Introducing Discovering Hamilton

© Posted on October 30, 2017, by Michael E. Newton.

For the past two years, since publication of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years, I have spent countless hours, days, weeks, and months doing research in the vast archives of the Rigsarkivet (Danish National Archives), US National Archives, and UK National Archives searching through the records of St. Croix, Nevis, St. Kitts, and other West Indian islands. This time consuming task has paid off as I have discovered many new and exciting facts about Alexander Hamilton, his family, friends, and colleagues.

This extensive research has been conducted and continues with publication of a new book in mind. The research, however, is taking much longer than planned and much remains to be done. Seeing that publication of a book containing these new findings is still some time away and wanting to share these new discoveries with the public, I am starting this blog.

Sharing these exciting new discoveries in a blog instead of or in addition to writing about them in a Hamilton biography has a number of advantages. A blog allows me to communicate these new discoveries in greater depth. In a Hamilton biography, each discovery can only be presented in the context of the main narrative or perhaps in greater but still limited detail in an endnote. In a blog, however, the full story of each discovery can be shared. The information itself, images of the original manuscripts, transcripts and/or translations, analysis, context, and implications can be detailed in a blog but not in a biography. What may be a one-sentence revelation in a biography can be many paragraphs of useful and interesting information in a blog. This is especially relevant for discoveries only tangentially related to Alexander Hamilton. For example, new information discovered about another Founding Father might merit one sentence, a single phrase, or an endnote in a Hamilton biography but can be written about in full detail in a blog, which will be incredibly interesting to the general reader and absolutely invaluable to those researching and writing about that person. Thus, in addition to revealing these new discoveries sooner rather than later, this blog will present the information in greater depth and in a different context than would be possible in a Hamilton biography.

My plan is to blog once each week, with possible exceptions for holidays and research trips. The nature of the blog posts will vary from week to week. Some may present a single new discovery that tells a complete story. But many, perhaps most, of the posts will not be of this nature. In many instances, I have found references to the same people and sometimes the same event in various volumes and only by combining these disparate sources can one piece together the complete story. These longer, more complicated narratives involving multiple new discoveries will most likely be posted over a series of week so as not to overwhelm either the author or the reader. In contrast, I will also be sharing discoveries that reveal only a fraction of a larger story. It is possible that the full story will never be discovered because the details were never recorded or those records have been lost or destroyed. Alternatively, perhaps more information will be found in the future and the full story revealed. Although these new discoveries are incomplete, I will gladly present them as is and hope that more information will be discovered in the future, whether by me or someone else.

As exciting as launching this new blog is for me (and hopefully for you), I hesitated for a number of reasons. First, as I explained above, my research remains incomplete and I might still find more information pertinent to these new discoveries. Obviously, I prefer having the whole story before presenting it, but I decided that I already have enough to share and there was no reason to wait for information that might never be found. Of greater concern is that a blog provides the author with less legal and real protection than a book. A number of prominent historians advised me not to share my new discoveries until a book was ready for publication because someone might take these new discoveries, put them in a book, and claim them as their own. (However, equally prominent historians encouraged me to pursue this project. Regardless of which side they were on, each of these historians provided me useful suggestions, and I thank them all for their advice.)

Since I decided to go ahead with this blog despite the above concerns, some measures are being put in place to prevent others from taking credit for these new discoveries and to make it more difficult for anyone to “steal” them. I will not be providing citations for the new discoveries that will be presented. As a historian, I believe strongly in accurate and useful citations. In fact, I have more than 200 pages of endnotes in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years to prove that! But it’s just so easy to copy someone’s work from a blog and paste it into another blog or even a book. To maintain some “ownership” over these discoveries until my own book is published, I will not be citing the original sources on this blog. In most cases, however, I will share images of the sources, which will serve as verification of the findings (and will be interesting exhibits for the reader). These, however, will be watermarked, again so no one can “steal” them and take the credit for themselves. Additionally, as a warning to anyone who might “steal” my work, each blog post will be submitted to Internet Archive’s WayBackMachine to provide third-party proof of the contents of each post and the date of publication.

Despite the above restrictions and warnings, historians, biographers, bloggers, and other authors are free to incorporate these new findings in their works IF AND ONLY IF they cite the blog post in which the discovery is presented (including the URL). In fact, I encourage the sharing of the new discoveries presented in this blog, as it is my goal to spread accurate information about Alexander Hamilton and thereby correct the errors, lies, distortions, and myths that are told about him.

