Families across the country celebrated the Fourth of July yesterday, commemorating America’s independence from England! Just a few miles from our DC Cricket Media office, we can see the gleaming white Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, Capitol dome, and White House. These solemn structures add a certain reverence to our image of the Founding Fathers. But it wasn’t all serious business back in 1776. Here are a few fun facts about our Founding Fathers that you may not know!
A culinary trendsetter
Thomas Jefferson helped popularize ice cream in America. He was the first to serve it at the White House, and the first known American recipe for the sweet treat is written in Jefferson’s handwriting. Jefferson was also a big fan of macaroni noodles and spread the love for potatoes and tomatoes among his countrymen. Before Jefferson, many people still believed them to be poisonous due to being part of the ‘nightshade’ family of plants.
America’s most famous autograph
If you’ve ever seen the Declaration of Independence, you know that John Hancock’s signature is, well, pretty darn big. You may have even heard the phrase ‘John Hancock’ used to refer to a signature. So why did he take up six square inches of the document? Reportedly, he said it was so that the British could read his name without spectacles. A pretty brave act for someone who was basically committing treason! Hancock was also known for smuggling goods to avoid paying excessive tasks. The president of the Continental Congress lived dangerously!
The founding WHO?
If you asked a signer of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution how it felt to be a founding father, he’d probably give you a strange look. Soon-to-be President Warren G. Harding first used the term in a 1916 speech. Harding may not have been a very good president, but he did make one important contribution to the way we talk about America’s past!
Founding Fathers’ best friends
Many of the Founding Fathers kept beloved pets, many of which had some weird names. George Washington’s foxhounds were called Drunkard, Tipsy, and Tippler. (What was he feeding them?) John Adams might win the prize for strangest pet names. His dogs were named Juno and… Satan.
One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Robert Morris, owned a legendarily loyal spaniel. While Morris was dying, the dog refused to leave his bedside and later lay down beside his body and died. Morris and his beloved pet were buried on the same day.
Thomas Jefferson owned a menagerie of pets. He not only kept several dogs and horses, he kept two grizzly bear cubs in a cage on the White House lawn. Jefferson also doted over his pet mockingbird and let him fly freely and eat chewed food from his mouth—even in front of company.
A colorful character
Most people haven’t heard the unusual name of Gouverneur Morris, a signer and co-author of the Constitution, but he is credited with the famous preamble of the Constitution beginning with “We, the people.” If you’ve ever seen a painting of the signers of the Constitution, though, Morris is pretty easy to spot: he’s the only one with a peg leg
As famous for his mischievous personality as his brilliant mind, he might have encouraged the spread of a few different rumors about how he lost his leg. One claimed that he jumped out of a woman’s window to avoid meeting an angry husband. Another stated he was thrown from a carriage while doing tricks to impress the ladies. More likely, it was just an ordinary carriage accident. Either way, he didn’t let the loss of the leg get in the way of his fun. Morris was an avid dancer, horseback rider, and ladies’ man.
Inventor of a nation
Benjamin Franklin served the country as a politician, diplomat, printer, author, postmaster, and much more, but he was also passionate about inventing. Some of his more successful inventions included bifocal glasses, swim fins (for the hands!), the odometer, the Franklin stove, and the lightning rod. One of his less successful inventions was a phonetic alphabet that got rid of the letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y. (He wasn’t the only inventor among the Founding Fathers: Thomas Jefferson’s many inventions included a swivel chair and a spherical sundial!)
Little man, big secrets
James Madison was our smallest president at only 5’4” and 100 pounds. He was also a major contributor to the Constitution… and even more interestingly, kept extremely detailed notes at the Constitutional Convention. However, he refused to publish those notes until after his death, which he thought would be soon due to his constantly frail health. He thought that if the people didn’t know who contributed which ideas to the Constitution, they’d be more likely to accept it. Madison, however, outlived all of the other signers, dying at age 85 in 1836. There are also signs that Madison revised the notes later in life, perhaps to make himself or his allies look better in hindsight.
Going fourth together
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were what you might consider ‘frienemies.’ Although they had a friendly relationship when fighting for independence, they later split into separate political parties and disagreed on many important points. Nevertheless, they rekindled their close relationship later in life when they became pen pals. Eerily, the two elderly Founding Fathers both died on the 50th anniversary of Independence Day, July 4, 1826. Adams’ last words were ‘Thomas Jefferson survives.’ He was incorrect—Jefferson had passed away five hours earlier.
Want more fascinating fun facts about Founding Fathers? Check out COBBLESTONE Magazine for more amazing info about American history, geared to readers ages 9-14!