Why Were the Hamiltons on St. Eustatius in 1758? And Who Were Their Friends There? Part 2

© Posted on February 12, 2018, by Michael E. Newton.

Last week I shared the story of “James Hamelton en Rachel Hamelton desselfs Huysvrouw [James Hamilton and Rachel Hamilton his housewife],” the parents of Alexander Hamilton, serving as godparents on St. Eustatius in 1758 to Alexander Fraser Jr., the son of “Alexander Fraser en Elisabeth Thornton desselfs Huysvrouw [Alexander Fraser and Elizabeth Thornton his housewife].” I also shared some new discoveries regarding how these two families may have known each other prior to this event and how this friendship apparently continued years later on St. Croix.

Now, for the rest of the story.

Alexander Fraser’s Children

As noted last week, Alexander Fraser was living on St. Croix without his family when the Hamiltons arrived in 1765. In his will of 1767, which was also shared last week, Alexander Fraser stated that his wife Elizabeth had already passed away, his daughter Mary Anne was living in North America, and his son Alexander Jr. was in Montserrat. Thus it would seem that Alexander Fraser, after the death of his wife Elizabeth, must have felt that he was unable as a single father to raise his own children. While it was not unusual for parents, especially single parents, to send their children away for an education, here was a man, as a teacher, taking care of and teaching other people’s children but unable or unwilling to care for his own.

After Alexander Fraser’s death in April 1767, letters arrived from his children or their representatives addressed either to the dead father or to the estate.

In November 1767, an Elinor Ainsworth from Montserrat wrote to Alexander Fraser, unaware that he had passed away seven months earlier, to complain that she and her mother had written to him “several times and received no Answer.” They wanted to know why he had not sent “a maintenance” to his “child,” i.e., Alexander Fraser Jr. She threatened to “send him down” to rejoin his father in St. Croix because she could not “maintain him any longer.” She chastised Alexander Fraser for being “so ungrateful” for never sending even “one farthing” for his son “in seven years,” “neither victuals, clothes, and schooling,” leaving the boy entirely “naked.” Moreover, the boy’s grandmother, probably Elizabeth Thornton’s mother, was “not able to do anything for herself” and therefore the child “can have no dependence in her.”[1]

By March 1768, Elinor Ainsworth, now Elinor Washington, learned that Alexander Fraser had passed away. She hired an attorney, a Captain Roberts, to get a copy of the will and to collect “what Mr. Fraser bequeathed his son,” who “stands in great need of the contents.”

In November 1768, “Mary Anne Frazer” wrote from “Farmington in the Country of Hartford & Colony of Connecticut in New England” describing herself as the “daughter of Mr. Alexander Fraser formerly of Guilford in said Colony since removed to the West Indies & now deceas’d.” Mary Anne appointed a Captain John Warner of Wethersfield to be her attorney to collect her portion of Alexander Fraser’s estate. According to the probate record, John Warner in February 1769 collected Mary Anne’s inheritance, namely “a Ring, two Necklaces, and Six Tea Table Spoons & Tea Tongs of Silver.” Presumably, Mary Anne also received the “five hundred acres of Eastward Land” in North America that her father left to her in his will.

This explains the whereabouts and conditions of the two children that Alexander Fraser mentioned in his last will and testament. However, he had at least one other child, to whom he left nothing and failed to even mention in his will.

On April 29, 1767, an Andrew Alexander Fraser wrote from Wethersfield, Connecticut, to his father, of course not knowing he had passed away just two weeks earlier. Andrew Alexander noted that it had been some time since he had heard from his father and supposed that this was the result of his father being “much displeased” with him after having received a “false” report about something he had said. Andrew Alexander assured his father that he “never said that I wished I might never see you again but always said that you was a very kind father.” After expressing his wish to see his father again, Andrew Alexander informed him “that I am married & that I was married this last February & that I married Mr. Elias Wright’s 3[rd] Daughter and that I now live in Wethersfield.” Andrew Alexander added that despite this happy occasion his “livelihood” was “very poor.” He also told his father that “the rest of your Children are well.” Andrew Alexander closed by “humbly beg[ging] your forgiveness of anything you have ever seen amiss in me and I heartily thank you for all your care and kindness toward me and for the Gift of that Guarding which you bestowed on me as it was in my Infancy.”

