was all of these things and more, he wasn’t exactly a flawless student. For starters, he hated the way that some words were spelled and believed that the English language and alphabet needed a total upgrade.
In particular, words like “thought,” “night” and “through” drove him crazy. He believed in the fluidity of language above all else and was a devoted essayist, writer and printer. He’d be happy to see how English has changed over time, though he’d probably still complain.
George Washington Had Fabulous Hair
George Washington’s iconic white hairdo wasn’t a wig. The man had too much style and panache to shave his head and wear another man’s hair — lice and fleas be darned. Though it was more hygienic to use a wig in those times, Washington preferred to put himself through the daily ordeal of fixing his hair — a process that took hours.
His famous coif was thoroughly powdered, tied back and perfumed every single day. While he probably suffered from constant scalp itch, he also looked like a dapper guy ready to rock the town — or colony.
Alexander Hamilton Oversaw the First U.S. Murder Trial
Hamilton played many roles during his life, including that of a lawyer. He even participated in the first U.S. murder trial as a defense attorney. Twenty-three-year-old Levi Weeks stood accused of murdering his girlfriend, Gulielma “Elma” Sands. The young woman had vanished without a trace, leaving only a few possessions behind near the Manhattan Well.
Authorities checked the well, and sure enough, they found her body. The public was against Weeks, but thanks — in part, at least — to Hamilton’s cunning tactics and resourceful methods, the jury found Weeks innocent of the crime.
Sam Adams Didn’t Care About Beer
When someone says “Sam Adams,” nine times out of 10, they’re talking about beer. Funnily enough, the colonial man featured on the labels of Samuel Adams beer is a cartoon version of Paul Revere. How’s that for wires crossed? Still, Sam Adams himself wasn’t too fond of beer.
Adams was interested in only two things: politics and Puritanism. However, his father owned a brewery, and when he died, he left his son the deed. Out of respect for his father’s legacy, Adams kept the brewery and ensured that it continued to produce tasty beer. But he likely didn’t partake very often.
Thomas Jefferson Owned Mastodon Bones
Dinosaurs became a craze during the 1990s thanks to Jurassic Park, but extinct creatures were popular more than two centuries before that. At least, Thomas Jefferson liked them. In particular, Jefferson had a fascination with mammoths. Over the course of his life, he read every book about mammoths he could get his hands on.
He also collected mammoth teeth and bones whenever the opportunity presented itself, and considering how lax archaeology-related rules were at the time, he probably had hundreds of chances to buy mammoth remains. The scientific-minded politician spent days, if not weeks, poring over the massive bones.
Benjamin Franklin Didn’t Hate Eagles
One of the most common urban legends surrounding Benjamin Franklin involves birds — namely, bald eagles and turkeys. The story goes that Franklin was unhappy with the government’s choice to use the bald eagle as the national bird. His recommended choice was a turkey. But, this isn’t exactly right.
Franklin did criticize the design for the Great Seal — an eagle — and wrote that it resembled a turkey. He also expressed his feelings about eagles, writing that they possessed “bad morals,” while the humble turkey was a “bird of courage.” Perhaps he was very hungry when he wrote all of this.
George Washington Retired to Make Whiskey
Retirement can be the beginning of an exciting new chapter in anyone’s life. For George Washington, retirement meant that he could finally do what he had always dreamed of doing: making a ton of whiskey, selling most of it and consuming the rest. After winning the Revolutionary War and birthing a new nation, who could blame him?
He was a fantastic whiskey manufacturer and quickly became one of the largest producers in the country. Finally able to take some rest and enjoy the idyllic Mount Vernon countryside, Washington savored every last drop of his retirement. A (reconstructed) distillery at his former home still produces spirits today.
Alexander Hamilton Founded a Newspaper
Hamilton founded one of the oldest and most beloved newspapers in the United States: the New York Post. Only, at the time of its creation, it was called the New York Evening Post. Hamilton had his fingers in a lot of pies — and a lot of pockets — and began the now-infamous paper with a meager $10,000.
That’s several hundred thousand dollars in today’s currency. It makes sense that Hamilton would go into publishing, especially when it meant that he had control over the press. He was a political player who always knew the right moves to make.
Thomas Jefferson Had an Affair With His Slave
Pretty much all of the Founding Fathers owned slaves. However, not all of them had scandalous affairs with their slaves like Thomas Jefferson did. While it’s unknown how many mistresses Jefferson took, it’s an undeniable fact that he had sexual relations, and possibly six children, with Sally Hemings, a slave in his possession.
Jefferson lost his wife when he was only 39 and went on to develop stronger relationships with the single women in his life. Unfortunately, he never publicly acknowledged Hemings or their children.
