The First Circles
The First Circles
Mazzei: The Forgotten Italian American Hero
By Dom Serafini. This month we’re bringing back to life the memory of an Italian politician who made history in the U.S.: Filippo Mazzei, or, as they called him here, Philip. He’s not our contemporary. Indeed, he was born near Florence, Italy, in 1730, but his “All men are created equal” legacy is still with us.
The opportunity to review Mazzei’s legacy came from Francesco Fulcini –– a professor of the history of economics at the Verona University –– who, together with Italian producer Roberto Bessi, were on hand at the recently concluded MIP-TV market in Cannes, France, to promote their newest project, a theatrical movie based on Mazzei’s life and accomplishments.
Despite all the various honors, including a U.S. commemorative stamp issued in 1980, Mazzei is a little known character both in Italy and in America. This virtual anonymity is what Prof. Fulcini hopes to change with his movie.
Fulcini is known in New York City for having sponsored TeatroMania –– a series of Italian theatrical performances –– while Bessi is known for having produced 10 movies both in Italy and in the U.S..
John Kennedy was the first U.S. president to recognize Mazzei, 145 years after his death. Subsequently, president Ronald Reagan honored Mazzei describing him as a “patriot and Thomas Jefferson’s close associate.”
It has been historically proven that Mazzei encouraged Jefferson to include the now famous expression, “All men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson drafted in 1776, three years after Mazzei moved from Italy to Virginia.
While in Italy, Mazzei worked many jobs. He was a medical surgeon in Tuscany and a merchant in Turkey and England. Then he was a farmer, soldier and politician in America, and a diplomat in Poland.
While in England, he met Benjamin Franklin, from whom he purchased two stoves on behalf of Pietro Leopoldo, the ruler of Tuscany. Through Franklin, Mazzei met Thomas Adams, who was Jefferson’s friend. Both Franklin and Jefferson were among the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Later, Adams became a Senator in the new Congress, and Jefferson became America’s third president.
George Washington was the one to welcome Mazzei, who arrived in Virginia with a group of Italians, mostly from the city of Lucca, in Tuscany, to grow olive trees and vine grapes and to raise silkworms.
Mazzei’s political career started when, together with some other Italians and Jefferson, he volunteered to combat the British colonialists. However, his incendiary writings for the Virginia Gazette, which he used to sign with the Italian pen name of “Il furioso” (the furry) were firing-up spirits. The topic was American independence and criticism of the British monarchy, which he despised together with its government system.
Mazzei also promoted freedom of religion (including the separation of Church and State) and the abolition of slavery and the first-born rights.
During the MIP-TV market, Prof. Fulcini described Mazzei as a multi-dimensional character who would do well on the large movie screen, considering his more dramatic aspects, such as when be was captured and imprisoned by the British (later freed thanks to his European connections). Or Franklin’s subsequent antagonism towards Mazzei simply because Franklin and Jefferson became bitter political adversaries, and Mazzei became Jefferson’s close friend and associate.
Naturally, like in every movie, there is a romantic aspect, considering that Mazzei took with him to Virginia his French lover, Marie, who was the widow of his London business partner.
Once in America, the puritanical colonists pressured him to marry her, only to become a widower soon after.
Mazzei’s second wife, Antonia Antoni –– whom he married when he was 66 –– was Italian, and gave him his only biological child, a daughter (earlier he had adopted Marie’s daughter), Elisabetta.
The movie ends with Mazzei going back to Italy in 1785. The event is documented by a letter that he wrote to future U.S. president James Madison, in which he described America as his “adoptive country.”
In 1791 Mazzei became a diplomat for the King of Poland. He died in 1816 in Pisa, Italy, forgotten by all.
Today, Mazzei’s memory is kept alive by the Morristown Center in New Jersey, founded by Catholic nun, Margherita Marchione, to who Prof. Fulcini has dedicated the movie.
However, how the movie will end is still to be finalized, since the script, based on a story written by Fulcini, is in its first draft in the hands of Hollywood’s writers.