Old Friends

Adams and Jefferson
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

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On a warm day in July, John Adams lay in his bed at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts.  The aged former president had been unable to leave his bed for several days.  The unmistakable sound of cannons firing in the distance got his attention.  It was a sound he remembered all too well.  His thoughts raced back to the events of the American Revolution.  Following the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, it was he, then a 34-year-old Boston attorney, who successfully defended the British troops against charges of murder.  None of the other local attorneys would take on the case for fear of reprisals.  In the trial, Adams proved that an angry mob had provoked and attacked the British soldiers.  The soldiers had acted in self-defense.

Although Adams had defended the British troops in the Boston Massacre trial, he spoke out and fought constantly against what he, and many others, considered unfair taxation and unjust attacks by the British Parliament.  As a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses, he argued aggressively against Parliament’s ultimate control over the colonies.  He was one of the first people in Congress to argue for total separation from Great Britain.

Adams’s thoughts raced back to his old friend, Thomas Jefferson.  While Adams argued for total separation in Congress, Jefferson watched, absorbed everything, but said nothing.  Adams had never heard Jefferson speak more than a word or two in Congress, and that was usually a simple aye or nay during a vote.  Adams and Jefferson developed a friendship over the issue of independence.  Before the Congress declared independence, Adams formed a committee to draft a formal Declaration of Independence.  Reluctant at first, Jefferson completed a draft of the Declaration which the committee edited into the document’s final form.  On July 2, 1776, Congress approved the Declaration.  Adams predicted the second day of July would be celebrated annually throughout the country.  Congress approved the Declaration on July 2, but officially declared independence two days later, which is why we celebrate independence on the fourth of July and not the second of July.

The war raged on until October 19, 1781, when the British General, Lord Cornwallis, surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia.  America had won its independence.  Adams, Jefferson, and the other founding fathers spent the next eight years developing America’s system of government.  Adams and Jefferson had spent years as envoys in separate countries trying to garner support against the British, and, once the war was over, as ambassadors of the new country.

Adams and Jefferson wrote letters to each other frequently and spoke highly of their friendship in letters to others.  In a letter to James Madison, Jefferson wrote that Adams “is so amiable, that I pronounce you will love him if ever you become acquainted with him.”  Adams expressed his affection for Jefferson in a letter to him in which he wrote “intimate correspondence with you…is one of the most agreeable events in my life.”  Their friendship grew stronger when Jefferson arrived in England on diplomatic business.  Adams was currently serving as an ambassador to Great Britain.  Adams and Jefferson toured several English gardens and visited William Shakespeare’s home.  Adams recorded in his notes that they chipped off a piece of Shakespeare’s chair “according to the custom.”

In 1789, the presidential electors cast their votes for the first President of the United States.  The candidate who received the most votes became president and the candidate who received the second most votes became vice-president, a system that seems foreign to us today.  George Washington won by a landslide followed by Adams.  George Washington served two terms as president with Adams as his vice-president.  All the while, Adams and Jefferson remained friends.

George Washington’s announcement that he would not accept a third term as president created a power struggle in Congress.  The members of Congress broke off into factions, the Federalists and the Republicans.  The Federalists chose Adams as their candidate and the Republicans chose Jefferson.  Adams, who had argued and played a large part in convincing the Congress to vote for independence, and Jefferson, who had drafted the Declaration of Independence, were on opposite sides.  When the electors tallied the votes, Adams won the election by just three votes.  Adams became president and Jefferson became vice-president, the only time in American history where the president and vice-president were from opposing political parties.

Adams and Jefferson were often at odds over policy but remained friends.  Adams served just one term as president.  He lost his reelection bid to his old friend, Jefferson.  Before he left office, Adams made several last-minute political appointments who were Jefferson’s political rivals.  Due to the appointments, Adams and Jefferson stopped corresponding altogether.

Jefferson served two terms as president and retired to his home, Monticello, in 1809.  For eight years, the old friends had had no direct communication.  They only heard about each other through friends.  In 1811, Jefferson learned through mutual friends that Adams had said, “I always loved Jefferson, and still love him.”  With this simple statement, Adams and Jefferson renewed their friendship with another series of letters which continued for the rest of their lives.