Perhaps if this letter had reached Alexander Fraser before he passed away, he would have also bequeathed something in his will to his son Andrew Alexander.

Alexander Fraser’s Early Family Life in Connecticut

According to the above letter, Andrew Alexander married in 1767, suggesting he had been born prior to 1750, when Alexander Fraser was still residing in Connecticut. It would thus appear that Alexander Fraser had a wife in Connecticut before moving to the West Indies. Assuming that Elizabeth Thornton was from the West Indies, as the Thorntons on Nevis and Alexander Fraser Jr.’s grandmother on Montserrat would suggest, it is likely that Alexander Fraser had these children with a first wife in Connecticut, she died, he then moved to the West Indies, and there married Elizabeth Thornton.

Elizabeth Thornton’s Death

Unfortunately, there is no record of what happened to Alexander Fraser’s wife Elizabeth Thornton except that she died before Alexander Fraser made out his will in April 1767. Based on the above letter from Elinor Ainsworth, which states that she and her mother had been taking care of Alexander Fraser Jr. without support for seven years, it would appear that Alexander Fraser sent his children away in 1760, which also happens to be the same year he first appears in the records of St. Croix (specifically March 1760, though he does not appear in the census and property records until January 1765). This would suggest that Elizabeth Thornton passed away at that time (1760) or shortly beforehand (perhaps in 1759), at which time Alexander Fraser shipped off his children to live with friends or relatives.

But this still leaves several questions unanswered. Were Alexander and Elizabeth Fraser still living on St. Eustatius when Elizabeth passed away? Were the Hamiltons also there when Elizabeth Thornton Fraser died? Did they attend the funeral? Unfortunately, no records have been found regarding Elizabeth Thornton Fraser’s death and burial (the burial records of St. Eustatius’s Dutch church, where Alexander Fraser Jr. was baptized, are badly damaged) or when the Hamiltons left St. Eustatius.

The Friendship of Faucetts, Hamiltons, Thorntons, and Frasers

The only record of a friendship between the Faucetts and Hamiltons on the one side and the Thorntons and Frasers on the other is the 1758 baptism of Alexander Fraser Jr., where James and Rachel Hamilton served as godparents. But the numerous times that these families’ paths intersected suggest that this was more than just a short, one-time friendship. For decades, the Faucetts lived alongside the Thorntons in St. George’s Parish, Nevis, and Elizabeth Thornton may have belonged to this family. When the Hamiltons move to St. Croix, Alexander Fraser happened to be living there just blocks away.

Travelling from island to island—James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett lived on at least four different islands together—one might think that they had to make new friends in each location. The fact that someone could run into old friends on a new island shows how common it was for people to move between the various islands. Moreover, large waves of migration from one island to another often occurred. As a result, when a family moved from one island to another, it was common for other family members or friends to do so around the same time. (One such migration that played a large role in the Faucett–Hamilton narrative was the large exodus of people from St. Kitts and Nevis to St. Croix that began in the 1730s.) Thus, when moving from one island to another, one could expect to meet old friends there.

The Hamiltons On St. Eustatius

It is unlikely that James and Rachel traveled to St. Eustatius just to attend the baptism of the son of Alexander and Elizabeth Fraser, even if they were close friends or relatives. More likely, their trip was related to Mary Faucett, Rachael’s mother, who had been living on St. Eustatius and died sometime after May 1756, leaving three slaves to her “beloved daughter, Rachael Lavion.”[2] Or perhaps James had been sent to St. Eustatius by his employer, just as he would be sent to St. Croix in 1765. In the end, we don’t know why James and Rachel went to St. Eustatius, but the one extant record shows that they were treated there like a normal married couple.

