Bruce Watson: The Founding Extended Families didn't make it into the history books for a reason
LEVERETT — We have come far in our understanding of the Founding Fathers? Thick biographies and endless PBS specials have revealed the unique genius of these men, and sometimes a few Founding Mothers.
But what about the rest? What about the Founding Extended Families? Every family has its losers, boozers and users, and the Founding Fathers are no exception.
Because the July 4 holiday blends patriotism with family outings, it’s time to bring our Founding Cousins, Founding Uncles and Founding In-Laws out of the closet of history and into the sunshine of scandal.
Many Americans familiar with crusty old John Adams have never heard of Granby Adams, John’s third cousin on his horse’s side. And for good reason. While John was in the Continental Congress, Granby was running a numbers racket out of his garage in Quincy. Granby’s numbers scheme made millions, so he started scratch ticket games. “That Granby,” Abigail Adams complained. “Every time you go to market, you get behind someone buying rolls of Patriot Powerball! and Colonial Cash! tickets. They’re just throwing their specie away!”
But Granby’s exploits paled compared to Jed Jefferson’s. Thomas Jefferson stopped speaking to his half-brother back in 1776 when Jed torched the outhouse at Monticello, using moonshine and a match. That prank started Jed on a career that saw him in and out of rehab, to the delight of the press. “JED JUICED AGAIN!” headlines read, and poor President Jefferson would have to tell reporters, “There’s one in every family.”
Tall, proud, part wooden — George Washington has lost none of his eminence. Until now. Right now, when you learn about Ziggy Washington, our first president’s first cousin whose idea of fun was to stand in public squares, wait for some official announcement about the Revolution, and moon his fellow patriots. Ziggy was arrested so often that George, nagged by Martha, had his cousin exiled to England where he met....
Curly Hamilton. Wigs were all the rage among the Founding Fathers but Curly, Alexander’s uncle, refused to stop with the traditional white.
Day after day, Curly showed up in Parliament wearing fright wigs, bald caps, fake Mohawks and toupees that made Donald Trump look sane. Curly’s behavior led the Wig Party to add an “h” to its name to avoid any confusion. By 1779, Alexander Hamilton was working behind the scenes to have Curly seduced by Sassy Hancock, John’s slutty cousin. “Nothing like a good sex scandal to shut a man up,” Alexander said, but Sassy was in debtor’s prison by then.
The less said about Phil “Nagging Back” Paine, Tom’s second cousin often-removed, the better.
And then there was Cassandra Madison. Cassandra disgraced the celebrated Madison family with a series of outlandish acts known throughout the new nation as “The Outlandish Acts.”
First she urged that women be allowed to vote. Next she began “trash talking” the new Constitution. Life terms for Supreme Court members? “Sheer tyranny,” Cassandra said. “Who knows how long e_SSRqem old buggers will someday live?” Two senators for every state? “Bloody bollocks,” Cassandra warned. “Someday all the big empty states will control the Senate. And that’ll be the end of your bleedin’ democracy.”
And what about that second amendment? Cassandra asked nephew James. “Bear arms? Well-regulated militia? Not be infringed? What the bloomin’ hell does all that blather mean? Could you be any more vague? Leave that in there and you’ll have people stockpilin’ private arsenals and causing all kinds of havoc.”
The Founding Extended Families never made it into the history books. Now you know why.
Bruce Watson’s column appears twice a month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.