Hamilton the Biography, Crib Notes
You’ve seen the play. Here are some anecdotes and interesting facts for fans of Alexander Hamilton, the book. Chernow’s biography that is.
- Alexander and Eliza Hamilton had 8 children. Philip was their first born. All 7 of his other children lived long lives (not common in that day).
- Alexander Hamilton was probably not a Hamilton, but instead a Stevens. This gets a little confusing. His mother, maiden name Rachel Faucette, was 16-years old when she married a much older man, Johann Michael Lavien. She separated shortly after the unhappy marriage. She went on to become the common law wife of James Hamilton. However, James eventually abandoned Rachel, Alexander, and his older brother James Jr. After him mother died Feb 19, 1968, Alexander was split from his brother James Jr. and ended up living with a family friend Thomas Stevens. Alexander looked remarkable like Thomas Stevens’ son Edward Stevens, leading many, including Chernow, to hypothesize that Alexander Hamilton’s biological father was not James Hamilton, but instead, Thomas Stevens.
3. Hamilton forgot a password. During his courtship of Eliza, which overlapped with the Revolutionary War, a love-struck Hamilton returning from a visit with Eliza, could not remember the password to reenter his camp. The sentry on duty took pity on Hamilton and gave him the password.
4. Lafayette was really young during the war. Lafayette was Washington’s favorite son-figure. The American general had no offspring of his own. Hamilton was a precocious man of 18 when the battle of Concord and Lexington took place in 1775. Lafayette was Hamilton’s junior by 7 months. The aristocratic and wealthy Lafayette helped personally fund the American war effort including paying for uniforms for American soldiers.
5. Martha Washington had a tomcat. Hamilton was a regular guest of the Washingtons. Martha was amused at his flirtatious adventures with many young women. Poking fun at the dashing colonel, Martha named her tomcat Hamilton.
6. Angelica was not available. Angelica was better educated than Eliza, spoke French (as did Hamilton), and was far more cosmopolitan than her younger sister. Hamilton and Angelica were fond of each other. Alas, they met too late. Angelica was already married when Hamilton began courting Eliza. Her married name was Angelica Church.
7. Hamilton got his war cred just in time. After many requests to lead men into battle, Colonel Hamilton was finally granted his wish by General Washington at the battle of Yorktown in 1781. His forces made a nighttime attack of British fortifications with fixed bayonets and no bullets. They unloaded their weapons in order not to accidentally fire and alert the enemy of their clandestine approach. Hamilton’s operation lasted all of ten minutes. It was a success. Yorktown would be the effective end of major military engagements for the Revolutionary War.
8. “The World Turned Upside Down” was a real song. At the surrender at Yorktown, the British military band played this song.
9. Hamilton did not Viva la Revolucion. Hamilton was horrified when many leading business and political leaders were indiscriminately murdered and jailed during the French Revolution. Good friend and revolutionary war hero Lafayette had to flee France. Many members of Lafayette’s family were killed in the purge during the Terror. In sharp contrast, Jefferson admired and supported the French Revolution. This was one of the major divisive issues pitting the Francophile Jefferson against the British-leaning Hamilton.
10. The room where it happened was Jefferson’s home in NYC. Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison and perhaps two other guests met at Jefferson’s home on June 20, 1790 to hammer out Hamilton’s debt assumption deal. Hamilton agreed to lobby to move the capitol to a location on the Potomac River, later named Washington D.C. In return, Jefferson and Madison agreed to support the debt assumption deal that they had so vigorously opposed.
11. Hamilton had Washington’s ear. TJ, not so much. Washington aligned with Hamilton’s vision of a strong central government. He also believed in the need for a strong executive branch. Jefferson preferred a weaker executive branch that deferred to the legislative branch. He also preferred states’ rights over federal control. Due to their political alignment, Washington sided far more often with his Treasury Secretary than his Secretary of State.
12. John Adams didn’t get along with anyone, except his wife. TJ said it best. “He hate Franklin, he hates Jay, he hates the French, he hates the English. To whom will he adhere?” Adams also hated Hamilton and had a love/hate relationship with Jefferson.
13. Madison was Jefferson’s wingman, but not his puppet. Jefferson had more charisma and charm than the stodgy Madison, but Madison was the brains of the duo. Many people incorrectly assumed that Madison was a lackey to Jefferson. Of the founding fathers, Madison’s intellect was only matched by his cerebral Federalist counterpart Hamilton.
14. Washington felt betrayed by Madison. Prior to Hamilton’s resignation as Washington’s Treasury Secretary, Jefferson and Madison were content to attack Hamilton, and effectively indirectly criticize the unassailable Washington. With Hamilton gone, they gambled and began surreptitiously targeting Washington directly. One particular contention issue between Washington and Jefferson and Madison was the British trade agreement, known as the “Jay Treaty”. The treaty was supported by Washington and opposed by Jefferson and Madison. When Washington discovered that Madison was behind the attacks, he broke with Madison and never forgave him. Jefferson was clever enough to safely distance himself from the fracas.
15. Monroe leaked the Reynolds affair. When Hamilton was under scrutiny for misbehavior, he grudgingly admitted to Monroe that he had an extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds. Her husband blackmailed Hamilton to keep the incident quiet. After hearing the disclosure, Monroe promised Hamilton not to expose the scandal. This promise was broken. Madison was later shown to have been the source of the leak of the scandalous affair.
