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Down for the Count

By France Griggs Sloat

Hunkered down in a Philadelphia library, Karim Tiro stumbled across a literary treasure trove: the diary of a wealthy 18th-century Italian nobleman. Though researching the Oneida Indians for his dissertation, the possibilities of what lay inside the diary consumed the assistant professor of history. “I was burning with curiosity about what it was and what it had to say,” says Tiro.

The only problem: It was in Italian. Tiro had the diary translated and soon discovered material that adds a valuable contribution to the historical records—the travels of Count Paolo Andreani in 1790 through the colonies and his encounters with our founding fathers, including George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

Take, for instance, the time Andreani got himself into hot water socially when he insulted English and American women by stating, in jest, that French women were more beautiful. He was banished to Canada after Washington underhandedly circulated a letter among powerful capital politicians from a U.S. ambassador who misrepresented Andreani’s letter to friends in Europe criticizing the Americans.

“The episode demonstrates that Washington played hardball politics,” Tiro says. “He won his reputation as commander-in-chief during the Revolution, and he was not going to let some young Italian count say bad things about his administration.”

The diary also gives a sense of the conditions in post-Revolution America through descriptions of the bad roads, inns and taverns of Pennsylvania and New York. It includes his recordings of latitudes and atmospheric conditions during his journey to America, as well as detailed descriptions of the Indian culture. It’s being published by the University of Pennsylvania Press this year.

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