Together, we will learn more about Alexander Hamilton, his family, friends, and colleagues than anyone before us has ever known. I look forward to sharing this adventure with you…

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Witnessing an Appraisal: The Oldest Known Alexander Hamilton Document

© Posted on November 6, 2017, by Michael E. Newton.

On page 1 of volume 1 of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton and in the corresponding entry of Founders Online there appears the “Probate Court Transaction on Estate of Rachel Lavien [St. Croix, February 19, 1768].” This document, which was discovered by H. U. Ramsing and first shared in an essay published in 1939, mentions in a section dated February 22, 1768, that Alexander Hamilton was one of the sons of the recently deceased Rachel Lavien. The editors of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton note, “Although this is not strictly an H document, it is printed here because it is the first extant document in which H is mentioned.” (To correct one misunderstanding regarding this document, the “probate court transaction” was recorded in November 1769 and is almost entirely a compilation of records originally written elsewhere. Perhaps I will blog about the original records another time.)

As the editors noted, the above record of February 1768 is “not strictly an H document.” A stricter definition of a Hamilton document would only include documents written, drafted, or signed by Hamilton, or accurate copies of such documents if the originals have been lost, precise contemporary records of his verbal statements such as legal testimony, and letters written to him. According to this definition, the oldest Hamilton document in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton or anywhere else is a letter he wrote to his friend Edward “Ned” Stevens on November 11, 1769 (The Papers of Alexander Hamilton 1:4 and Founders Online).

One other “document” must be added to the list of oldest known Hamilton documents. Back in 1858, George Bancroft claimed, “The first written trace of his [Hamilton’s] existence is in 1766, when his name appears as witness to a legal paper executed in the Danish island of Santa Cruz [St. Croix].” In 1899, Henry Cabot Lodge added, “The character of his signature is of more importance than the fact of his affixing it to a deed. I have carefully examined an exact tracing of this signature. The handwriting is obviously Hamilton’s.” However, this document and even Lodge’s “exact tracing” have been lost. Accordingly, we cannot be certain that this “legal paper” was in fact from 1766 or that it was our Alexander Hamilton who signed it. (I have found a ship captain named Alexander Hamilton visiting St. Croix in 1766.) Accordingly, this missing “legal paper” cannot be considered a Hamilton document (and thus the editors of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton chose not to include it in their work).

In sum, there are, or have been, three different documents that could be considered the oldest known Alexander Hamilton document. The oldest is from 1766, but the document has apparently not been seen for well over a century and we cannot be certain it is a Hamilton document or that the date given is correct. The second is from February 22, 1768, but this is not strictly a Hamilton document because it merely mentions Hamilton in passing and he had nothing to do with writing it. The third is Hamilton’s letter to Edward Stevens of November 11, 1769.

With this in mind…

On April 22, 1767, “an appraisal of the effects belonging to Master William Pond Deceased, late of Munserate [Monserrat],” was conducted “at the request of the honourable Dealing Court” of Christiansted, St. Croix. The original document has not been found, but on that same day a copy of the appraisal was entered into the official records of Christiansted.

Two men conducted the appraisal and two men acted as witnesses. All four signed the original document, and their signatures were copied into the official record. One of the two witnesses is recorded as “Allexander Hamilthon.”

So how do we know if this is our Alexander Hamilton? Like the document itself, the signatures are copies rather than originals, so we cannot compare this signature to known Hamilton signatures (as I recently did for a case currently before the United States District Court regarding the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution and some Hamilton documents: see here, here, and here). Moreover, both Alexander and Hamilton are misspelled if this is our Hamilton. Furthermore, there were other men named Alexander Hamilton who occasionally visited St. Croix, as mentioned earlier. Maybe this was a different Alexander Hamilton, or even some guy with the completely different name of Allexander Hamilthon.

First, regarding the spelling of the name in this record. The name “Alexander” is often found in the Danish West Indian records as “Allexander” and the suffix “ton” often appears as “thon” or “thun.” In records regarding our Alexander Hamilton, his first name is occasionally spelled “Allexander” and his last name “Hamilthon.” So this “Allexander Hamilthon” is merely a Danish alternative spelling of the more common Alexander Hamilton. But this still could be a different Alexander Hamilton.

Perhaps in your excitement at seeing “Allexander Hamilthon” you did not notice who else signed the appraisal. (When I first saw this record, I also initially failed to notice the other signatures.) The signature immediately above Hamilthon’s reads “David Beckman” or “David Beekman” (his name is often found with both spellings). For those who don’t immediately recognize that name, David Beekman was one of Alexander Hamilton’s employers on St. Croix.

