New book takes readers on a fascinating journey through America’s formative years02/15/2021 10:52PM ● By Steven Hoffman
Gene Pisasale’s newest book, “Forgotten Founding Fathers: Pennsylvania and Delaware in the American Revolution,” explores the foundations of our republic, bringing the reader up close to ten men from Pennsylvania and Delaware who each played a crucial role in creating the nation and system of government we know today.
The Kennett Township writer said that the book takes readers “on a fascinating journey through America’s formative years.” The book features over 250 full-color images of historic artifacts, documents and paintings highlighting little-known details about their lives, letters, viewpoints and actions, all of which created this miracle we call America.
Q: Gene, you’ve now written ten books, mostly on American history. What prompted you to write about the Founding Fathers?
A: I’ve been interested in the Founding Fathers for many years and wrote my Master’s Degree Thesis on one of them—Alexander Hamilton. Their achievements are not widely recognized by the average American and their story needs to be told.
Q: In your new book, you focus on ten men from Pennsylvania and Delaware who signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Why were they significant?
A: These men not only signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution—many of them also signed two of our other founding documents, the Continental Association (which boycotted goods from England) and the Articles of Confederation, which was our first attempt at a working Constitution. They were actively engaged in creating the government we know today- as a group they signed more of our founding documents than the better-known men like Washington and Jefferson.
Q: Of the men you mention, which ones were the most influential in creating our republic back in the late 1700s?
A: Of these ten, three stand out as especially influential: Robert Morris, John Dickinson and Gunning Bedford, Jr. Morris was the “Financier of the Revolution,” providing critical supplies and money to the Continental Army, allowing it to survive. Dickinson is considered the “Penman of the Revolution,” espousing many of the core principles championed by the group. Bedford was one of the most vocal delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, arguing for an equal voice for the all the states, small and large, so that the low population states like Delaware wouldn’t be continually outvoted by the large states like New York and Virginia.
Q: Were there any exceptional characteristics of any of these men which set them apart from their associates?
A: Compared to the average Colonial-era citizen, these men were generally much better educated; many were trained as attorneys or had experience serving in state government. Several were successful merchants and more adept at financial matters than the man on the street, which helped them support Washington’s army during the struggle against England. They not only were familiar with groundbreaking writings of men like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, they believed deeply in the principles of republican government.
Q: These ten are ones you call “Founding Fathers.” What makes them special compared to the better-known Founding Fathers like Washington, Hamilton, Franklin and Jefferson?
A: These men were very much hands-on, actively engaged in the early protests against England’s policies and in creating the framework for our government. Most of the better-known men like Washington and Jefferson only signed one, perhaps two of our founding documents. Roughly one-third of this group I focus on signed THREE, nearly all of them two—proof of their active involvement and dedication to forming a new nation. Robert Morris is the most influential of this group and without his efforts, Washington’s army would likely have been defeated and the struggle against England abandoned.
Q: Did these men interact with the other Founding Fathers on important matters like the war effort, the Declaration, the problems of the young nation and the Constitution?
A: Yes, each of these men had many interactions with Washington, Jefferson and the other well known Founding Fathers, with numerous letters between them discussing military matters for the army, the nation’s finances and strategy for the young republic. Washington wrote 135 letters to Robert Morris, more than three times the 42 he wrote to Benjamin Franklin, proof of Morris’ importance to the struggle for independence.
Q: One of the ten was Thomas McKean from New London in Chester County. What were his most notable achievements?
A: McKean’s place in history was cemented when he persuaded Caesar Rodney to ride all the way from Dover to Philadelphia to break a tie vote from the Delaware delegates for the Declaration of Independence, but he did so much more. He was a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congress meetings in Philadelphia, serving briefly as the President of Congress. As Delaware debated its own independence from Pennsylvania, McKean was an active participant and drafted the Delaware Constitution. McKean had political ties to Pennsylvania and Delaware, and at different times, he served as Governor of both states. When the first Governor of Delaware was captured by the British, McKean briefly served as Governor of Delaware. McKean was later the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, subsequently being elected and serving for eight years as Governor of Pennsylvania.
Q: Can you discuss how and why these men made a significant contribution to creating our nation?
A: Each of these ten men believed in what George Washington called “the cause.” Thomas Fitzsimons took a huge personal risk in exchanging his own highly valued gold and silver coins (called specie) for rapidly deflating Continental dollars to support the finances of the young nation. Several of them served in the militia during the war. One of them wrote words every school kid knows from their history class. Gouverneur Morris helped create the final draft of the Constitution, substituting “We the people of the United States…” for “We the people of New Hampshire, Massachusetts…” to highlight the fact that we were unified as a republic, not just a collection of states. Each of these men put their talents, resources and experience on the line to further the cause of independence. Some of them are truly unique in American history. We don’t even know what one of them looked like. As no image of him was created during his lifetime, Caesar Rodney is the only Founding Father whose image we really can’t verify. We don’t really know where he was buried. His grave is believed to be somewhere on his former estate called Byfield in Delaware. Gouverneur Morris was one of the few men of his era arguing vehemently against slavery. He tried to get equal representation for slaves included in the Constitution, but that would not occur for another 80 years with the 13th , 14th and 15th Amendments. John Dickinson was the first Founding Father to free all his slaves, before Washington and the others. These men are largely forgotten, but their achievements are still very much with us today.
Q: Your book appears to be very well illustrated. What images do you provide that might be of interest to readers?
A: I included over 250 full-color images of historic artifacts, paintings and documents to familiarize the reader with these men and their times. We have photographs of hand-written original letters between General Washington and Brigadier General Caesar Rodney, along with Continental currency and early Bank of North America certificates, historical markers, period-created paintings of all ten men, sculptures- and even Gouverneur Morris’ wooden leg, which he used to get around the ways of government and business.
Q: You mentioned that your book is now at the publisher, Ingram. When will copies be available to the public and how can they purchase them?
A: With the delays caused by the coronavirus, Ingram, like most other businesses, is experiencing some delays in production. We hope to have copies available soon on www.Amazon.com and on my website at www.GenePisasale.com.
Q: You’ve done an historical lecture series in the area for many years. Will you be doing one for “Forgotten Founding Fathers”?
A: I hope to be resuming my historical lecture series by the middle of 2021, pending the successful eradication of the virus. I will also be doing a new one to highlight my new book.
Q: Anything else you can share about your research and writing experience that made it special?
A: In my research, I visited the some of the homes of these men, as well as several historical archives and museums where I saw first-hand artifacts from our past. Holding letters written by George Washington, walking through the plantation owned by John Dickinson and strolling through Carpenter’s Hall and Independence Hall in the footsteps of these men was a special thrill.
Q: You live in Kennett Township and are involved with several organizations that focus on history. Is this a good area to live if you’re a history buff?
A: Yes, Chester County and the Philadelphia area are great places to experience our heritage. There’s Brandywine Battlefield, as well as the new Kennett Heritage Center, in addition to wonderful resources like the Chester County Historical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the Delaware Historical Society not far away in Wilmington and the New Castle Historical Society in old town New Castle, Delaware. In my books and historical lectures, I try to bring fascinating information about our past to my readers and make history “come alive”—not just for history buffs, but everyone who wants to learn more about their own heritage.
Gene Pisasale is a historian and author based in Kennett Square. He has written ten books focusing on the Chester County and Mid-Atlantic region, and conducts a historic lecture series. He is available for book signings and his books are available on www.Amazon.com and through his website at www.GenePisasale.com. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].