The Founding Fathers. In 21st-century America, when absolute fact and objective truth are mindlessly subjected to debate, there's no longer agreement on who qualifies as a founding father or on what they believed. There's not even agreement on when or how the Fourth of July was first celebrated. Which gives us license to tell this tale.
In the spring of 1777, John Adams knew the Declaration had been signed on July 2 the year before because he was one of the signers. He wrote his wife, Abigail, that he felt certain that the people would want to commemorate the occasion with celebration. When the Declaration was edited and a final version was passed by the the Continental Congress and sent to the states for ratification, though, July 2 was to be forgotten. The date had been changed to July 4, which, by stroke of fate, rolls off the tongue more easily than July second. A holiday was born, though not quite yet.
Some years later, having survived the Revolutionary War, served as the first Vice President under the First President George Washington, and later served as the Second President himself, Adams was restless. He and son, John Qunicy Adams, thus acquired several hundred finished lots near the town of Swampscot, Massachusetts, not far from Braintree (later named Quincy, near Boston), where the Adams family lived (the town was named for Colonel John Quincy, grandfather of Abigail and after whom John Quincy was also named). In an effort to avoid scrutiny by the press, the Adams partnered with John Morgan, a co-founder of the first medical school in the country at what is now the University of Pennsylvania and the former director-general of the U.S. army’s hospital in Boston. The company was called Adams Morgan LLC, for which a district in the nation's capital was named, thus obfuscating the true nature and location of the venture.
The new development, to be called the Mews at Saugus (after an unknown Revolutionary War hero of the same name), was a mixed-use, multi-family condominium community that provided easy access to Boston via Route 1 and the Tobin Bridge. Adams, being a true patriot, decided to hold a grand opening at the community on July 4th. At this event, legend has it that a series of uniquely American traditions were born.
Adams invited his closest friends, all founding fathers, each of whom had a particular skill he would find useful in building and marketing his new condos. George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson would attend, having taken the Amtrak Metroliner up from the nation's capital. With them was Pocahontas, who, despite her advanced age, was looking for a place in Massachusetts as she was considering a run for Senate. The crew fetched Ben Franklin and his cat, named Schuylkill (pronounced Skoo-kill, after the expressway that parallels the river by the same name), at the Philadelphia train station. A merry ride it was.
From nearby Boston came John Hancock, the first President of the Continental Congress. Adams also invited the local Wampanoag people, who, although their tribe was smaller due to multiple bouts with exotic disease imported from Europe, still thrived in the area. He was striving for a new-urbanist community characterized by a resourceful and diverse population. The Wampanoags had been of great help to the original settlers in Massachusetts, teaching them to plant and farm the land in the harsh climate of Massachusetts. They were said to have partaken in the very first Thanksgiving.
Adams added another group to the list: the Hessians, whom, of course, had been mercenaries working at the behest of the King of England during the war, during which they burned the city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to the ground. In the spirit of peace and prosperity that enveloped the new nation in the post-war period, Adams considered the invitation a gesture of good will. The Hessians were traveling by river barge back to Germany but, once invited, decided to detour to Swampscott, where they dropped anchor and disembarked via gangplank.
Washington, of course, was a surveyor and builder long before he won the war and the Presidency. He made major additions and renovations to his home in Virginia, Mount Vernon. Washington was an accomplished Mason (both in the organization and the profession). In fact, he'd provided the granite countertops for the Saugus condo community a few months earlier, at which time he'd also built an attractive and sturdy wall.
Franklin had discovered electricity by flying a kite that got hit by lightning that transferred power into Franklin via the string, which he promptly discharged by touching his cat. Unfortunately, Schuylkill was never the same and henceforth suffered occasional fits and seizures.
Franklin soon applied his discovery and invented the dishwasher, an admittedly crude affair that captured high voltage through a lightning rod and transferred the energy though a cable into an insulated box, where the power jolt fried the dishes clean. Adams ordered the new contraptions for every condo.