Thus, we have Alexander Hamilton and David Beekman serving as witnesses together and jointly signing the same document on April 22, 1767. By himself, we could not be certain this was our Alexander Hamilton, but appearing alongside a known associate there can be no doubt that this is our Alexander Hamilton! (If you are not one hundred percent convinced yet, wait until next week. In fact, I was only ninety-something percent certain this was our Hamilton until I found more, which will be shared in the next blog post.)

That makes this appraisal of April 22, 1767, the oldest known Alexander Hamilton document. It is older than the letter Hamilton wrote to Edward Stevens in November 1769 and older than the mere mention of Alexander Hamilton in February 1768, as found in the probate record. It is not as old as the supposed 1766 document, but that record is missing and cannot be considered a Hamilton document without further evidence that it was signed by our Alexander Hamilton and that the date is correct.

So again, this appraisal of April 22, 1767, witnessed and signed by Alexander Hamilton along with David Beekman, is now the oldest known Alexander Hamilton document.

To be continued next week…

© Feel free to incorporate these new findings in your writings. Please cite this blog post when doing so.

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Witnessing a Mortgage: The Second Oldest Known Alexander Hamilton Document

© Posted on November 13, 2017, by Michael E. Newton.

Last week, I shared with you the oldest known Alexander Hamilton document, in which Hamilton and David Beekman, one of Hamilton’s employers, acted as witnesses to an appraisal and signed their names to the document on April 22, 1767.

Less than four months later, on August 10, 1767, “John Cebra of this island [St. Croix] merchant” assumed a debt that his “brother-in-law Joseph Robinson Esqr of the Province of New York” owed to “David Beekman of said island merchant” for the “sum of sixteen hundred pounds New York currency.” Acting “by virtue of” Robinson’s “power of attorney,” John Cebra “mortgage[d] unto the said David Beekman…a plantation belonging to the said Joseph Robinson Esqr & lying here in their island and situated in the Kings Quarter No. 36.”

The original mortgage, which has not been located, was signed by “John Cebra, Attorney to Mr. Joseph Robinson.” It was also “Signd Seald and Deliverd in the Presence of” two men: “Nichls Cruger” and “Allexr Hamilton.” The text of the mortgage document along with the accompanying signatures were all copied into the official record of Christiansted, St. Croix, on August 17, 1767 (this date is mentioned on a previous page), and subsequently published on August 20, 1767.

Here in this record, we see an Alexander Hamilton acting as a witness alongside Nicholas Cruger for a mortgage benefiting David Beekman, with the original mortgage document being “delivered” to Beekman “in the presence of” both Cruger and Hamilton, who then signed the document as witnesses. For those not aware, Nicholas Cruger and David Beekman were business partners and Alexander Hamilton was one of their employees. To see an Alexander Hamilton together with both Beekman and Cruger at this time is clear evidence that this is our Alexander Hamilton and not someone else with the same name. It also supports the conclusion, which was presented last week, that it was Alexander Hamilton who acted as a witness and signed the appraisal alongside David Beekman on April 22, 1767.

That makes this mortgage record of August 10, 1767, the second oldest known Alexander Hamilton document, behind only the appraisal record of April 22, 1767.

To be continued next week…

© Feel free to incorporate these new findings in your writings. Please cite this blog post when doing so.

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The Oldest Known Alexander Hamilton Documents: Implications for Hamilton’s Biography

© Posted on November 20, 2017, by Michael E. Newton.

Two weeks ago, I shared with you an appraisal witnessed and signed by David Beekman and Alexander Hamilton on April 22, 1767. Last week, I presented a mortgage owed to David Beekman that was witnessed and signed by Nicholas Cruger and Alexander Hamilton on August 10, 1767. In addition to being noteworthy as the oldest known Alexander Hamilton documents, these recently discovered records provide numerous insights into Hamilton’s childhood on St. Croix.

Perhaps the most remarkable implication relates to Alexander Hamilton’s youth and maturity. If Alexander Hamilton was born in 1757, as the best analysis of the evidence concludes, these documents show him serving as a legal witness and signing the papers as a mere ten-year-old boy. Even if one believes that Hamilton was born in 1755, he was still just twelve years old when he served as a witness, a no less remarkable feat. For Hamilton to have acted as a witness, both the parties to the transactions and the courts must have thought Hamilton mature enough to perform this duty. We already knew from later evidence (e.g., Hamilton’s November 1769 letter to Edward Stevens [The Papers of Alexander Hamilton 1:4 and Founders Online] and Hamilton’s management of Nicholas Cruger’s company) that Hamilton was a child prodigy and more mature than his years would suggest, but these documents show a mature and responsible Hamilton years earlier than previously known. They also show that others had noticed Hamilton’s precocity even at this early date.