All this raises the question of how much time the Hamiltons spent on St. Eustatius. Even those few who have chosen to write about the Hamiltons on St. Eustatius, including myself in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years,[3] make it sound like they were there for a short visit. In reality, we don’t know how long they stayed on the island. The only evidence we have regarding the whereabouts of the Hamiltons between the birth of Alexander in January 1757 and their arrival on St. Croix in the spring of 1765 is this one record putting them on St. Eustatius in October 1758. They could have been on the island of St. Eustatius for days, weeks, months, or even years. If some piece of evidence is found to answer this question, it could significantly change the narrative of Alexander Hamilton’s life.

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


[1] It is possible that Alexander Fraser Jr.’s grandmother and Elinor Ainsworth’s mother are the same person. If so, Elinor Ainsworth was the sister of Elizabeth Thornton.

[2] Atherton, “The Hunt for Hamilton’s Mother” 237–238; H. U. Ramsing, “Alexander Hamilton og hans Mødrene Slaegt”; Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton: Youth to Maturity 8 and 478 note 4.

[3] Newton, Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years 17.

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

Don't throw away your shot. Share!

Why Were the Hamiltons on St. Eustatius in 1758? And Who Were Their Friends There? Part 1

© Posted on February 5, 2018, by Michael E. Newton.

The story of Alexander Hamilton’s parents is well known. They meet on St. Kitts, move to Nevis, give birth to Alexander Hamilton, move to St. Croix, split up, one leaves the island, and then the other dies, leaving an eleven-year-old Alexander Hamilton without a parent to care for him. But this well-known narrative omits a stop along the way and ignores a friendship that appears to have followed them from one island to the next.

The Hamiltons Visit St. Eustatius

In 1758, James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett visited the island of St. Eustatius, about thirty miles northwest of Nevis. Presumably, James and Rachel brought with them to the island their two children, James Jr. and one-year-old Alexander Hamilton. Here, on October 1, 1758, “James Hamelton en Rachel Hamelton desselfs Huysvrouw [James Hamilton and Rachel Hamilton his housewife]” stood as godparents at the baptism of four-month-old Alexander Fraser Jr., son of “Alexander Fraser en Elisabeth Thornton desselfs Huysvrouw [Alexander Fraser and Elizabeth Thornton his housewife].”[1]

In addition to placing the Hamiltons on St. Eustatius in October 1758, this record is especially noteworthy because it is the only extant contemporary record in which Rachel is given the surname Hamilton and called the wife of James Hamilton. (In the above volume of church records, the term “Huysvouw” or “housewife” is given to all wives and in no way signifies that they were not a properly married couple.)

But this record raises more questions than it answers. Who were Alexander Fraser and Elizabeth Thornton that James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett were asked to be the godparents to their son? Did these two couples meet on St. Eustatius and there form a bond? Or did they know each other before the Hamiltons left Nevis for St. Eustatius sometime in 1757 or 1758? Did the Hamiltons and Frasers or their children interact after this singular event? Why were the Hamiltons on St. Eustatius in the first place?

The Thorntons of Nevis

For decades, a Thornton family lived in St. George’s Parish, Nevis, alongside the Faucetts. A Jasper Thornton lived on Nevis back in 1678.[2] A John Thornton suffered during the French invasion of Nevis in 1706 and, in the same records presented two months ago, claimed a loss of £2,025 13s 3d, nearly double the claim entered by John Faucett and more than double that claimed by John Lytton, indicating that John Thornton was especially hard hit, that he was wealthier than Faucett and Lytton, or both. John Thornton appeared in the Nevis census of 1708 with two other males and a female along with forty-five slaves, thirty of his own and fifteen belonging to someone else but in his possession,[3] another indication of his wealth given that he probably lost many of his slaves during the French invasion. He died in St. George’s Parish in 1716. His widow Mary Thornton died there in 1720.[4]

While it is impossible to know with certainty, Elizabeth Thornton may have belonged to the same Thornton family that had lived in St. George’s Parish on Nevis alongside Rachel Faucett and her family. This close family connection would explain why “James Hamilton and Rachel Hamilton his housewife” attended Alexander Fraser Jr.’s baptism and served as his godparents.

