April lecture series will cover nation’s founding fathers, mothers

DOVER — Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs staff member Tom Welch thinks that many Americans are suffering from an epidemic of historical ignorance.

So, a four-part lecture series on America’s founding fathers and mothers he’s planned for every Thursday in April seems to be the perfect treatment for the ailment.

“The programs on each of the founding fathers and their wives are not intended as full biographies, but rather a presentation of some of their most salient beliefs, characteristics and contributions,” he said. “An attempt will be made not to blindly see them as superhuman without faults but as normal men, occasionally having ‘feet of clay.’”

The lectures will take place on April 6, 13, 20 and 27, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. at the Old State House on 25 The Green in Dover. The series will take the format of a coffee hour. It’s free to the public and will include coffee and snacks.

The six founding fathers to be featured will be Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. A significant portion of the sessions will also be devoted to telling the stories of the founding fathers’ wives, mothers, daughters and, for some, lovers. A group of presenters has been broken into several teams to cover the topics.

From left, Dr. Sam Hoff, Elizabeth Jelich and Tom Welch will be kicking off the lecture series on April 6 with a presentation on George Washington and his wife, Martha. (Delaware State News/Ian Gronau)

“I have recruited six teams of local historians,” said Mr. Welch. “They include a DSU professor, Sam Hoff, four retired Dover history teachers, two First State Heritage Park staff and eight Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs historical interpreters.”

Dr. Hoff, who will give a presentation on George and Martha Washington alongside retired history teacher Elizabeth Jelich, said it’s important to emphasize the ways in which the founding fathers’ wives contributed to their presidencies.

“Everyone knows something about George, but not too many people know much about Martha,” he said. “It truly was a team. In many ways, Martha’s contributions, while behind the scenes, were determining and influential forces.”

The presentations will showcase many less well-known facts about the people the founding fathers and mothers were in their personal lives.

The Old State House’s portraits of, from left, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton alongside replicas of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. On every Thursday evening in April, the Old State House will be host to a lecture that covers the founding fathers and their wives. (Submitted photo)

“Martha had a tradition that every single morning she’d insist that she wasn’t disturbed for an hour while she said her prayers,” said Dr. Hoff. “Just imagine, even back then with very little staff to help, all the stuff that she’d be responsible for doing. But, she had her priorities. I knew she was religious, but it’s interesting that she really made this point to let people know not to disturb her.”

Ms. Jelich, who will talk about Washington’s his early years with Martha, said the part of their relationship that interested her the most is how well they “complement” one another.

“He saw her as a very strong woman and he valued her opinion; she saw him as a very trustworthy, upright moral man,” she said. “He had a violent temper and swore like a sailor, but he had a strong moral compass and she admired him for that.”

One anecdote Ms. Jelich feels is particularly telling about the marriage is when Washington was faced with decisions during the Revolutionary War on whether or not to return home during “winter encampments,” he always decided to stay with his troops. But, he’d ask for Martha’s company. Despite conditions, she traveled to each destination where Washington’s army spent its winters to be at her husband’s side.

“She was his confidant, advisor and sounding board,” said Ms. Jelich. “Many of Washington’s officers would go home for the winters, but he thought if he did the same, his troops would lose morale. Martha traveled up from Mt. Vernon for every one of eight winter encampments — including Morristown and Valley Forge. She suffered right along with them. These were horrific winters.”

These tales, and many like them will fill the halls of the historic Old State House starting next Thursday until the end of April.

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