Upon hearing the cannons firing again, Adams was jolted back to the events of the moment.  He inquired as to the reason for the firing cannons.  Someone at his bedside answered that they were firing cannons in celebration of independence from Great Britain.  It was the fourth of July.  “It is a great and glorious day,” Adams replied.  Newspapers reported that “he never spake more.”   At around 6:00 p.m., John Adams passed away.  Some historians have claimed that when Adams realized that death would soon take him, he uttered the phrase, “Jefferson survives.”  Unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had died five hours earlier.  John Adams, the man who convinced Congress to declare independence, and Thomas Jefferson, the man who drafted the Declaration of Independence, both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, … the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.


John Adams, “Notes on a Tour of English Country Seats, &c., with Thomas Jefferson,” April 4-10, 1786, in L.H. Butterfield et al., eds., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1961), 3:185.

Jefferson to Madison, January 30, 1787, in PTJ, 11:96.

Adams to Jefferson, March 1, 1787, in PTJ, 11:190.

Jefferson to Rush, December 5, 1811, in PTJ:RS, 4:313, 4:314n.

The National Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), July 10, 1826, p.2.

Teedie’s Diary

Diary Page from Feb 14, 1884

In October, 1878, nineteen-year-old Teedie, as his parents called him, met seventeen-year-old Alice Hathaway Lee while he was a student at Harvard University.  He was smitten immediately.  Teedie, an avid diarist, later wrote about their first meeting: “As long as I live, I shall never forget how sweetly she looked, and how prettily she greeted me.”  Teedie and Alice wrote to each other often.  She began calling him Teedie, just as his parents did.

Speaking of his parents, earlier in the year, Teedie’s father, everyone called him Thee, had died at the young age of forty-six.  He was a wealthy philanthropist who had helped found the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and several aid societies and hospitals for children.  Teedie wrote, “My father…was the best man I ever knew.  He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness.”  Teedie’s father left him a sizeable inheritance worth over $3 million in today’s money.  Teedie and his forty-two-year-old mother, Martha “Mittie” Bulloch, were heartbroken.

Teedie found solace in Alice, and their relationship blossomed.  Within nine months of their first meeting, Teedie proposed to Alice in a letter and eagerly awaited a response.  They continued writing letters to each other, but Alice avoided mentioning the proposal.  Etiquette of the era prevented Teedie from asking Alice a second time.  He had to be patient.

The days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months.  Finally, after eight uneasy months, Teedie received an answer from Alice.  She said yes!  Teedie was jubilant.  On February 14, 1880, Teedie and Alice announced their engagement and were wed on October 27.  Teedie remained enamored by Alice.  An entry in Teedie’s diary read, “I do not think ever a man loved a woman more than I love her. For a year and a quarter now, I have never (even when hunting) gone to sleep or waked up without thinking of her.”

Things were going well for Teedie.  Although his large inheritance could have sustained his family for the rest of their lives, Teedie’s ambitious nature would not allow him to reamain idle.  In 1881, he was one of 128 people elected to the New York Assembly.  At just twenty-two years old, Teedie was the youngest member elected into the Assembly, but he quickly earned the friendship and respect of the other assemblymen for his straightforward and trustworthy temperament.

In the Summer of 1883, Alice became pregnant, much to Teedie’s and his mother’s delight.  Near the end of the pregnancy, Alice developed Bright’s disease, a kidney disease now known as Nephritis.  Although most physicians considered Bright’s disease incurable, the doctor who aided Alice reassured Teedie and Alice that it was nothing to worry about.  At about the same time, Teedie’s mother, Mittie, became ill.  Her temperature rose, she had headaches, a rash of rose-colored spots spread across her body, and she grew weaker with each passing day.  Her doctor diagnosed her as having Typhoid fever, a bacterial infection for which there was no cure or vaccination.  Doctors could only treat the symptoms and hope her condition would improve.

On February 12, 1884, Alice went into labor and delivered a healthy baby girl.  Teedie and Alice had not yet settled on a name for the child.  Alice, however, was not recovering from childbirth as her doctor expected.  On the following day, her condition worsened.  Teedie’s mother’s condition deteriorated as well.  At about 3 a.m. on February 14, 1884, Teedie’s mother, Martha “Mittie” Bulloch, died from Typhoid fever.  She was forty-eight years old.  Teedie later wrote, “My mother, Martha Bulloch, was a sweet, gracious, beautiful Southern woman, a delightful companion and beloved by everybody.”

