Our Italian Forefathers: Italian contributions to American Independence

As we celebrate the Fourth of July, Italian traditions may not come to mind. However, like many milestones in American history, Italians have made big contributions to our Independence.

This excerpt taken from a New York Times 1994 Letter to the Editor titled, ‘Honor a Son of Italy on the Fourth of July,’ mentions one Italian who aided American sovereignty.

“As an American of Italian heritage I have wondered why Filippo Mazzei is not credited with his service to the Revolutionary cause when we celebrate the Fourth of July,” the author wrote.

The author was right; in fact the most famous line in the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” can be attributed to writer and political activist Filippo ‘Philip’ Mazzei. Born in Italy, Mazzei became involved in the American cause after arriving in Virginia in 1773. As a friend to the first four American presidents, Mazzei spent time sharing ideas with his closest confidant, Thomas Jefferson. Thanks to his friendship with Jefferson, Mazzei received an original copy of the Declaration. Jefferson himself credited Mazzei with the idea for the famous line. The words first appeared as “Tutti gli uomini sono per natura egualmente liberi e indipenti (All men are by nature equally free and independent)” in Mazzei’s essay, ‘Furioso.’

In addition to Mazzei, several Italians contributed to the American cause during the Revolutionary war including:

Pascal DeAngelis who, in 1776, at age 13 became one of the first native Italians to bear arms against the British. He fought for the Americans for the remainder of the Revolutionary War.

FrancevigovincennesBorn and raised in Italy, Francesco Vigo came to America as a Spanish solider and later established a fur trade in St. Louis. When the Revolutionary War came to the Northwest Territory, Vigo accepted IOU’s from the American Colonel George Rogers Clark in exchange for providing Clark’s men with food, clothing, ammunition and strategic battle support.

Additionally, in 1779, two overseas regiments with Italian recruits arrived to fight for the American cause. They were the 3rd Piemont with 473 men, and the 30th Du Perche with 1064 men.

So when you’re celebrating Independence Day this year, remember the contributions of Mazzei, DeAngelis, Vigo and other revolutionary Italians.

Buon Giorno dell’Indipendenza degli Stati Uniti (Happy Independence Day United States)!

The information and research for this article is taken from Richard A. Capozzola’s “Five Centuries of Italian-American History.”

Written by OSIA National Office Assistant, Carol Cummings.

Correction: The original version of this post highlighted William Paca as an Italian American. It has been brought to our attention that he was not of Italian descent, but instead his relatives came from the United Kingdom. We have made this correction. For more information on William Paca’s heritage, please visit the Maryland Government Official Page


11 thoughts on “Our Italian Forefathers: Italian contributions to American Independence

  1. This is part of american history that has been ignored by Hollywood.we are not all gangsters and goons.

  2. wonderful read, thank you for informing me. I shall teach my children about Filippo Mazzei. I am a proud 1st generation American!!

  3. Neither William Paca nor Caesar Rodney were of Italian descent. I have no idea how this myth about Caesar Rodney got started, but the myth about William Paca being of Italian descent started in the early 1900s, just because Paca sounds like it might be Italian. Paca was not the original name of the family and the Paca family tree only goes as far back as England.

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