These documents also provide strong evidence regarding the commencement of Hamilton’s employment with Beekman & Cruger. Prior to the discovery of these documents, the question of when Hamilton started to work has been the subject of much speculation with a wide range of conjectures. Some believed that Hamilton started working for Beekman & Cruger shortly after the partners opened their St. Croix mercantile operation in early 1766. Others supposed that Hamilton worked in his mother’s store and perhaps went to school until his mother died in February 1768, at which point he needed a job and was at this time hired by Beekman & Cruger. Others speculated that since his wealthy cousin and uncle (Peter and James Lytton) took him in after his mother died, Hamilton did not start working for Beekman & Cruger until after his new guardians passed away in the summer 1769, just prior to his November 1769 letter to Edward Stevens, in which he mentions his employment as a clerk (The Papers of Alexander Hamilton 1:4 and Founders Online). But these possibilities were mere speculation. There was no evidence for any of these conjectures over the others.

With the discovery of these new documents, in which we find Hamilton with Beekman in April 1767 and with both Beekman and Cruger in August 1767, it is clear that Alexander Hamilton was already working for Beekman & Cruger by this time. When David Beekman or Nicholas Cruger needed someone to serve as a witness, they simply enlisted the services of their trusted clerk, Alexander Hamilton. Not only does this show Hamilton working for Beekman & Cruger in April 1767, but it also shows that he was a trusted member of the organization and must have been working there for some time. It is impossible to determine with certainty based on these newly discovered documents when Hamilton started working for Beekman & Cruger, but it would not be unreasonable to assume that it was in 1766.

With this clearer idea of when Hamilton began to work for Beekman & Cruger, another remarkable fact emerges. Knowing that Hamilton worked for Nicholas Cruger until September 1772, if he started working for Beekman & Cruger in April 1767, it would mean that Hamilton was employed by Beekman & Cruger and then by Cruger alone for five years and six months. And it is likely that Hamilton worked at this job for six years or more since it is clear that by April 1767 he had already been employed by Beekman & Cruger for some time. In contrast, Hamilton worked as an aide to George Washington during the American Revolution for four years and two months and was Secretary of the Treasury for five years, four months, and twenty days. He worked many years as an attorney, but never more than a few continuously because public service repeatedly interrupted his private practice. Accordingly, what previously had only been supposed is now clear: Alexander Hamilton’s employment with Beekman & Cruger and then Cruger alone was his longest continuous job.

These new facts also call into question a popular myth often told about Alexander Hamilton. If Hamilton started working for Beekman & Cruger in 1766 or early 1767, when exactly was Alexander Hamilton “impoverished” and living in “squalor,” as some biographies and musicals assert? We know that when Hamilton’s mother was alive, he did not live in squalor. Hamilton’s mother ran a business, turned a profit, owned leather chairs, silverware, slaves, etc. She may not have been among the upper class, but she was far from impoverished. Moreover, Hamilton’s cousin and uncle, who served as his guardians after his mother’s death, were quite wealthy; indeed they were among the wealthiest people on St. Croix. We now know that Alexander Hamilton was already employed as a clerk for Beekman & Cruger and therefore making a decent salary long before his mother, cousin, or uncle died. Although far from wealthy, Alexander Hamilton was never “impoverished” or living in “squalor,” as some biographies and musicals assert.

The discovery of these records also enables us to conjecture about another reported Hamilton document. In the first post of this series, I mentioned that George Bancroft had claimed in 1858 to have seen a 1766 “legal paper” signed by Hamilton. This document has since been lost and never recovered. In Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years, I speculated that “Alexander Hamilton’s signature on a 1766 legal document, which has been lost since its discovery, could have been related to his work for Beekman and Cruger.” With the discovery of these 1767 legal documents, it seems even more plausible that this 1766 “legal paper” indeed was signed by our Alexander Hamilton, that the 1766 date is correct, and that it probably was related to his work for Beekman & Cruger.

Coming about 160 years after George Bancroft wrote about the 1766 “legal paper” and 80 years after H.U. Ramsing discovered the Rachel Lavien probate record (see the first post of this series), the discovery of these Alexander Hamilton documents from 1767 gives us hope that additional Hamilton documents may still be found. Who knows what else is out there waiting to be discovered and what else we may learn about Alexander Hamilton’s childhood?

