MILITARY (1757–1804); CHARLESTOWN, NEVIS, SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS
Though never a president himself, Alexander Hamilton was just as important in the formation of the United States as many who were. Born on a small Caribbean island in the 1750s, Hamilton moved to New York, fought in the Revolutionary War, ardently defended the U.S. Constitution, helped establish the first national bank, and, of course, eventually became the inspiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical. Learn more about his life, legacy, and devastating death by duel below.
1. Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean islands—but we’re not exactly sure when.
Hamilton was born in Charlestown, the capital city of Nevis, a tiny island in the British West Indies. His birthday is definitely January 11, but the year is up for debate—while Hamilton always claimed he was born in 1757, Nevisian records cite 1755. According to biographer Ron Chernow, it’s possible Hamilton pretended to be younger to seem more impressive when applying to King’s College. Having been born in 1755 would’ve meant he was starting college at age 18, which was considered a little old at a time when the standard minimum age for applicants at most colleges was 14 or 15.
2. Two of Alexander Hamilton’s children were named Philip.
On January 22, 1782, Alexander and his wife, Elizabeth "Eliza" Schuyler Hamilton, had their first son, Philip, who grew up to be smart, quick-tempered, and fiercely loyal to his father. After several tense run-ins with George Eacker, a well-known lawyer who had insulted Alexander in a speech, 19-year-old Philip challenged him to a duel; Eacker’s bullet caught Philip in the hip, and he died the next day. The Hamiltons’ eighth and youngest child was born just a year after the tragedy, and they named him Philip in honor of the brother he’d never know.
Apart from their eldest son, the Hamiltons’ other seven children all lived relatively long lives—here’s the full list:
- Philip Hamilton (1782-1801)
- Angelica Hamilton (1784-1857)
- Alexander Hamilton Jr. (1786-1875)
- James Alexander Hamilton (1788-1878)
- John Church Hamilton (1792-1882)
- William Stephen Hamilton (1797-1850)
- Eliza Hamilton Holly (1799-1859)
- Philip Hamilton (1802-1884)
3. Alexander Hamilton was close friends with his wife’s sister, Angelica Schuyler Church.
As Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical suggests, Hamilton was indeed close friends with his wife’s older sister, Angelica Schuyler Church. They frequently exchanged affectionate and flirtatious letters, and Angelica did jokingly proposition Eliza to share him.
“I love him very much and if you were as generous as the Old Romans, you would lend him to me for a while,” she wrote to Eliza in 1794.
While there were rumors at the time that the two were having an affair, there’s no evidence to indicate their relationship was ever physical; furthermore, Angelica was already married to John Church when she met Hamilton.
4. Alexander Hamilton’s death after a duel with Aaron Burr was the culmination of a years-long rivalry.
While Hamilton’s death at the hands of Aaron Burr was shocking, it wasn’t totally surprising—the two politicians had butted heads for years. They were both orphans who graduated from King’s College, became lawyers, and fought in the Revolutionary War, but Hamilton was passionate and committed to his Federalist ideology, and Burr didn’t really have one.
“Burr was not an ideologist. He was a total opportunist, who would go whichever way proved the greatest advantage to him,” John Sedgwick, author of War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Duel That Stunned a Nation, told History.com. “And to Hamilton, that was absolutely unconscionable.”
Hamilton used his influence to discredit Burr and bring about his defeat in the presidential election of 1800 and again in New York’s gubernatorial election of 1804. Burr demanded an apology, hubristic Hamilton refused, and they eventually decided a duel was the only way to resolve their issues. On July 11, 1804, Hamilton and Burr met in Weehawken, New Jersey—exactly where Philip Hamilton was fatally shot three years prior—to carry out their illegal duel.
While Hamilton’s "second" (or back-up participant) claimed Hamilton fired into the air, never intending to harm his opponent, Burr’s second reported Hamilton did aim at Burr and simply missed. Either way, what happened after that is undisputed: Burr’s bullet tore through Hamilton’s stomach and lodged in his spine. The party brought him back to New York, where he died the following day.
5. Alexander Hamilton’s grave is in the Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan.
July 14, 1804, was declared a day of mourning in New York City, and onlookers lined the sidewalks to watch Hamilton’s funeral procession from Angelica and John Church’s house on what's now Park Place to Trinity Church on Wall Street and Broadway. He was laid to rest in a grave that was later marked with a large, stately obelisk, donated in 1806 by the Society of the Cincinnati, a patriotic group of which Hamilton was President General before his death. When Eliza Hamilton died in 1854, she was buried directly in front of her husband’s grave.
6. Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth "Eliza" Schuyler Hamilton, helped establish his legacy.
Two years after her husband died, Eliza worked with a few other women to found the Orphan Asylum Society, New York’s first private orphanage. In addition to her philanthropic endeavors, Eliza was instrumental in cementing Hamilton’s legacy—she made sure he got credit for being the main author of Washington’s Farewell Address (James Madison had drafted an earlier version), and she also reached out to many of his contemporaries to confirm details about his work. This information helped her create a collection of his writings, which was edited by her son, John Church Hamilton, and published after her death.
7. Alexander Hamilton never actually ran for president.
Because Hamilton had such an integral role in founding America—integral enough to have landed him on the $10 bill—he’s often mistaken for being a former president. In fact, he never even ran for the position. He didn’t contest George Washington, who was elected unanimously for the first two presidential terms; he had stepped back from the center of American politics to work in the public sector during the election of 1796, which John Adams won; and his highly publicized affair with Maria Reynolds had seriously damaged his reputation by the time the election of 1800 rolled around. Then, of course, his untimely death in 1804 prevented him from ever considering a campaign.
8. Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton musical was based on the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
While reading Ron Chernow’s comprehensive biography Alexander Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda was struck by how much it seemed like a “classic hip-hop narrative”—meaning that Hamilton, like the best hip-hop artists, used his mastery of language to “write his way out” of poverty and obscurity.
Miranda asked Chernow to be the historical adviser for the musical, to which Chernow replied, “Does that mean I tell you when something is wrong?”
“Yes,” Miranda said to Chernow. “I want the historians to take this seriously.”
They definitely have, and, based on the fact Chernow rapped the entire introductory track during his keynote speech at Lafayette College’s commencement in 2017, it seems like he’s quite satisfied with the end result, too.
Notable Pamphlets and Essays by Alexander Hamilton
- A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress (1774)
- The Farmer Refuted (1775)
- The Remarks on the Quebec Bill (1775)
- The Continentalist (1781)
- The Federalist Papers (1787-1788)
- The Reynolds Pamphlet (1797)
For Further Reading: Books About Alexander Hamilton
- Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2004)
- Alexander Hamilton: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall (2000)
- Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider by Jean Fritz (2011)
- Alexander Hamilton: First Architect of the American Government by Michael W. Simmons (2016)
- Alexander Hamilton: Founding Father by Mark Steinberg
- War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation by John Sedgwick (2016)
- Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis (2000)