Teedie was devastated by the loss of his mother, and was distraught by Alice’s worsening condition.  Three hours after Teedie’s mother died, his wife died as well.  Alice was just twenty-two years old.  That night, in his diary, Teedie drew an X followed by a single sentence: “The light has gone out of my life.”  Teedie was devastated.

Upon learning of the deaths, the New York Assembly paid Teedie an “unusual compliment,” when it “adopted resolutions of condolence and adjourned out of sympathy for his sudden and severe domestic affliction.”  Fellow assemblyman James Husted decreed to the Assembly, “When such a man as we know him to be has been thus stricken down, we feel that every heart in this room swells responsive to his own, and while the teardrops may not fall, it nevertheless rests beneath the eyelid of every member of this body.”  Most of the assemblymen, regardless of political affiliation, fought back tears.  Some wept openly.

Two days later, family, friends, and high-ranking politicians paid their respects to Mittie and Alice at their double funeral and burial.  Later that night, Teedie recorded another diary entry about Alice: “We spent three years of happiness, greater and more unalloyed than I have ever known fall to the lot of others.”  On the day after the double funeral, Teedie recorded in his diary that he named the baby Alice Lee as a tribute to his wife.  Speaking the name Alice brought Teedie so much pain that he always called his daughter “Baby Lee.”

Teedie lost both his mother and wife on the same day, a day set aside for the celebration of love, Valentine’s Day.  Teedie rarely spoke of his mother or wife following their deaths, and he refused to be called Teedie any longer.  Twenty-five years later, the man formerly known as Teedie became the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.




The Brooklyn Union, February 15, 1884, p.1.

Buffalo Evening News, February 15, 1884, p.9.

New York Times, February 15, 1884, p.4.

The Brooklyn Union, February 16, 1884, p.1.

The New York Times, February 17, 1884, p.3.

Library of Congress, Theodore Roosevelt Papers: Series 8: Personal Diaries, 1878-1884; Vol. 7, 1884, Feb. 14-Dec. 17

Bobby’s Barrel

Bobby's Barrel


Robert “Bobby” Leach was a daredevil.  Originally from Cornwall, England, he moved to Canada at some point and got a job as a stuntman in Barnum and Bailey’s Circus.  In his early 50s, Bobby owned and operated a lunch counter and souvenir stand near Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, but he thrived on the attention his life-threatening feats brought him.  He once told reporters, “I fear nothing.”  He had made four trips through the dangerous rapids at Whirlpool Falls, the last of which nearly killed him. He had made “a number of balloon ascensions” in homemade balloons, he rode over the Seneca Falls in a barrel, and leapt off the Rainbow International Bridge 200 feet above the Niagara River with a homemade parachute.  Newspapers reported that his net worth since his daredevil days began had risen to between $20,000 and $30,000, an enormous amount in the early years of the twentieth century.

Bobby had another goal that would exceed anything he had done before.  His next feat was to go over Horseshoe Falls, the largest of three waterfalls which collectively form Niagara Falls, in a barrel.  If he succeeded, he would be the first man to survive the trip.  Ten years earlier, Mrs. Anna Edson Taylor became the first human to survived the trip.  Unlike Anna Taylor, who used a wooden barrel for her trip, Bobby helped design and build a steel barrel for his trip over the falls.

 Bobby’s plan was hindered almost immediately.  Authorities in Niagara Falls, New York, and Ontario, Canada, both refused to allow Bobby to launch his barrel from their cities.  Undeterred, just after 1 p.m. on July 25, 1911, the 53-year-old Bobby tied his barrel to a motor boat and launched it several miles upriver from Horseshoe Falls.  Strong winds and choppy water pounded the boat and barrel, but Bobby was determined to continue.  At a point about three miles above Horseshoe Falls, Bobby climbed into the barrel, released the rope, and sealed the hatch on the barrel.  There was no turning back.  Bobby was now at the mercy of the river.

Spectators watched as the barrel slowly made its way toward Horseshoe Falls.  A mile above the Falls, the barrel reached the rapids.  Over and over, the barrel smashed into and bounced off of the myriad of rocks in the rapids.  At 3:13 p.m., the barrel tumbled over the falls and disappeared into the churning water below.  Spectators held their breath and wondered if Bobby had survived.  Less than a minute later, the barrel bobbed up to the surface of the water.  Newspapers reported that the force of the impact tore both ends off of the barrel, but it was still afloat.