However, Thornton was a common name and there were Thorntons to be found on just about every island in the Caribbean. While it makes sense for the Faucetts and Thorntons of Nevis to be the link between Rachel Faucett and Elizabeth Thornton, there is no evidence to support this conjecture.

Moving to St. Croix

When the Hamiltons moved to Christiansted, St. Croix, in 1765, the same Alexander Fraser was already living there with one slave on Kongens Tvaergade (King’s Cross Street). Besides one slave, he was living all alone.

As friends from St. Eustatius and living just blocks from each other in Christiansted, James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett undoubtedly reconnected with Alexander Fraser.

Alexander Fraser’s Will and Death

On April 7, 1767, Alexander Fraser, “sick of body” but “of sound mind, memory, and judgement,” made out his last will and testament. In it he left five pieces of eight to the Lutheran Church on St. Croix. He bequeathed to his “Daughter Mary Anne residing in North America” a “heart in hand gold ring,” a “Necklace of Gold containing about one hundred Beads,” another necklace “for a child mix’d with Gold and Coral,” “Six new Silver Tea spoons and Tea Tongs,” and “five hundred acres of Eastward Land” that he owned “there” in North America. Alexander Fraser left the “residue” of his estate to “my son Alexander Frazer by my deceas’d wife Elisabeth Frazer” to be “laid out in young slaves and send to him my said son now residing at Montserrat.”

After an illness lasting at least two weeks, Alexander Fraser passed away.[5]

One wonders whether Rachel Faucett and her children—Alexander Hamilton and James Hamilton Jr.—attended the funeral.[6]

On April 16, 1767, Alexander Fraser’s estate was taken up by the probate court.

When the estate was finally settled three years later in April 1770, inflows of 1,562 rigsdalers and 33 skillings vastly exceeded outflows of 325 rigsdalers and 48 skillings. The remaining 1,236 rigsdalers and 83 skillings belonged to the heirs of the estate, that is to Alexander Fraser Jr. This figure, by the way, represents just the value of Alexander Fraser’s assets on St. Croix. Not included were the gifts of land and jewelry given to Mary Ann Fraser and other assets, as will be related later.

The documents and other information recorded in Alexander Fraser’s twenty-page probate record provide specific details and supporting evidence regarding the lives of Alexander Fraser, Elizabeth Thornton, and their children.

Alexander Fraser of Connecticut

According to a March 1748 deed of trust copied into the probate record, Alexander Fraser Jr., “Late of Guilford” but now a “Resident in Wethersfield,” Connecticut, purchased “a Certain piece of Lot of Land Being & Laying Situated in Wethersfield in the County of Hartford & Colony of Connecticut…together with a Barn & all & Singular Building, fences, fruit trees, Woods, waters, Quarries, Mines, minerals, privileges, &c” for the “sum of four hundred pound[s]” and “fifty pounds worth of goods.”

Another deed from March 1750 has “Alexander Fraser of Wethersfield in the County of Hartford & Colony of Connecticut New England shopkeeper & apothecary” purchasing “one Certain Lot of Land being part of a Ground…of thirteen hundred Acres…with all the Trees, Buildings, fences, Mines, Minerals, Reversions, &c” for “the value of three hundred pounds…in goods.”

It would appear from these deeds that Alexander Fraser, the “shopkeeper & apothecary,” had amassed a sizable estate.

