The Founding Fathers were prominent statesmen who made significant contributions to our nation’s independence and helped shape democracy as we know it. However, beyond America’s shores are foreign countries that helped form our Founding Fathers’ principles and ideals. Find out how four countries—in the Caribbean and Europe—influenced George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.
George Washington’s Break in Barbados
Photo courtesy of The Barbados Garrison Historical Consortium Inc.
The first president of the United States sojourned to another country only once and that was all he needed to set him on his path to become a national hero. In 1751, Washington accompanied his tuberculosis-stricken half brother Lawrence to Barbados and spent several weeks at an 18th-century plantation house now bearing his name. The George Washington House, located in Bridgetown’s Garrison Historic Area, is now a UNESCO-protected property. The second floor of the house—added in 1850—contains modern exhibits, while the restored first floor presents the house as it was during Washington’s stay.
Outside, you’ll find the only entrance to the nearly 200-year-old Garrison Tunnels, an underground network that runs about 2 miles below the Garrison Historic Area. Don’t forget to visit Charles Fort on Needham’s Point, the first fort Washington saw. Located at the Hilton Barbados Resort, you’ll still find old cannons at strategic positions overlooking Carlisle Bay.
Take time travel to the next level with “Dinner with George,” a theatrical dining experience held in the very dining room where Washington ate his meals. Washington himself, played by Barbadian historian Dr. Karl Watson, will enthrall you with tales of his adventures in Barbados and other exciting stories. The romantic setting is complete with candles, live violin and cello music, and a 5-course dinner that includes period-appropriate Barbadian fare, such as split pea and eddo soup, “dolphin” (actually mahi mahi) and yam pie, and chicken stew with dumplings.
Lesson-plan Resources: Share more about George Washington’s life with your students with these lesson plans.
Alexander Hamilton’s Native Nevis
Photo courtesy of Nevis Tourism Authority
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit hip-hop musical “Hamilton” has recently shone the limelight on the “10-dollar Founding Father.” Born in Charleston, Nevis, West Indies, Hamilton embodied a rags-to-riches story that unfolded on the political stage. The illegitimate son of a Scottish merchant and an English-French Huguenot mother, Hamilton stayed in the Lesser Antilles island before moving with his mother to St. Croix; his brilliance and ambition would later bring him to New York.
Retrace Hamilton’s boyhood footsteps: Start at the Museum of Nevis History, believed to be the site of Hamilton’s birth. The replica of the original 1840 stone building now contains a small, informal exhibit about Hamilton, following his life on the island to his military and political accomplishments in the U.S.
Moving on to the hills leading to Mount Nevis and Nevis Peak, you can find the remains of the sugar estate owned by the Hamilton family. Stop by the local tourist office or hire a guide before making your way there, however, because the Hamilton Estate ruins, located on the upper part of the Government Road, can be hard to find on your own. Once there, take time to soak in the panoramic views of Charlestown and St. Kitts from the hillside. The estate includes one of the last intact sugar plantations in Nevis; it closed in 1951. In addition to the foundations of the Great House, the site also includes the remains of a windmill, a boiling house, cistern and chimney, and steam engine—the only remnants of a once-thriving plantation.
Benjamin Franklin’s Fruitful Years in France
Considered one of the most essential and successful American diplomats of all time, Franklin lived his life as the “toast of two continents.” He became the United States’ first ambassador when he journeyed to France in the late 1770s, embarking on a critical mission to secure French support for American independence.
During his 9-year undertaking, Franklin stayed in Passy, in Paris’ 16th arrondissement (district). Walk through this beautiful and romantic neighborhood and stroll along Rue Benjamin Franklin, a street named after the American statesman, to Square de Yorktown, where a statue of Franklin can be found sitting on a gentle hillside. From there, visit the Flame of Liberty, located near the intersection of Avenue de New York and Pont de l’Alma. This gold-leaf replica of the Statue of Liberty’s flame was a gift from the United States to France as a symbol of the lasting friendship between the nations.
Cross the Seine and visit the former Hotel d’York in the St-Germain-des-Prés quarter, where Franklin, John Adams, Henry Laurens and John Jay signed the Treaty of Paris that ended the War for Independence. Conclude your itinerary at Le Procope, the oldest Parisian café dating from 1686. Franklin and other revolutionary Americans, including Thomas Jefferson and John Paul Jones, as well as French author Voltaire, spent time here back in the day.
And, of course, visit Versailles—the seat of French political power during Franklin’s tenure as the ambassador to France.
Lesson-plan Resources: Encourage your students’ curiosity and guide them to explore Franklin’s life through these lesson plans.
John Adams’ Negotiating Prowess in the Netherlands
Photo courtesy of Steven Lek/Creative Commons SA 4.0 International
One of America’s oldest continuous bilateral relationships is with the Netherlands. It started in 1782 through Massachusetts-native Adams. The first vice president, and second president, of the United States was sent to the Netherlands on a mission: He was to obtain a much-needed loan from Dutch bankers in the short term and secure trade in the long term.
Arriving there in 1780, Adams settled at a house in Fluwelen Burgwal 18 in The Hague; this became the first U.S. embassy in 1782. Today, Fluwelen Burgwal is located at the heart of the city, where viewing landmarks and shopping can easily fill your day. A 6- to 7-minute walk away is Binnenhof, which is considered to be the center of politics in the Netherlands. The Trêveszaal (Truce Chamber), where Adams signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce, isn’t open for public viewing but you can visit the Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights) instead. We recommend taking a guided tour to appreciate this historical center of Dutch democracy as fully as possible.
Meanwhile, up north is the Huis ten Bosch Palace, where Stadtholder William V received an audience with Adams. It’s also not open to the public, but nearby you can take a walk or bike through Haagse Bos, one of the oldest forests in the Netherlands.