’burg and Beyond
In Lewisburg and far afield, Bucknell’s students and faculty make a positive and palpable difference.
Lisa Perrone with a copy of the letter to Jefferson.
Photo: Emily Paine
" "
Lisa Perrone with a copy of the letter to Jefferson.

" "National Central Library of Florence, Italy
Three summers ago, Italian studies professor Lisa Perrone visited the library to research Carlo Bellini, hired in 1779 by Thomas Jefferson to teach modern languages at The College of William & Mary, Perrone’s alma mater. Nothing surfaced for Bellini, but she found another thread that led straight to the third U.S. president.

Another friend of Jefferson’s, Filippo Mazzei, piqued her interest. A political philosopher, physician and Italian patriot of the American Revolution, his name frequently appeared in Jefferson’s and Bellini’s correspondence. A letter Mazzei had written offering health tips to an unknown recipient looked intriguing. As she transcribed it, one place name stood out: Monticello.

What She’s Discovered:
Perrone’s careful sleuthing revealed that the intended recipient of Mazzei’s letter was none other than Thomas Jefferson. But it had been lost in the mail. She compared a letter Jefferson had sent to Mazzei on July 9, 1811, with the Mazzei letter, dated Sept. 27, 1812, and found irrefutable connections between the two. She also discovered Mazzei’s signature on the letter to Jefferson.

What She Did Next:
Perrone’s essay about the translated letter, “The Advice Jefferson Never Received: Health Counsel Delivered to Jefferson from his Italian Friend Filippo Mazzei, Two Hundred Years Too Late,” was published in the April edition of Common-place, the academic journal of early American life. This March, she returned to Florence to brief librarians about her discovery.

“Needless to say, they are excited about the value of the letter,” Perrone says. “They had no idea to whom it was written.”

A recent fellowship from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation brought Perrone to Monticello to continue her study of Mazzei’s friendship with Jefferson.
— Mike Ferlazzo