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The Time Ben Franklin Casually Invented a Form of Kitesurfing

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In a series of letters, Benjamin Franklin responded to a few inquiries from his French translator Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg about the “art of swimming.” Franklin was a talented swimmer as a boy (he had once considered opening a swim school), so he had plenty of words of wisdom for Dubourg, including:

—“Fat persons with small bones float most easily upon water.”
—“To throw one’s self into cold spring water, when the body has been heated by exercise in the sun, is an imprudence which may prove fatal.”
—“It is certain that much swimming is the means of stopping a diarrhea.”

But perhaps Franklin’s most interesting comments were in regards to a few swim-related inventions he made when he was a boy, like the rudimentary fins that “resembled a painter’s pallets.” Franklin also relayed a story about the time he casually partook in kite-aided swimming. He found it very agreeable.

Before taking a dip in a pond that was “near a mile broad,” the young Franklin tied his kite to a stake on the shore. We all know how Franklin gets when he's around kites, so, naturally, inspiration struck:

The kite ascended to a very considerable height above the pond, while I was swimming. In a little time, being desirous of amusing myself with my kite, and enjoying at the same time the pleasure of swimming, I returned, and loosing from the stake the string with the little stick which was fastened to it, went again into the water, where I found, that lying on my back, and holding the stick in my hands, I was drawn along the surface of the water in a very agreeable manner.

Franklin then asked an observer—who was no doubt gawking at this chubby boy skimming across the water via kite—to take his clothes to the other side of the pond. “I began to cross the pond with my kite,” he writes, “which carried me quite over without the least fatigue, and with the greatest pleasure imaginable.” He then nonchalantly retrieved his clothes and called it a day.

While he never tried kite swimming again, Franklin guessed it “not impossible to cross in this manner from Dover to Calais.” His prediction, in a way, came true. In 2012, billionaire (and Franklin-esque bon vivant) Richard Branson kitesurfed across the English Channel:

While Franklin’s brief experiment lacked modern-day kitesurfing's board, the principles and general extreme-ness of his act make it a clear forerunner.

While all the founding fathers agreed on the pursuit of happiness, Franklin could likely get there fastest by hanging on to his kite and haulin' ass.

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Food
The Pawpaw: The All-American Fruit the Country Forgot
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MUExtension417, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Truly all-American foods are hard to find—hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie, for example, all have foreign origins. But that doesn’t mean native foods don’t exist. Take the pawpaw: This fruit is so American that it was enjoyed by the founding fathers, but it’s also an item most U.S. residents have probably never heard of.

As Vox explains in the video below, pawpaw fruit trees were once abundant in the eastern half of the country. Indigenous people ate the flesh of the fruit and saved the seeds for medicinal purposes. Early presidents also enjoyed them: George Washington had pawpaw trees planted at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson had the seeds delivered to friends in France.

But the past few centuries haven’t been kind to the pawpaw. Commercial development has wiped out much of the pawpaw belt—a chunk of land stretching from Michigan to Florida. At the same time, the rise of supermarkets helped push the fruit into obscurity. It ripens so fast that it would become inedible in the time it takes to pick them, transport them, and place them on the shelf.

While you won’t find pawpaws at chain grocery stores, they’re still available if you know where to look. Even after years of deforestation, pawpaw trees are the most common edible fruit trees native to North America. You can seek them out at Midwestern and eastern farmers markets from late August through September. And what to do with the custardy fruit once you’ve found it? Try using it to make pie, pudding, and even ice cream.

[h/t Vox]

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History
Long After Alexander Hamilton's Death, His Son and Rival Aaron Burr Dueled in Divorce Court
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On July 11, 1804, U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the former Secretary of the Treasury, in an ill-fated duel. The incident ended their longstanding rivalry—but Hamilton's son appears to have had the last word against his father's nemesis during a divorce trial.

Alexander Hamilton Jr., the second son of Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, was an attorney. He’s remembered for serving as a general during the War of 1812 and as a U.S. attorney for east Florida, among other accomplishments [PDF]. Lesser-known, however, is the fact that Hamilton Jr. served as divorce lawyer for socialite Eliza Bowen Jumel, Burr’s second wife, in 1834, and formally accused Burr of adultery and other charges.

Burr’s first wife, Theodosia Bartow Prevost—the mother of his daughter Theodosia—died in 1794 from stomach cancer, leaving Burr without his best ally and confidante. A decade later, he fatally shot Hamilton, and his reputation was sullied even further with later charges of conspiracy and high misdemeanor. With his political and legal career ruined, Burr was in the market for a strategic marriage, which might be why he decided to marry Jumel, a rich widow, in 1833.

Like Hamilton (and unlike Burr), Jumel came from humble origins and had climbed her way to success in Manhattan. Born in either 1773 or 1775, she was raised in a brothel in Providence, Rhode Island, and later forged an acting career in New York. In 1804, she married Stephen Jumel, a wealthy French wine merchant. (It's been rumored that Jumel tricked him into the nuptials by pretending to suffer from a fatal illness.)

The two purchased and lived in a 1765 mansion that briefly served as George Washington’s headquarters during the American Revolution. But in 1832, the 70-year-old Stephen Jumel died, leaving his widow—now the wealthiest woman in America—with his fortune. A year later, Jumel married Burr, who was now in his late seventies and reportedly dependent on his friends for money.

While the marriage cemented Jumel's position among Manhattan's upper echelons, the couple ended up separating after just four months of marriage. Needing a whip-smart lawyer, Jumel enlisted Hamilton Jr. to file for divorce.

Jumel alleged that Burr had committed adultery "at divers times with divers females," and also that he’d squandered her fortune. Meanwhile, a servant named Mariah Johnson testified she had caught Burr red-handed, according to Nancy Isenberg’s 2007 biography Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr. (Isenberg argues that Johnson had been bribed, and Burr himself argued that having affairs with younger women was "according to the law of nature impossible," considering his old age.)

The divorce was long and drawn out, and seemingly punctuated with periods of fighting and reconciliation. Burr's health was deteriorating during this time, and according to one story, Jumel "had him brought to the house and that for weeks, he lay, night and day, on an old sofa that had been Napoleon's, before the fire in the great drawing-room," according to artist and writer William Henry Shelton. (Shelton served as curator of Jumel's estate, a historic landmark that's today known as the Morris-Jumel mansion, and wrote a comprehensive history of the house in 1916.)

That said, "this claim is more traditional than probable," Shelton added, "as it would be just in the period of the divorce trial, during which they were hurling correspondents at each other, and, on the part of Burr, in unfair proportion of four for one.”

After three long years, during which Burr suffered from several strokes, his divorce was finalized by Judge Philo T. Ruggles on September 14, 1836—the same date as Burr's death at the age of 80.

Jumel never remarried, and she died nearly 30 years later, in 1865, at the age of 90 or 92. It's said that her ghost haunts the Morris-Jumel mansion, which is named after both Jumel and its original builder, British military officer Roger Morris.

Hamilton Jr. died in his home in 1875, at the age of 89, following a long illness. But the ghosts of Burr and Hamilton's infamous feud seem to have died with him—two descendants of the pair are reportedly kayak and canoe buddies in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood.

[h/t Gothamist]

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