To summarize, the discovery of these oldest known Alexander Hamilton documents shows us that:

  • Hamilton was more mature and responsible at an earlier age than previously known.
  • Hamilton started working for Beekman & Cruger in 1766 or early 1767.
  • Hamilton’s employment with Beekman & Cruger and then Cruger alone was his longest continuous job.
  • Hamilton was never “impoverished” or living in “squalor,” as some biographies and musicals assert.
  • There may be even older Hamilton documents waiting to be discovered.

I for one will continue to look for even older Hamilton documents. In the meantime, I have plenty of other Hamilton and Hamilton-related discoveries to share with you. Stay tuned…

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Ten-Year-Old Alexander Hamilton and the “Supposed Duel” that Nearly Changed His Life

© Posted on November 27, 2017, by Michael E. Newton.

On August 26, 1767, just days after Alexander Hamilton appeared in a legal document alongside his employers Nicholas Cruger and David Beekman, a William Davis informed the governor general that he had seen John Heyliger and Nicholas Cruger “ride out to the Eastern Barn” to duel “because they were rivals.” The governor general and privy council ordered the sheriff of Christiansted to “arrest” Heyliger and Cruger and take them “into custody because of the supposed duel.”

“Immediately after” he had made the accusation, William Davis was “informed that there were no grounds” to believe that Heyliger and Cruger had gone out to duel except that someone had seen them ride out together and it was “supposed” that they had done so for this purpose. Davis therefore “declared” in a letter to the privy council “that his accusation was completely false.” At the same time, Peter Heyliger, John Heyliger’s father, informed the privy council that his son rode out “solely on account of his health” and “by accident met Cruger, who could likewise have had an errand there.” The senior Heyliger requested that “the arrest put on his son be relaxed.”

When John Heyliger and Nicholas Cruger returned to town and “learned that the arrest of their persons and goods had been ordered solely on account of a groundless rumor,” they wrote to the privy council to explain that “the cause of this rumor…was that the public…thought that they were rivals and so it seemed to cause a sensation that they both rode out to the Eastern Barn. They therefore both decided to give the impression that they went out to duel, but that this by no means was the reason to ride out together.” John Heyliger and Nicholas Cruger shortly thereafter “appeared” before the privy council “to show that they had not done anything other than what they had written, and declared that the preceding had happened thus. And they asked that they as young persons were not to be made unhappy [i.e., ruined] on account of such a jest.”

The governor general requested that the arrest of Cruger and Heyliger be annulled because they were “young men and of good family here in the country,” but added that he did “not think that they ought to be entirely free, but they should be punished in some measure so that other such jesters might think again.” The privy council decided that due to the “disorder” this had created “in town” and how the privy council was “inconvenienced” by the ordeal, Cruger and Heyliger were each ordered to pay “the incurred costs of the arrests” plus another 500 rigsdalers, “which would go to the Church and the Hospital to share equally.” On top of this, each had to “submit their written promise . . . that they would not in the future make such jest that causes discord among the public.”

* I would like to thank Mads Langballe Jensen (madslangballe@gmail.com) for translating the above document from old Danish into English at my request.

As an employee of Beekman & Cruger and friend to Nicholas Cruger, Alexander Hamilton must have stayed apprised of this affair as it proceeded. Perhaps Hamilton had heard about other duels before, but this is the earliest known case in which Hamilton had a personal interest in the outcome of what he and everyone else believed to be an affair of honor. Of course, no duel took place nor was one ever contemplated, but the rapidity in which the privy council took up this issue and the steep fines assessed against the jesters showed Hamilton that affairs of honor were no joking matter. He would learn this lesson most tragically later in life, but according to the extant records it was here on the island of St. Croix in August 1767 that a ten-year-old Alexander Hamilton first became interested in a “duel.”

Nicholas Cruger’s “supposed duel” also raises the interesting question of what might have happened to Alexander Hamilton had Cruger been put under long-term arrest, been expelled from the island, or, even worse, been killed. Would Hamilton have found another job in the same field? Would Hamilton’s link to mainland North America and specifically to New York City through his employers been severed if Hamilton had been forced to find another job? Would Hamilton have ended up staying in the West Indies and never come to Britain’s mainland colonies? Alexander Hamilton’s life and the future of the United States could have been very different had Nicholas Cruger’s “supposed duel” ended with a more disagreeable result.

© Please cite this blog post when writing about these new discoveries or quoting this blog.

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