16. Washington was a steading force for Hamilton. Despite finding Washington’s deliberations overly methodical and congenial, Hamilton’s best work was under the careful guidance of the great man. Hamilton’s brilliance was beset by his rashness and inflexibility. After Washington’s death, Hamilton made a number of poor decisions including campaigning against Adams during his reelection campaign. His support of Pickering over Adams would do great damage to the Federalist party. Adams was furious at the betrayal and became a bitter enemy of Hamilton.
17. Philip Hamilton’s death lead Hamilton’s daughter Angelica to insanity. Hamilton’s eldest daughter Angelica was especially close to Philip. After his death, she was never the same. She would often hauntingly hum piano tunes from her youth. She would also make reference to her brother Philip as if he were still alive.
18. Burr and Hamilton served on the defense in the O.J. Simpson case of their times. The 1800 case known as the Well Tragedy shocked and captivated New York. A young carpenter, Levi Weeks, was wrongfully accused of killing his fiance Gulielma Sands. Burr and Hamilton served in the defense of Weeks and won his acquittal. This was one of many events where Burr and Hamilton’s paths crossed. Burr was born one year after Hamilton. Both were prominent New York City lawyers and politicians, as well as distinguished veterans of the Revolutionary War. Throughout their careers, Hamilton would hinder Burr’s advancement. Hamilton, though appreciating Burr’s talent and intelligence, had little respect for his character. Most notably, he helped his bitter enemy Jefferson defeat Burr for the honor of serving as our 3rd President. Both men received the same number of electoral votes, leaving a contested election where Hamilton’s influence in New York helped push the election to Jefferson. He also actively campaigned for Burr’s opponent in the 1804 New York Gubernatorial race, in which Burr again ended up in defeat.
19. Jefferson’s minions may have executed a hit on a reporter. A muck-racking reporter, James T. Callender, claims to have been paid by Jefferson to publicly attack Federalist leaders including Hamilton. Callender received a major fine and served time for sedition stemming from his publications. He was shocked and enraged when President Jefferson refused to help him pay his fine or provide him with work after he was released from prison. He sought revenge by exposing Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemings. When Jefferson denounced him as a liar, he challenged Jefferson to a dual. Jefferson wisely ignored the challenge. During his acrimonious dealings with Jefferson, Callendar received ominous threats from Jefferson allies. They warned that he might find himself in the James River if he did not watch himself. This is indeed what happened. He was found dead in the James River on July 17, 1803. His death came less than a month before the trial where he was to expected to testify against Jefferson, testifying that Jefferson paid him to defame George Washington. His death was classified as an accident related to accidental drowning due to intoxication. The depth of the water he drown in was 3 feet deep.
20. Burr was far more notorious for his dalliances than Hamilton. Burr was an orphan like Hamilton. His wife Theodosia died of stomach cancer in 1794. He was known to have had many affairs with women throughout his life.
21. Burr was a good shot…and he prepared. Burr was known as a marksman while fighting in the Revolutionary War. He was also reported to have practiced his aim prior to the duel. A visitor at Burr’s house noticed a bullet-riddled target shortly before the fatal duel was to take place. This preparation was frowned on in the arcane rules of duel etiquette.
22. “Throwing away your shot” was the proper phrase. Duels were commonplace during the early 19th century. Participants would call a duel when they believed their honor was unfairly questioned. Most duels were settled before a final showdown. When a duel did reach a climatic confrontation, the duels would often end without a fatality. Many duelist avoided serving a fatal shot, and instead would seek to wound, but not kill their opponent. The practice of “throwing away your shot” was another approach. The duelist would fire far from their target to signal to their antagonist that they are not shooting to kill, and hopefully put a injury-free halt to the proceedings. Hamilton told many witnesses prior and after the duel, that he would and did throw away his shot. After an investigation of the dueling grounds following the event, Hamilton’s bullet was found to have broken a tree branch 12 feet above and four feet wide of his target. His claim that threw away his shot is substantiated with this wildly inaccurate shot.
23. The same guns killed father and son. Hamilton borrowed the pistols from Angelica’s husband, Church. The same set of guns used in the fatal duel of Philip Hamilton. You can now find these guns at the JP Morgan Chase Bank headquarters in NYC.
24. Burr showed no remorse. Burr never publicly apologized or disavowed the Hamilton shooting. At a morning meeting with a friend a mere hours after the duel, Burr made no reference that he had shot Hamilton earlier that day. He was so calm and composed that his friend was in disbelief when he later in the day was informed that Burr had shot Hamilton that very morning.
25. Burr was still VP. Although he was wanted by both the New York and New Jersey (sight of the duel) authorities, Burr actually returned to Washington D.C. to preside over a session of Congress. Burr and Jefferson were not friends. Interestingly, the Hamilton shooting gave Burr a temporary boost of popularity among Republicans and with Jefferson. Despite with his rising popularity, he soon resigned as VP and went in hiding for years. He would eventually return to New York where he died in 1836.
26. Hamilton had important visitors at his death bed. All seven of Hamilton’s children came to Hamilton’s deathbed once Eliza realized he would not survive his wounds.
27. The master of finance was deeply in debt at the time of his death. Hamilton never sought to aggrandize his wealth despite having many opportunities to trade his influence for personal gain. He was deeply in dept when he died. Only a secret fund organized by his friend Gouverneur Morris would keep Eliza and her children out of a deep financial hole.
28. “Adieu best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me.” In the event of a fatal outcome, Hamilton prepared a letter for Eliza. This famous line closed his letter.