Washington D.C. Italian Genealogy Club

Il Circolo Filippo Mazzei

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Site Last updated 15 March 2008

Welcome to the homepage of Il Circolo Filippo Mazzei the Washington DC metropolitan area Italian genealogical society, Chapter 6 of POINTers-In-Person.

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    A Guide to This Page

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    Who Is Filippo Mazzei??

    Names We Are Researching

    Our Meeting Schedule

    IL CIRCOLO FILIPPO MAZZEI, the Washington DC Metro Area Chapter of POINTers-In-Person, meets quarterly on Saturdays at the Dolley Madison Library, 1244 Oak Ridge Avenue, McLean, VA. All interested in Italian Genealogy are welcome. The meetings follow a "show-and-tell" format, where we all share information.

    Meetings scheduled for 2009 are:

    January 24,
    April 25,
    July 18,
    October 17

    All meetings start at 10:00 a.m. and run until 1:00 p.m. After the meeting, some of us go to Pulcinella's Italian Restaurant, which is nearby, for lunch.

    How to get there:

    From the Capital Beltway (I-495) go to the exit for VA Route 123, eastbound (to McLean - NOT to Tyson's Corner). Follow Route 123 (Dolley Madison Boulevard) about 2 miles to Ingleside Avenue. (The intersection 1 block before Ingleside Avenue is Old Dominion Drive; there is a traffic light at Old Dominion, and it is one VERY SHORT block to Ingleside.) Take a LEFT onto Ingleside, go about a block to the fork in the road, keep LEFT at the fork - this is Oak Ridge Avenue, and the Library is on the left. We meet in the basement meeting room, on your left as you face the front of the Library.

    POINTers-In-Person is the social aspect of POINT (Pursuing our Italian Names Together), the largest Italian Genealogy Organization in the United States. POINT publishes a quarterly journal of at least 60 pages and maintains a data base of family names being researched by members. For information, or a membership application, send an e-mail to POINT.

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    FILIPPO MAZZEI -
    Godfather of the Declaration of Independence

    By Louis Alfano

    Filippo Mazzei was born in Poggio-a-Caiano, Tuscany, Italy, on December 25, 1730, the fourth child of Domenico and Elisabetta Mazzei (Malone, p. 469). He studied medicine at the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence and practiced medicine in Pisa and Livorno. He left Italy in August of 1752 to join a Dr.Salinas in the practice of medicine in Smyrna and Constantinople, Turkey (Marraro, p. 5 & Marchione, p. 15).

    In 1756, he went to London, where he organized the firm of Martini & Co., which imported cheese, wine and olive oil into England (Marchione, p.15). The Grand Duke of Tuscany placed an order with Mazzei for the purchase of two franklin stoves, resulting in Mazzei's meeting Benjamin Franklin and several other Americans, including Thomas Adams (Marraro, p.6).

    Mazzei's American friends persuaded him to form a company to promote the culture of silkworms, olives, and grapes, and the production of wine, in Virginia. He went to Italy to hire the men and obtain the materials needed for this venture, and set sail from Livorno on September 7, 1773, arriving at Jamestown, Virginia, in late November (Marraro, p.6).

    Thomas Adams was giving Mazzei a tour of the Virginia countryside when they stopped at the estate of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was fascinated by Mazzei, and induced him to buy land adjacent to Monticello (Guzzetta). Mazzei called his estateColle ("The Hill"), which is near the present Shadwell Station, about four miles from Charlottesville (Marchione pp. 15-16).

    Mazzei soon became interested in Virginia's political affairs and spoke out against British rule. In 1774 - 1776 he wrote articles in Italian under the pseudonym "Furioso", which Jefferson translated into English, for publication in the Virginia Gazette (Marraro, p.6; Guzzettza). The original Italian of one of these articles read in part:

    "Per ottenere il nostro intento bisogna, miei cari concittadini, ragionar su i diritti natural dell' uomo e sulle basi di un governo libero. Questa discussione ci demonstrer� chiaramente, che il britanno non � mai stato tale nel suo maggior grado di perfezione, e che il nostro non era altro una cattiva copia di quello, con tali altri svantaggi che lo rendevano poca al di sopra dello stato di schiavat�.....