It is also clear from the above that Alexander Fraser must have left Connecticut and come to the West Indies sometime after March 1750. The records, however, do not say why he moved or where Alexander Fraser met Elizabeth Thornton. Did Fraser and Thornton meet in Connecticut? If so, why did they abandon what apparently was a good life to move to the West Indies. Or perhaps they met on Nevis? If so, it is likely that James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett knew them there before they were all friends on St. Eustatius. Or perhaps Elizabeth Thornton was already living on St. Eustatius and there she met a visiting Alexander Fraser. Or perhaps they met on another island entirely. The extant record simply does not provide this information.

Alexander Fraser Becomes a Teacher

In Connecticut, Alexander Fraser had been a “shopkeeper & apothecary.” He also appears to have been a land speculator. And perhaps he turned merchant and this occupation is what brought him down to the West Indies.

Alexander Fraser’s probate record shows no indication that he pursued these careers on St. Croix. Instead, his outstanding accounts indicate that Alexander Fraser worked as a teacher.

As can be seen, Alexander Fraser taught many of St. Croix’s youths and a number of these students belonged to some of the island’s leading families. Perhaps a young Alexander Hamilton, prior to his starting to work for Beekman & Cruger, also received instruction from the friend of his parents.

According to a statement from the person who took over Alexander Fraser’s “school” after his death, Fraser charged “12 reals per month till they could write,” then “2 pieces [of eight] [16 reals] per month” for “writers,” and finally “20 reals per month” once they could “cypher,” i.e., do arithmetic. This person also explained that Alexander Fraser claimed to have “a particular method of teaching [illegible word] for which he ask’d 3 pieces [of eight] per month.”

To be continued next week…

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


[1] This information has already been shared in a few Hamilton biographies, including Mitchell, Alexander Hamilton: Youth to Maturity 11; Newton, Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years 17; and a few others. It does not, however, appear in most Hamilton biographies and is omitted from Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. As a result, even many Hamilton experts are not aware of the Hamiltons visiting St. Eustatius in 1758.

[2] Caribbeana 3:31.

[3] Caribbeana 3:175.

[4] Caribbeana 2:270.

[5] As far as I can tell, the probate record, which is mostly in Danish Gothic script, does not explicitly give the date of death or burial. However, it appears based on the accounts submitted to the probate court that Alexander Fraser died on April 14 and was buried on April 15. One assumes he was buried in the cemetery of the Lutheran Church since he left money to that church in his will, but the Danish Lutheran Church’s records from this period are so badly damaged that this cannot be confirmed.

[6] No record of James Hamilton’s departure from St. Croix has been found. I assume here that he left prior to Alexander Fraser’s death.

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

Don't throw away your shot. Share!

Alexander Hamilton’s Classmate at the Grammar School in Elizabethtown, New Jersey

© Posted on January 29, 2018, by Michael E. Newton.

With money given to him by his cousin, Alexander Hamilton came to mainland North America to pursue a higher education. Before going to college, Hamilton first enrolled in Francis Barber’s grammar school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Attending this school from October 1772 until he started college in September 1773, Hamilton boarded with William Livingston in an Elizabethtown house rented from Jacob De Hart just a short walk from the school.

According to John C. Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton studied at the grammar school alongside “Jonathan Dayton, afterwards speaker of the House of Representatives; Brockholst Livingston, subsequently a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, and others who became of note.”[1] Was John C. Hamilton correct about Jonathan Dayton and Brockholst Livingston attending school with Alexander Hamilton? Can anyone else be identified as Alexander Hamilton’s classmate in Elizabethtown?

Henry Brockholst Livingston

Henry Brockholst Livingston, the son of William Livingston, could not have been Alexander Hamilton’s schoolmate at the grammar school of Elizabethtown in 1772–73. Brockholst enrolled at the College of New Jersey at Princeton in 1770 and as a freshman won a “premium” at the September 1771 commencement for “Extempore Exercises in the Latin language.”

