Notary professionals take their jobs very seriously, recognizing that the role of a notary public is of grave importance in avoiding fraud in the execution of important documents, such as wills, deeds, loan documents, powers of attorney and other paperwork. But once in a while, it’s fun to learn about famous notaries throughout history and modern times – some of which actually existed and others that were the creation of a script writer or poet.
Notaries in History
Since the role of a notary public has been around for centuries in some form, there are many historical figures that served to authenticate documents. Many more, while not notaries themselves, touched on the profession in their pursuits.
- Ancient Egypt: In the times of the pharaohs, notaries were known as “scribes.” Their role was established as early as 2750 BC, to chronicle events and handle official communications. Because they could read and write, these scribes were highly respected and occupied their own class within Egyptian culture. These early notaries drafted and authenticated letters, proclamations, tax records and other documents. King Tut was even buried with the writing equipment of scribes – in case he needed to write in the afterlife.
- Order of the Knights Templar: This order of monks was established in the 11th Century for the purpose of protecting Crusaders along the route to the Holy Land. Within two hundred years, they were quite powerful in their influence and created our modern financial and banking systems. Due to their level of education, the highest echelon within the Order became notaries to authenticate all official Templar documents and proclamations.
- Inspiration for William Shakespeare: Historical records show that Shakespeare worked at a notary office in Warwickshire, England. He also had contact with a number of other English notaries within his professional network. It’s said that his play, The Merchant of Venice, was based upon his experiences. The story revolves around a man who needed to borrow money from a friend in order to court a wealthy heiress. Shakespeare drew from his experience as a notary to describe the loan transactions and required documentation.
- Keeping Christopher Columbus Honest: Notary professionals traveled with Columbus during all his voyages; as a rule, nearly all Spanish explorers were required to bring a notary. The reason is that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were concerned about theft of the treasures that explorers discovered. When Columbus first landed in the Bahamas, notary public Rodrigo de Escobedo took care of the documentation.
Notary Professionals in American History
The official role of a notary public has been around since colonial times, as these professionals were essential for trans-Atlantic shipping. Both buyers and sellers in commerce relied upon notaries to protect against fraud or losses related to cargo. These officials were highly respected, but they didn’t always enjoy prosperity: Some were killed as conflicts began to arise between the American colonies and England.
- Thomas Fugill: America’s First Notary: Fugill was appointed in 1639 in the New Haven Colony, a territory that would eventually become the State of Connecticut. Unfortunately, he failed to abide by his notarial duties, thereby upsetting business people on both sides of the Atlantic. He was eventually thrown out of office for falsifying the documents he was entrusted to authenticate.
- John Coolidge, The President’s Father: John Coolidge’s credentials as a notary public rose to fame when he was 78 years old in 1923. His son Calvin had served as Vice President for President Warren G. Harding starting in 1921. However, Harding passed away two years later. When Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President, he became the first and only to take his oath as administered by his father.
- Presidential Power in Washington, DC: From the late 1790s through the early 1900s, notaries public for the District of Columbia were appointed by the President of the United States. Their credentials were for five year terms, and they could be removed at the whim of the sitting President. As of today, the Mayor of DC handles appointments for notaries operating within the territory.
Our modern history also includes a few tales of notable notaries.
- Pete Rose’s Oath: When he was approached by the makers of Wheaties to appear on the cereal box, executives had one interesting condition: Rose was required to sign under oath in the presence of a notary that he’d been eating Wheaties since he was a young child.
- Mark Twain in Public Service: Samuel Clemens, the man behind Mark Twain’s pen name, became a notary public in Nevada in 1864. It was the only public office he ever held.
- President Richard Nixon’s Notary: California attorney and notary public Frank DeMarco, Jr. was involved with one of President Nixon’s scandals. He had fraudulently backdated tax forms related to papers donated by Nixon to the National Archives. DeMarco resigned his notarial credentials in 1970, but not before the fraudulent documents were brought to the attention of the Special Prosecutor handling the Watergate case.
Notary Public Professionals in Pop Culture
While the role of a notary public in society is an important and essential one, the job doesn’t exactly inspire huge excitement. Still, there are some notary public references in pop culture that add a little drama to the position.
- Tom Cruise in Collateral: In this 2004 thriller, Cruise plays a contract killer needing to complete five “jobs” before heading to the airport; Jamie Foxx’s character is the cab driver hired to transport him to the five stops and then on to LAX. During one of the scenes, Tom Cruise poses as a notary public in order to gain entrance to a victim’s home, lying that he needs some documents signed.
- Edmond O’Brien in O.A.: This 1950s classic film centers on O’Brien’s character, Frank Bigelow, a notary public who leaves his small town for a week of fun in San Francisco. After a night of partying, he wakes up feeling hungover; however, doctors inform him he’d been poisoned the night before – and there’s no known antidote. The movie goes through the last days of Frank’s life as he tries to track down his killer.
- Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant in “Notary Publix”: This web-based series takes a humorous view of the life of a notary public. Set in 1980s New York City, the videos are brimming with big hair and thick accents as they follow the notarial exploits of Gina Fra Diavolo and Erin Oatmeal. These two women are rivals in the notary public world, and the hilarious intensity will have you on the edge of your seat.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie”: Longfellow borrowed an idea from friend Nathaniel Hawthorne for his epic poem, which follows the adventures of Evangeline, an Acadian girl searching for her lost love. The story is set during the Expulsion of the Acadians from Canada, part of the British Empire’s campaign against the French. In it, Evangeline is encouraged to marry a notary public’s son – but she refuses, still in search of her beloved Gabriel.
- Carl Sandberg, “Do You Want Affidavits?”: Sandberg’s humorous poem is a conversation between two people, one of whom makes outrageous claims and will prove his/her point by asking of the other: “Do you want affidavits?” The short piece concludes when the speaker offers to tell the truth, “in the monotone of a notary public…”
As you learn about some of the famous notary professionals, both real and created, you can see how important these officials have been throughout time. They’ve played an important role in society, going back to Ancient Egypt, during the Crusades and in our nation’s history. They can also be a source of entertainment, as demonstrated by reference to the job in pop culture. If you’re in need of notarial services, make sure to consider your options carefully. It’s essential that you retain a company with strong professionalism, proper training and credentials, and a dedication to excellent customer service.