When the Country's Founding Father is Your Founding Father- page 3 | History | Smithsonian
President William Howard Taft and his sons, Robert, right, and Charles Phelps. (Bettmann / Corbis)

When the Country's Founding Father is Your Founding Father

The descendants of American presidents are the athletic trainers, lawyers, salesmen and executives of everyday life

Richard Emory Gatchell, Jr. Baltimore, Maryland

Richard Emory Gatchell Jr
(Courtesy of Richard Emory Gatchell, Jr.)
For five of the past seven years, Richard Emory Gatchell Jr. has attended the Marshfield Cherry Blossom Festival in the tiny town of Marshfield, Missouri. The event, inspired by a year that its organizer Nicholas Inman spent in Washington, D.C. for an internship, draws presidential descendants from upward of 20 administrations.

“It is the most bizarre and enriching weekend,” says Gatchell. “There are two halves of the room. There is the group that lives in anonymity and the other that wears it on their sleeve.” Gatchell is of the former set. Although his name doesn’t overtly show it, he is a fifth-great-grandson of James Monroe.

Gatchell, 46, is descended from Maria Hester Monroe, the youngest daughter of President Monroe and Elizabeth Kortright Monroe. He recalls his grandmother, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe Emory Gatchell, having family heirlooms in her home. Before her death in 1996, she donated a quilt to the James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Maria Hester Monroe set aside the quilt, never to be completed, when the president came to spend his last year of life with her.

Gatchell, who lives in Baltimore and sells video-conferencing equipment, does not share his lineage story with many people out of concern that his intent in doing so would be misconstrued. “My neighbors don’t know,” he says. He does, however, remind his two daughters at certain teachable moments of the decision-making that runs in their bloodline—without hammering it in too hard. Through their mother, the girls are also descendants of the famous Frenchman the Marquis de Lafayette.

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