Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Filippo Mazzei, the "Unknown American Patriot" from Tuscany

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation recently announced that it has acquired the papers of  Filippo (Phillip) Mazzei.

So who was Filippo Mazzei?  He trained as a physician in Tuscany, but he is best known in Virginia as the man who in 1774, with the support and encouragement of Thomas Jefferson, first tried to establish a commercial vineyard in the American Colonies.  He planted vines on land that is now the site of Jefferson Vineyards, and he built a house, known as Colle, which still stands. Unfortunately, his timing was bad, as his venture was disrupted by the American Revolution.  He returned to Italy, his home country, in 1779, and began working as an arms dealer for the American cause.

But Mazzei became much more than a winemaker and a merchant.  He and Jefferson shared not only a passion for wine, but also an interest in politics.  In fact, some historians and even President John Kennedy have credited Mazzei with introducing the concept "all men are created equal" to Jefferson.

After the American Revolution, Mazzei stayed in Europe and became a political writer and roving diplomat.  He represented the Polish crown in France during the French Revolution, where he again met up with Thomas Jefferson.  He died in 1816, at the age of 85.  In 1980, in honor of his contributions to the founding of this country, the United States published a commemorative stamp with his name and the title "Patriot Remembered."

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