    "Tutti gli uomini sono per natura egualmente liberi e indipendenti. Quest' eguaglianza � necessaria per costituire un governo libero. Bisogna che ognuno sia uguale all' oltro nel diritto naturale. La distinzione dei ranghi n' � sempre stata, come sempre ne sar� un efficace ostacolo, e la ragione � chiarissima. Quando in una nazione avete pi� classi d'uomini, bisogna che diate ad ognuna la sua porzione nel governo; altrimenti una classe tiranneggierebbe l'altre. Ma le porzioni no possono farsi perfattamente uguali; e quando ancor si potesse, il giro delle cose umane dimostra che non si manterrebbo in equilibrio; e per poco che una preponderi la macchina devecadere.

    "Per questa ragione tutte le antiche repubbliche ebbero corta vita. Quando furono stabilite gli abitanti eran divisi per classi, e sempre in contesa, ogni classe procurando di aver maggior porzione dell'altre nel governo; cosicch� i legislatori doveron cedere ai pregiudizi dei costumi, alle opposte pretensioni dei partiti, e il meglio che poteron fare fu un misto grottesco di libert� e di tirannia."(Marchione, p. 51)

    These portions of Mazzei's article translate roughly as follows:

    "My dear fellow citizens, to reach the goal we desire we must remember that the natural rights of man are the basis of a free government. This discourse will clearly show that Britain was never this type of state, even at her highest level of perfection, and that ours may become no more than a captive copy of it, with all its other disadvantages, causing it to become little more than a state of slavery...

    "All men are by nature equally free and independent. This equality is necessary to establish a free government. Each one must be equal to the other in natural rights. Class distinctions are not always static and will always be nothing more than an effective stumbling block, and the reason is most clear. Whenever you have many classes of men in one nation, it is necessary that you give each one its share in the government; otherwise one class will tyrannize the others. But the shares cannot be made perfectly equal; and whenever one class takes power, human events will demonstrate that the classes are not in balance; and bit by bit the greater part of the machine will collapse.

    "For this reason all the ancient republics were short-lived. When they were stabilized, the inhabitants were divided by class and were always in dispute, each class trying to procure a greater share in government than the others; consequently the legislators came to yield to the prejudices of custom, to the contrary pretensions of the parties, and the best that could be had was a grotesque mixture of liberty and tyranny."

    Mazzei was not particularly interested in taking credit for his writings. In a June 16, 1776, letter to Lieutenant-Governor John Page he wrote: "My composition is in Italian with English words. You know that what is elegance in one language is sometimes nonsense in another...it is entirely owing to a very little remnant of modesty that I don't desire you to publish that I am the Author of them. I am clear in my principles and I am ready to support them."(Marchione, p. 17)

    On June 12, 1776, the Virginia convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by patriot George Mason. Mason's first article began:

    "That all Men are created equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights, of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their Posterity..."(Gaines, p. 63)

    Less than a month later, on July 4, 1776, meeting in Philadelphia, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, adopted a Declaration, drafted by Mazzei's neighbor, Thomas Jefferson, which stated in part:

    "We hold these Truths to be self-evident. That all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."

    So it was that the thoughts of an Italian immigrant became embodied in the founding document of the United States, the Declaration of Independence. This contribution was acknowledged by John F. Kennedy in his book A Nation of Immigrants, in which he states that "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." (Kennedy, pp. 15-16)

    Mazzei also wrote in 1776: "We think that if we could have but one and the same Constitution for all the united colonies, our union would be infinitely stronger." (Biaggi)

    "Mazzei used the World as his classroom and helped educate people everywhere to democratic ideals, He did this by word-of-mouth and by his writing on the political, financial, and social conditions in the Colonies. One appreciates Mazzei's faith in free speech and the power of exposure. and recognizes his ideas on freedom,sex, property. And as he was conscious of man's injustice to woman, so too was he conscious of the injustice of man to man: slavery.

