Melodrama at the Smithsonian

But why? That’s the intriguing part of the story. James Smithson never visited the US, and as far as we know had no close connections to anyone here. So why give his fortune to America? One theory is that he did it out of spite to the British people, who had treated him badly because of the circumstances of his birth.

I find this believable. For one thing, Hugh Simpson Percy had two daughters with his long-time mistress (not James’s mother) whom he publicly acknowledged, but he never acknowledged James. A stronger clue: James once wrote, “My name shall live in the memory of man when the titles of the Northumberlands and Percys are extinct and forgotten.”

Northumberlands and Percys, remember, are the families of his birth father, the one who ignored him all his life.  He set out deliberately to be more legendary than them, and he succeeded. It’s not the Percy Museum, or Northumberland House. It’s the Smithsonian. Thanks, James.

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