If your closest encounter with Alexander Hamilton has been through the Broadway musical, you might reasonably assume that the famous first treasury secretary had only one child. But between the Revolutionary War, the fight over the Constitution, and his infamous deadly duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton found time to father eight children with his wife Eliza. Many of went on to leave their own marks on the fledgling United States.
1. Philip Hamilton (1782–1801)
The oldest of the Hamilton brood, Philip was born in 1782 and named after his maternal grandfather, Philip Schuyler, an American Revolutionary War general and Senator. From the get-go, expectations of young Philip’s potential were sky-high.
“He is truly a very fine young gentleman, the most agreeable in his conversation and manners of any I ever knew—nor less remarkable for his intelligence and sweetness of temper,” Hamilton wrote of his eldest son, which might have seemed like a reasonable assessment if not for the fact that the boy was 7 months old.
For a time, Philip looked poised to live up to his father’s hopes. He attended Columbia and graduated with honors before going on to study law. But it wasn’t long before a quick temper and a loyal streak got in the way.
In 1801, Philip attended a play with a college friend. The performance was a comedy, but soon set off a series of events that became tragic. While at the performance, Philip encountered George Eacker, a lawyer who’d claimed a few months prior that Alexander Hamilton wanted to use the country’s military to put pressure on political adversaries. Philip confronted Eacker and challenged him to a duel.
On the fateful day, Philip arrived on the scene armed with both a pistol and the advice his father had given him: Don’t shoot. After the two men had walked their requisite 10 paces and turned to face one another, Philip let his gun hang by his side. For a moment, Eacker did the same. Until he didn’t.
Fourteen hours later, Philip was dead. He was just 19 years old.
2. Angelica Hamilton (1784–1857)
Philip’s death cast a lasting shadow across the Hamilton family, but no one was more affected than Alexander’s second-oldest child, Angelica. Just two years younger than Philip, Angelica was a happy, musical girl. After her older brother died, her mental health steadily deteriorated.
For the rest of her life, she experienced what Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow describes as an “eternal childhood,” unable to live independently and referring always to her dead brother as if he were still alive. She died in 1857 at age 72, after which her younger sister Eliza wrote, “Poor sister, what a happy release will be hers. Lost to herself a half century!”
3. Alexander Hamilton (1786–1875)
Like the original Alexander Hamilton, the younger Alexander studied at Columbia and went on to become a lawyer, graduating college just a few weeks after his father’s dueling death at the hands of Aaron Burr.
Burr may have taken his father, but Alexander managed to reap some small vengeance many decades later. In a bizarre twist of fate, Alexander ended up serving as the divorce attorney for Burr’s second wife, Eliza Bowen Jumel.
Jumel had been raised in a brothel, but after the death of her first husband, a French wine merchant, she was an extremely wealthy woman. By the time she married Burr, Hamilton’s rival was in his late seventies and had fallen from grace. Just four months after Burr and Jumel’s wedding, the couple separated and Jumel accused Burr of adultery and (likely more distressing) of spending her money with abandon. The legal battle took three years and was finalized on the day Burr died.
4. James Alexander Hamilton (1788–1878)
After graduating from Columbia and becoming a lawyer, James married into another powerful American family: the Morrises. His wife, Mary Morris, counted a Founding Father, a Supreme Court chief justice, and a mayor of New York City among her relatives.
James lived up to the potential of his influential family tree, forming a close relationship with the future President Andrew Jackson. (He even helped write Jackson’s inaugural address.) After Jackson ascended to the presidency, James briefly served as acting Secretary of State before he was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
His career paid off handsomely, allowing him to construct a mansion built in the style of a Greek temple he named Nevis, after his father’s birthplace. It now houses physics and biology research at Columbia University.
5. John Church Hamilton (1792–1882)
John was just 12 years old when his father died, but he remembered it vividly for the remainder of his life. In what had by now become a pattern for Hamilton boys, he attended Columbia and studied law before serving in the War of 1812 as an aide-de-camp to future president William Henry Harrison.
John devoted much of the rest of his career to the study of history (minus a failed congressional run), in large part with the aim of documenting his father’s life and enshrining his legacy. John edited Alexander Hamilton’s writings and ultimately published them in a seven-volume collection. He also authored a seven-volume biography of his father, entitled Life of Alexander Hamilton: A History of the Republic of the United States of America.
6. William Stephen Hamilton (1797–1851)
Despite four brothers ahead of him paving the well-worn track to Columbia and the study of law, William decided to chart his own path. He headed to Westpoint for college (though he never graduated), then pointed himself quite literally West.
He first settled in Illinois, where he served as a member of the state House of Representatives, then traveled northward and entered the lead-mining business in the then-territory of Wisconsin. There, he fought Native American tribes in the 1832 Black Hawk War and later lost electoral bids to serve as a territorial congressional delegate and, after statehood, to participate in Wisconsin’s constitutional convention.
In 1849, he decided to stray even farther from home and try his luck in the California Gold Rush. His time in the Golden State was anything but: He later said that he would “rather have been hung in the 'Lead Mines' than to have lived in this miserable hole."
William never married, and likely died of cholera in the state he despised in 1850.
7. Eliza Hamilton Holly (1799–1859)
The younger Eliza married a prominent New York City merchant in 1825 but was widowed in 1842. Rather than remarry, she and her mother moved together to Washington, D.C. in 1848 and took up residence near the White House, where their home quickly became an essential part of the capital’s social scene.
When her mother died at 97, Eliza threw her efforts into bringing her mother’s greatest wish—that of cementing the legacy of her husband—to fruition. “I feel the same spark ignite,” she wrote to her most historically minded brother, John Church, “to seek the fulfillment of her words ‘justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton.’ Those words so often uttered by our Mother, she cannot have a child who does not proudly recognize them.”
She went on, “You, and I, dear brother, must realize with sorrow, as our eye wanders over the Biographies of distinguished statesmen, from many a credible pen, how much of wisdom is ignored to our father, and made gracefully to fall over the memories of his less glorious Compatriots.”
Eliza died in 1859, just five years after her mother.
8. Philip Hamilton (1802–1884)
The second Philip was still in Eliza Hamilton’s womb when the first Philip died. Less than three years later, his father met the same fate. The family was poorer after Hamilton’s death, which left Philip (often called “Little Phil”) with fewer advantages than had been available to his older siblings.
Unlike the rest of his brothers, Philip didn’t attend college, but still managed to become a lawyer and rose to the position of Assistant U.S. Attorney under his older brother, James. A man known more for his heart than his ambition [PDF], Philip earned a reputation as a “lawyer of the poor.” He died in New York in 1884.