    "Not only men and agricultural products accompanied Mazzei to Virginia, but products of the mind and the lessons he, like Machiavelli, had learned from the study of Roman history. He also brought the ideas he had gathered from his reading of the Encyclopedists and Cesare Beccaria, and from his association with the best minds in Italy, France, and England."(Biaggi)

    Mazzei's belief in the principles of the Declaration of Independence was so strong that he sent a translation of it to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He also enlisted as a private in the Independent Company of Albemarle County and participated in a march toward the Atlantic coast in an effort to thwart the British. (Marraro, p. 6) Upon returning from this march, Mazzei went back to his agricultural pursuits and continued to work with Jefferson and other patriots on matters relating to political and public affairs.

    "A concrete example of his desire to participate in the drafting of a constitution for the state of Virginia Is the document 'Instructions of the Freeholders of Albemarle County to their Delegates in Convention.' In these 'Instructions' Mazzei wrote: 'The glory of having been the founders will afford such a gratification to our hearts as to over balance all the inconveniences and labours.' It is the 'missing link' which places Mazzei with our Founding Fathers. There is no doubt that this document - draft of "Instructions" was written by Mazzei. Its importance was recognized in 1952 when Julian Boyd stated in an editorial note (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson,Vol. 6) that Jefferson's 'own draft-constitution of 1783 was influenced by these views of the Albemarle inhabitants.' Boyd printed the clerk's copy found among Jefferson's papers, He was not aware that the document was Mazzei's." (Biaggi)

    In January of 1779, Governor Patrick Henry and the Virginia Council appointed Mazzei as an agent of the State of Virginia. His mission was to travel to Europe and attempt to obtain a loan of up to 900,000 pounds sterling to be used to buy goods in Italy for the use of state troops. His only compensation was to be reimbursement of his expenses. En route to Europe, the ship Mazzei was sailing on was captured by the British, and he and his family were taken to New York and held prisoner. While still at sea, Mazzei put his instructions and his commission in a weighted sack and threw them overboard. He and his family were sent to Ireland, from where they escaped aboard a Portuguese ship and made their way to France. (Marraro, p. 9)

    Without his official instructions, he could not accomplish his mission of obtaining the loan, but acted as an intelligence gatherer for the Virginia government, sending some 36 dispatches to the Governor during a three-year period. (Marraro, pp. 10-11) Mazzei returned to America in 1783, and was instrumental in founding the Constitutional Society in 1784, which promoted the concept of a strong constitution for the United States to replace the Articles of Confederation. (Marchione, p. 24)

    Mazzei left America on June 17, 1785, for France, where he lived for the next three years. He never lost his love for America. In a letter which he wrote to James Madison on June 3, 1785, he stated: "I am leaving but my heart remains....America is my Jupiter; Virginia my Venus....I know well that wherever I shall be and under whatever circumstances I will never relent my efforts towards the welfare of my adopted country." (Marchione,p. 23)

    While in Paris, he wrote his four-volume Recherches Historiques et Politiques sur les Etats-Unis de l'Am�rique Septentrionale (Historical and Political Enquiries Concerning the United States of North America). (Malone, p. 470) This work described the founding of each of the 13 colonies, the causes of the Revolution, and the development of the government of the United States. It was published in 1788.

    While in France, he served as "intelligencer" for Stanislas Poniatowski, the last King of Poland. (Marraro, p. 13) "He lived in Paris and functioned as an employee -- first as agent and then as charg� d'affaires -- of King Stanislas. He succeeded in reestablishing diplomatic relations between France and Poland. Soon after reading Mazzei's Recherches, the King invited him to Warsaw. He was called to Warsaw in December 1791, and arrived there early in 1792, to be both friend and advisor. He wisely urged Stanislas not to issue paper money, and wrote Reflections on the Nature of Money and Exchange." (Biaggi) He left Warsaw in July 1792, when Poland was divided between Germany and Russia and returned to Italy, settling in Pisa.