Everyone Got Wasted Before Signing the Constitution
Before George Washington was making his own whiskey, he was buying massive quantities of it to share with his friends and compatriots. Two days before signing the Constitution, Washington took himself and about 50 guys out for a night on the town. Though it isn’t likely that many of them remembered it, history does.
In total, the group drank about $17,000 worth of alcohol. They kicked back over 100 bottles of wine, eight bottles of whiskey and 12 enormous jugs of beer — and that’s just for starters. Somehow, Washington survived this night.
George Washington Suffered From Poor Health
Though Washington was a man of exemplary tastes and fashions, he was a slave to his creature comforts, including hard liquor. He also had rotten luck when it came to communicable disease. Throughout his life, he suffered from measles, seasickness, smallpox, dysentery, malaria, anthrax poisoning, influenza and possibly even cancer.
He may have been prone to sickness, but his condition often improved after a little rest, which is amazing. However, he followed ancient and classic medical practices, including bloodletting, which ended up causing his untimely death at the age of 67.
Thomas Jefferson Was Nice to Libraries
Thomas Jefferson was a collector. Not only did he collect mammoth bones, but he also was an enormous fan of books and libraries. When the British set fire to the Library of Congress, Jefferson heaved a heavy sigh, held his chin up straight and vowed to donate his library to replace it.
In total, Jefferson owned about 10,000 books throughout his life. He donated nearly 7,000 of those volumes to the Library of Congress out of pure love for learning and sharing knowledge. He is every librarian’s hero.
Benjamin Franklin Was a Playboy
Benjamin Franklin was a closeted nudist, a practiced mathematician and a player. Though he maybe wasn’t the most physically attractive guy, he made up for his round gut and balding head with pure wit, charm and affluence. Franklin exuded confidence wherever he went, and ladies couldn’t resist.
He may have been one of the first American men to pursue “cougars” — women older than he was. In a letter, he once remarked that older women tend to be cleaner and kinder than younger women. Who can tell someone’s age in the dark?
Alexander Hamilton Hated James Madison
While most of the Founding Fathers got along well or were even good friends, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison hated each other’s guts. This resentment had everything to do with politics, and even more to do with personal feelings. Each had his own idea as to how the country should be run, and their ideas clashed heavily.
They argued, they threatened one another and they came dangerously close to dueling one another over their quarrels. Fortunately, things between them cooled off. But it would become a deep-seated resentment that would last for the rest of their lives.
George Washington Was Bad at Returning Books
Thomas Jefferson dutifully donated to libraries while building his own personal collection. And his compatriot, George Washington, somehow managed to rack up a $300,000 late book fee. If that sounds too ridiculous to be true, it’s not.
On October 5, 1789, Washington borrowed a copy of The Law of Nations by Emer de Vattel. He never returned it. More than two centuries later, librarians in New York realized it was missing. It hadn’t been too missed, as it took more than 200 years to notice it was gone. No one knows where the forgotten copy is today.
Thomas Jefferson Wrote a Lot of Letters
Throughout his life, Jefferson composed nearly 20,000 letters. That’s a lot of ink, paper and finger calluses. But, considering his hobbies and interests, it’s an unsurprising number. Jefferson considered himself to be an amateur scientist, historian and all-around Renaissance man.
As such, he produced books’ worth of musings, notes, essays, records and anything and everything else that possessed his mind for a moment. His prolific writing may be related to his inability to speak well, as ink and paper were his primary forms of communication with others. Jefferson was more of a texter, less of a caller.
Alexander Hamilton Was a Dueler
Hamilton’s life began dramatically, stayed that way and also ended that way. The man wanted to rule the world — just without having to accept the title and responsibility associated with doing such a thing. So, he mostly worked from the shadows. He pulled a lot of strings as a lawyer, too.
But some people hated his boastful, controlling attitude. Hamilton’s son, Philip, died at the young age of 19 in a duel while defending his father’s name and honor. Three years later, Hamilton was also gunned down during a duel while defending his reputation.
Benjamin Franklin Published an Essay About…Flatulence
“Fart Proudly” (yes, that’s its real title) might be Benjamin Franklin’s most entertaining essay. Written in 1781, it’s a satirical, open-handed slap across the face of every European scientist and physician. Franklin had had enough of European scientific research, feeling that it had become a pointless, pretentious practice.
With a passive-aggressive wrist, he composed a biting paper about how European intellectuals should spend their time trying to make farts smell better because they weren’t using their power or time to work on meaningful pursuits. At the time of its writing, Franklin was living in France.