Jefferson was more architect than builder. He was always well dressed, and, though an excellent writer (he wrote the Declaration, which was edited but retained most of his language), he was known to act in a pompous manner at times. He'd even briefly considered changing his name to Akos Kurtosi to better meld with the internationalist-modernist movement of the day. He designed the Mews at Saugus condos, with one notable change: Jefferson, naturally, wanted dome roofs. Adams was adamant: Domes can lose structural integrity over time and leak. Jefferson relented (witness the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, of Jefferson's design, which seemingly has been under renovation since it was built).
Outside of politics, Hancock had made a name for himself in the signature trade (he was, after all, the first signer of the Declaration). Recently, however, he'd branched off into the nascent field of insurance and thus was on hand offering the first homeowners policies to the prospective condo buyers.
Hamilton, as the new nation's central banker, was on hand offering a new product called an adjustable rate mortgage. His business plan was ingenious. He would close the mortgage, package it into something called a tranche (a term nobody understood) of similar loans and sell them to investors.
Madison, who later served as President, was the mastermind behind the Louisiana Purchase, one of the greatest land deals of all time. Adams had taken advantage of his skills and prowess when negotiating for the purchase of the property upon which his new community was built.
On July 4, it remains unclear in what year, these luminaries and friends came together for the grand opening of the Mews at Saugus. It was a fine day, brilliant sunshine, a light ocean breeze coming in from Massachusetts Bay. Traffic was brisk at the condos, so much so that Hessians were asked to maintain order. The Wampanoags served as guides, the forerunners of today's Realtors.
When the day was done, and many condos had been put under contract, it was time for a celebration. There was the usual fare: Mutton with chutney, boiled potato, and yorkshire pudding. But there were some new items on the menu.
The Hessians, being German, always keep a supply of wurst. On this particular day, they emerged from the barge with arms full of a thin knockwurst sausage. The founders were intrigued, and gave the wursts to the Wampanoags for preparation (the Wampanoags were excellent cooks, still are). Now, the Wampanoags were happy to cook the wursts, but they wouldn't eat them because, being healthy eaters, they knew to steer clear of nitrates.
The founders and company, however, found the wursts delicious. Problem was, when the Wampanoags pulled them from the boiling water, they were too hot to handle. Martha Washington, who inexplicably began going by the surname Stewart in later years, plucked a scone from the table and used it to pick up the wurst. Standing nearby was Revolutionary War hero and Polish patriot Tadeusz Kościuszko, who produced a jar of mustard. The hot dog was born.
Of course, the revelers needed something with which to wash down the wursts. Luckily, John Adams' brother Sam had arrived with barrels and flagons of his increasingly popular Summer Ale.
Dessert fell to Madison's wife, Dolly. She had invented ice cream, and had several flavors at the ready. Washington, nee Stewart (or is it the other way around), promptly ground up some scones, mixed them into a slurry of water and sugar, then molded the batter around the outside edge of a child's blunderbuss. When the batter dried, she carefully removed the crunchy creation, dropped in some of Dolly Madison's ice cream, and the ice cream cone was born.
As the festivities were winding down, Franklin's cat, in pursuit of more wursts, had wandered up the gangplank of the Hessian barge and infiltrated the provisions locker. In a series of unfortunate events, the cat suffered one of its frequent seizures and upturned an antique candelabra the Hessians had looted from a well-appointed Wilkes Barre residence before they burned it. Now, as the Hessians were planning to return to Germany post haste, they also were carrying a large supply of cordite (gunpowder) left over from the war. Cat knocks down candle, fire starts, reaches gunpowder: The Fourth of July fireworks display is born. (Incidentally, the cat survived and was cured by the shock of the explosion.)
The tale of this tome is admittedly a stretch: That the nation was founded by home builders. But the founders, in one way or another, were builders, if not necessarily of homes. They are, after all, called "The Framers."
For the real story of the Declaration, watch the video at the top of this post, with your young children if you have them. Happy 4th!