Henry Brockholst Livingston graduated from the College of New Jersey in September 1774.[2] At the “Public Commencement,” he delivered an “English oration on Liberty.”

Thus, Brockholst Livingston could not have attended the grammar school in Elizabethtown with Alexander Hamilton since he was studying at the College of New Jersey in Princeton at the time. However, it is likely that Brockholst visited his family during breaks and that Hamilton and Brockholst Livingston met during Hamilton’s time living in Elizabethtown.

Jonathan Dayton

Jonathan Dayton, the son of Elias Dayton of Elizabethtown, may or may not have been Hamilton’s classmate at the grammar school in Elizabethtown, as John C. Hamilton claimed.

Jonathan Dayton graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1776.[3] If he attended college for the normal four years, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise, he would have already left for college by the time Hamilton arrived in Elizabethtown. It is possible, however, that Dayton did not enter the College of New Jersey until September 1773 and graduated after just three years. Although the college generally prohibited pupils from studying at an advanced pace, they may have granted early diplomas in 1776 to students who were entering the army, as Jonathan Dayton did. Like with Brockholst Livingston, even if Jonathan Dayton did not attend the grammar school at the same time as Hamilton, Hamilton surely would have met him whenever he came to town to visit his family and friends.

John Lawrence Livingston

There is one youth who definitely attended the grammar school in Elizabethtown alongside Alexander Hamilton. On May 5, 1773, Francis Barber billed “Mastr John Livingston,” the son of William Livingston, £1 5s for “1 quarters instruction” and another 7s 6d for “wood & cash for house cleaning.” The total of £1 12s 6d was received in full by Francis Barber on May 12.

Another receipt shows that Francis Barber billed “Mastr John L. Livingston” £1 5s on August 5, 1773, for “1 quarters instruction,” which was paid on August 21.

Thus, for the two quarters ending in May and August, Alexander Hamilton and John Lawrence Livingston were classmates at Francis Barber’s grammar school in Elizabethtown. It is possible that John Lawrence Livingston’s attendance at this school lasted more than just these two quarters, but no record of this remains. If so, perhaps John Lawrence Livingston was Hamilton’s classmate during the entirety of Hamilton’s attendance at the grammar school of Elizabethtown.

N.B. It is possible that John C. Hamilton or whoever was his source had misheard or misremembered that it was John Lawrence Livingston and not his brother Henry Brockholst Livingston who attended the grammar school of Elizabethtown with Alexander Hamilton.

Classmates, Housemates, and Walking Companions

Alexander Hamilton and John Lawrence Livingston were more than just schoolmates. During his stay in Elizabethtown, Alexander Hamilton lived with the Livingston family.[4] Thus, Alexander Hamilton and John Lawrence Livingston must have frequently walked together the six-tenths of a mile to and from school.

About John Lawrence Livingston

John Lawrence Livingston was born in July 1762, making him five and a half years younger than Hamilton. In the spring of 1780, New Jersey Governor William Livingston obtained for his son John Lawrence an appointment as midshipman in the navy.  In March 1781, the Saratoga with John Lawrence Livingston aboard was chasing another ship when the wind became “so exceeding violent” that the ship was “with great probability supposed to have been lost.” For years, William Livingston hoped that his son was still alive, perhaps having been taken to Algiers, but “no reliable news was ever received” regarding the Saratoga or John Lawrence Livingston.[5]

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


[1] John C. Hamilton, History of the Republic 1:45. See also John C. Hamilton, The Life of Alexander Hamilton 1:8.

[2] General Catalogue of Princeton University 97.

[3] General Catalogue of Princeton University 99.

[4] John C. Hamilton, History of the Republic 1:45; John C. Hamilton, The Life of Alexander Hamilton 1:8.

[5] The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 41:307; The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay 3:384.

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

Don't throw away your shot. Share!

Auction of a Previously Unknown Alexander Hamilton Letter: Determining the Recipient and Date

© Posted on January 23, 2018, by Michael E. Newton.