Spectators stood in stunned silence for almost twenty minutes while the barrel drifted a safe distance away from the falls.  There were no signs of life from Bobby’s barrel.  Frank Bender, a local resident, swam out to Bobby’s barrel with a rope.  He tied it around the barrel and held on as a team of men pulled the Barrel to shore.  The men struggled to open the hatch.   They all wondered if Bobby had survived, though none would say it aloud.  When the hatch gave way, they peered in.  Blood streamed down Bobby’s face from a deep gash and his right leg was sprained, but Bobby was alive!

On the following evening, Bobby spoke with a reporter about the trip.  His first words were “no more,” when the reporter asked if he planned to take another trip over the falls.  Bobby told the reporter, “The drop over the falls was not so bad, but that through the upper rapids was frightful.  It seemed as though the barrel turned over a million times.  The nearer I approached to the falls, the more the barrel turned.  Once, when I struck a rock, I thought it was all over.  A big dent was stove in the barrel and a couple of quarts of water came in.  I prepared to die.  But the water merely washed through the air holes.  It was striking the rock that hurt my leg.  The big drop over the falls was nothing in comparison to the rest of the trip.  I felt no sensation, certainly no pain, going down, and there was very little bump at the bottom.  All I have to say is that nobody’s got anything on me, so far as going over Niagara Falls is concerned.  But—never again.”

Adopting the nickname Professor, Bobby went on a worldwide speaking tour and told of his many life-threatening, death-defying feats.  The people were most interested to hear Bobby tell the story of his trip while showing a film of his barrel going over Horseshoe falls.  He answered questions and posed for pictures, all for a small fee.  People flocked to his presentations.  While returning from one such showing in Christchurch, New Zealand, Bobby slipped, fell onto the street, and broke his leg.  Within a short time, his leg became infected with Gangrene.  Penicillin and other antibiotics were not yet available.  Doctors did the only thing available to them at the time and amputated the infected leg.  The infection, however, had spread throughout his body.  On April 26, 1926, in an ironic twist of fate, the man who had survived a trip over Horseshoe Falls, who had survived four trips through Whirlpool Falls, who once predicted that the water would probably “get him” one day, died as a result of slipping on an orange peel.

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Plans Change

Will was a smart kid.  His father, a bishop, always encouraged his children to expand their knowledge in all areas.  Their home in Dayton, Ohio, was filled with books on a vast array of subjects.  Will was an avid reader, but he had not had time to read all of the books in the family’s collection.  At the young age of sixteen, Will had a plan in motion which would lead to Yale University.  No one doubted that his plan would come to fruition.  When Will set his mind to do something, he did it.  He was a star athlete and a model student, but even the best laid plans can change.

One cold winter’s day Will was playing ice hockey with the boys in the neighborhood including Oliver Haugh, the town bully.  Whether accidental or intentional, the bully slung his hockey stick and it struck Will in the face.  The force of the hockey stick knocked out most of Will’s front teeth and the pain was horrendous.  Will had oral surgery to repair the damage and spent weeks at home recovering.  As this was the era before television and radio, Will had little to do but read.  Will read, and read, and read.  He was on course to read every book in the house when he read a book that changed the course of his life.  No longer did he dream of attending Yale University.  It was rarely, if ever, mentioned in the household again.  He had a new dream.  He had a new goal.

Aviation was in its infancy and most people knew that controlled human flight was impossible.  Several inventers had built machines which they claimed would fly, but most of them did little more than soften what would be a hard fall.  Most of these inventors were injured and some died trying to fly their contraptions.  Anyone who invested time and money into the venture was labeled a crackpot.

Will read every book he could find on the subject but there were only a few.  Almost all of the published books were only theories and not based on scientific research.  His dream turned into obsession.  Will became so obsessed that his fixation spread to his brother.  The pair studied every flying creature in nature that they had access to, and built many models based on their observations.  For years, they could think of little more than controlled flight.  They had many failures in the beginning but they tweaked their plans until they were eventually successful.  After many successful flights in their gliders, they added a small motor and the impossible became possible.

For if Oliver Haugh, the bully, had not injured Will during an ice hockey match, it would have taken many more years, possibly decades more, before a human made the first controlled flight.  Will…bur Wright’s obsession spread to his brother Orville Wright.  The Wright Brothers.  What happened to Oliver Haugh, the bully?  In 1907, he was executed for murdering his own father, mother, brother, and investigators believed he was responsible for the deaths of at least thirteen more people.