America’s Forgotten Founding Father: A Novel Based on the Life of Filippo Mazzei

Written by Rosanne Welch
Review by K. M. Sandrick

“I have never wished anyone to ask, ‘Why is Mazzei here?’ but rather, ‘Why is Mazzei not here?’”

The quote attributed to Filippo Mazzei on the first pages of America’s Forgotten Founding Father is an apt introduction to a man who played an important role in the early days of the American Revolution, yet few know about. Born in Italy in 1730, Mazzei went on to become a physician, merchant, vintner, and writer. He was first introduced to American colonists in 1767 in London when his purchase of a Benjamin Franklin stove turned out to be a forgery that Franklin himself corrected.

With the encouragement of new friend Thomas Adams from Virginia, Mazzei came to Williamsburg and soon after purchased land near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. He and Jefferson became writing partners when they began submitting articles about rebellion under the name Furioso in 1774 to the Virginia Gazette.

The novel is more of a factual presentation than fictional storytelling; the chronology is interspersed with anecdotal conversations with Franklin, Jefferson, and others involved in the emerging American state. Readers learn about Mazzei’s involvement with the Virginia militia and his work advocating for independence from the British Crown in the Second Continental Congress, conducting business for the colonies in France, and writing essays supporting the American Revolution in the European press after he returns to his homeland.

But the book has a larger focus than Mazzei’s place in the American Revolution. It covers his early years, travels in Turkey, and relationships with family as well as discussions of religion, the prerogatives of landed gentry versus the rights of ordinary people, even the proper pronunciation of Italian words.

This is an interesting and informative biographical sketch aimed at young readers.