From the sinister and outrageous to controversies that are still debated to this day, we retell eight rumors and conspiracy theories about the Founding Fathers that refuse to die off.
“Alexander Hamilton was a double agent”
He founded the First National Bank and the US Coast Guard, served as the first Secretary of the Treasury, fought alongside George Washington as aide-de-camp — but rumors of Alexander Hamilton’s disloyalty to the stars and stripes still dog his legacy.
Some historians, including Julian P. Boyd, think that Hamilton a double-agent for the British working under the code name Number 7. The evidence for Hamilton’s duplicity lies in his friendliness toward British laws and a desire to model the U.S. along British lines, including a strong central bank and a unified central government (unlike the federal system we have today).
“The dead bodies in Ben Franklin’s basement were actually sacrificed”
In 1998, workers restoring Franklin’s London home found 1,200 bone fragments in a pit in the basement, remains of four adults and six children who were all buried while Franklin was living there in the mid-1700s.
The most likely explanation for the macabre find lies with William Hewson, the son-in-law of Franklin’s landlady, who was a doctor and anatomist. Dissection was illegal at the time and curious doctors paid low-lives to commit grave robbery for them in order to enhance their medical knowledge.
However, Franklin may have been involved in a secret Satanist group called the Hellfire Club through his Masonic membership. Members of the Hellfire Club committed immoral acts that according to this rumor/conspiracy theory even extended to ritualized murder.
“Thomas Jefferson had sex with his slaves”
Rumors of Thomas Jefferson’s sexual shenanigans with his slave Sally Hemings have been circling around the esteemed founding father since 1802. A report of the Monticello Research Committee compared the DNA of Hemings’ descendants to Jefferson’s DNA and, in conjunction with “black oral histories,” concluded that the affair was likely. Modern pop culture has since transmogrified the theory into unquestioned Jeffersonian truth.
But scientists have pointed out that the DNA results only mean there’s a father from the Jefferson line — it could have been any of the 7 male Jeffersons who lived with or near Sally at the time. Also, some of Sally’s children were proven to definitely not be related to Jefferson.
In sum, a male-line relative quite remotely related to President Thomas Jefferson would likely have the same Y chromosome as Jefferson. (For example, J41 and J49 are fifth cousins once removed and have the same Y chromosome.)
The data do prove that Thomas Woodson was not the son of Thomas Jefferson or any close male-line relative of Jefferson. The Carr brothers are also excluded from being fathers of Eston or Thomas Woodson. Thus, as with modern day paternity testing, we can prove a man is/was not the father, but we cannot absolutely prove a man is/was the father.
Further, the rumor of Jefferson being the father was initially set off by one of his political enemies, a journalist named James T. Callender, after he noticed several light-skinned slaves at Monticello.
These facts have led some people to believe that the entire “Jefferson is the father of his slave’s children” thing was concocted by Jefferson’s enemy and then glommed onto by Sally’s descendants for prestige. After all, what’s the prestige in being descended from Jefferson’s third cousin?
“George Washington stopped a counterrevolution”
After the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army still spoiled for a fight: they wanted to go after Congress. Angry over being denied promised wages and bored camping out in Newburg, Virginia, the officers hatched a conspiracy to march on the capitol.
In order to quell the uprising, Washington met with the officers and gave a short speech, imploring them not to form a coup. First, he pulled out his spectacles, saying, “I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” Many of the officers were moved to tears by the reminder of Washington’s sacrifice. The officers were ultimately paid.
“Burr was a hired assassin”
Fact: on July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr squared off in a duel over politics, honor and reputation. When Burr shot and killed Hamilton, it appeared as though he would be stripped of all three. Once vice president under Jefferson, Burr was forced to flee to the Louisiana Territory and then England. In 1812, he returned to New York where he became a lawyer — a suitable profession for a cutthroat. If the story ended here it would be sinister enough, but…
What if Burr was a British agent hired to assassinate Hamilton? Some historians say the British paid Burr a huge sum of money (possibly $41,738 given to him by John Jacob Astor in 1804 for leases that Burr didn’t own) to get Hamilton, who the Brits thought hindered their economic expansion plans, out of the picture.
After the murder and possible payoff, Burr’s time out west was spent surveying land that he hoped could be administered by the British. His time in England was spent urging the British government to reassert their authority in North America. The War of 1812 appears to have ended Burr’s association with the monarchy — if it ever existed.
“America was founded by Freemasonry”
Fact: many of the founding fathers were Freemasons. According to National Geographic, nine of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons. (Conspiracy theorist David Icke claims the number is closer to 50.) Washington himself was one of them.
Because many powerful men belonged to the same fraternal organization, they had at least one thing in common. In this way, the Masons helped to bind the colonies into a country. But, Icke says, the promises they used to bind us together — liberty, equality, fair taxation — were never intended to be kept. Instead, the Masons used them to gain power and foster today’s New World Order. Spooky!
“The co-first president”
A bizarre conspiracy theory holds that Washington voluntarily removed himself from public life in 1787, the same year Illuminati founder Adam Weishaupt fled to the U.S. to avoid persecution in his native Bavaria.
Because of their striking physical similarities, Washington allegedly asked Weishaupt to be his body double and serve as president in his stead. Weishaupt, eager to advance the Illuminati agenda, acquiesced.
Another Weishaupt/Washington theory holds that Weishaupt actually killed the president and covered up the murder by impersonating Washington until his “death” in 1799.
“The Knights Templar connection”
The movie National Treasure mashes various conspiracy theories together and explores the idea that the founding fathers (Freemasons) were an arm of the mysterious Knights Templar. As Masons, the founding fathers conspired to hide a stockpile of treasure accumulated over centuries of plunder and pillage. (Spoiler alert: in the film, the back of the Declaration of Independence holds a map indicating that gold is hidden underneath Trinity Church.)
Movies like this form the meat and potatoes of many people’s history education, and Hollywood fiction intertwined with historical reality give rise to ever more colorful ideas about the past. Unfortunately, in real life, there is no evidence of any gold hoards or maps to any such. Plus, there is a four-hundred year gap between the dissolution of the Templars and organization of the Masons.