    "He continued to offer his services to his adopted country. His final gesture of friendship to the United States was the hiring of two sculptors in 1802 for work in the national capital, Washington, D.C. From Pisa, at age 75, Mazzei set out for Rome, and hired Giovanni Andrei and Giuseppe Franzoni to bring their Italian artistic talents to the United States." (Biaggi)

    In his later years, he lived on a pension from Czar Alexander of Russia based upon his service to the Polish Crown, and wrote an autobiography, Memorie della Vita e delle Peregrinazioni del Fiorentino Filippo Mazzei (Memoirs of the Life and Travels of the Florentine Filippo Mazzei) which was published in two volumes in 1845-46. In his later years he was known to his friends by the nickname "Pippo l'ortolano," Phil the gardener. A letter to Mazzei from Francesco M. Gianni, written on March 15, 1804 is addressed to him: "Al Cittadino Americano, Pippo l'Ortolano." He probably liked that nickname best of all.

    Mazzei died on March 19, 1816, and was buried in Pisa. An obituary appeared in the Richmond, Virginia Argus on June 26, 1816:

    "DIED - At Piza (sic), in Tuscany, March 19th, in the 86th year of his age, Philip Mazzie (sic), formerly a citizen of the United States, and the author of a political and historical work on North America.

    "Mazzie (sic) was descended of respectable parentage in Tuscany,and received the best education its universities afforded. He early applied himself to medicine, a science, however, to which he was not attached, and it does not appear that he ever made any great acquisition in it. Endowed with a mind free and independent, and disdaining to reside in a country where superstition, bigotry and tyranny opposed a barrier to all generous efforts in the cause of liberty and freedom, his affections were soon directed from the place which gave him birth.

    "After travelling over the eastern part of Europe, and acquiring a little fortune by trade, he established himself in business at London. But the ordinary routine of commercial transactions was little calculated to engross a mind like that of Mazzei, which sought a wide display for its talents. The rising colonies of great Britain attracted his notice, and he was induced to embark his fortune for Virginia, where he attempted to introduce the culture of the vine, olive, and other fruits of his native country. In a short time after his arrival, hostilities commenced in which he manifested an enthusiastic zeal in favor of the cause of liberty. In 1779, he was sent by the state of Virginia on a secret mission to Europe. In 1785 he returned to America, but shortly afterwards re-embarked for France. We next find him at Paris, a member of the "corps diplomatique," at the French court, in the service of the king of Poland. The revolution in France drove him to Warsaw, in 1792, where he was made privy counsellor to Stanislaus Augustus. The subsequent dismemberment of Poland, and the misfortunes of its virtuous monarch, were productive of many changes in the affairs of Mazzei, who finally retired to Pisa, where, from a life of temperance, he attained an advanced age.

    "Mazzei was a distinguished politician. In principle he was a republican and a confessed enemy to tyrants, both of church and state. His work on America furnished ample proof of his adherence to the best principles in politics.

    "He was possessed of a great ingeniousness of character, and simplicity of manners. His knowledge of mankind was extensive; and he was a profound adept in the science of human nature. Toward the United States his affections were entirely devoted; and his principal consolation in the decline of life, was derived from seeing that country flourish, of which he was proud to consider himself an adopted citizen."


    SOURCES CITED

    Biaggi, Mario An Appreciation of Philip Mazzei - an Unsung American Patriot, in CONGRESSIONAL RECORD Washington, D.C., September 12, 1984, page E 3806

    Gaines, William H. VIRGINIA HISTORY IN DOCUMENTS 1621-1788, Virginia State Library, Richmond, 1974

    Guzzetta, Charles Mazzei in America, in DREAM STREETS - THE BIG BOOK OF ITALIAN AMERICAN CULTURE, Lawrence DiStasi editor, Harper & Row, New York, 1989, page 13.

    Kennedy, John F. A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS, Harper & Row, New York, 1964

    Malone, Dumas (editor) DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY, VOL. VI, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1933

    Marchione, Margherita PHILIP MAZZEI: JEFFERSON'S "ZEALOUS WHIG", American Institute of Italian Studies, New York, 1975

    Marraro, Howard R. PHILIP MAZZEI - VIRGINIA'S AGENT IN EUROPE, New York Public Library, 1935

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