Tomorrow (January 24, 2018), Witherell’s auction house will be auctioning an Alexander Hamilton letter previously unknown to the public.

Witherell’s titled this item “Alexander Hamilton Signed Revolutionary War Document, ca. 1782.” According to the description on their website, this is “an extremely rare 1782 military document, signed by Alexander Hamilton in his rank of Colonel, which he held towards the end of the Revolution.” On their blog, however, they date this letter to 1783:

A fascinating but little known fact is that Hamilton was promoted to Colonel by an act of Congress in 1783.  The commission was granted in recognition of his extraordinary service to the nascent United States of America. The promotion was short-lived, just three months in length, but this letter, currently offered by Witherell’s, was written by Hamilton in that time period.

At the time of its writing, Hamilton was likely practicing law in New York City and Albany, New York. He specialized in defending Tories and British subjects, as in Rutgers v. Waddington, in which he defeated a claim for damages done to a brewery by the Englishmen who held it during the military occupation of New York.

When in Albany, Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, resided at the Philip Schulyer Mansion on Catherine Street, the same home in which they were married.  Hamilton worked from the library in this historic mansion.  Was this letter written there, at his law office at 12 Garden Street in New York City (now Exchange Place in the center of the Financial District) or in a carriage while traveling between these two cities?  We will never know for certain, but now you have a chance to own a piece of this history through the purchase of this authenticated letter written and signed by Alexander Hamilton.

With some help from Mariana Oller, Associate Curator of Special Collections at Wellesley College and Chair of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, and Douglas Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s fifth great grandson, I have uncovered more information about this Hamilton letter.

Recipient of Alexander Hamilton’s Letter

As seen in the above images, this letter was sent by Alexander Hamilton to a “Capt Fisher.” In all his known correspondence, Alexander Hamilton sent just one letter to a Fisher, a January 9, 1781, letter to George Fisher. Fortunately for us, a digital copy of the letter is available on the New York Public Library’s website.

One notices that Alexander Hamilton did not address the above letter to George Fisher. Rather, he addressed it to “Capt Fisher,” just as he addressed the other letter.

Just as the letter of January 9, 1781, had been sent to Capt. George Fisher, Hamilton must have sent this previously unknown letter to the same person.

The Date of Alexander Hamilton’s Letter

Unfortunately, the date scribbled down on this previously unknown Hamilton letter is rather messy.

Upon close examination and in comparison to other Hamilton letters, it is clear that the month written on this letter is June. The “u” and “n” do not look like Hamilton’s normal way of writing those letters and in fact look more like an “a” followed by some sort of slip, but the word clearly starts with a “J” and ends with an “e,” leaving June as the only possibility.

Turning to the year, it helps to compare the date of this letter to the date written on Hamilton’s letter to George Fisher of January 9, 1781.

One notices that the years written in both letters, despite being rather messy, are quite similar. But what are they? It helps to know that in the style of the time the digits of a number were commonly connected and that an “8” was sometimes written at an angle or nearly sideways. Bearing this in mind, the years written on the two letters both look like 1781, certainly more like 1781 than any other possibility.

Lending support to the conclusion that this letter was penned in June 1781, Alexander Hamilton did not write “Aide De Camp” in his signature or on the back of the letter as he did in his January 1781 letter to George Fisher. This suggests that Hamilton wrote this letter after he resigned as Washington’s aide at the end of April 1781. (This, however, is not decisive since Hamilton didn’t always write Aide De Camp, especially on private letters.) Additional support is provided by the fact that Hamilton was in Fishkill in June 1781, when he would have written this letter to George Fisher of Fishkill.

Given all the evidence, it is clear that this previously unknown letter now up for auction was written by Alexander Hamilton to George Fisher of Fishkill in June 1781.

Colonel Hamilton?

Assuming that the above is correct and this letter was written in June 1781, one must address the idea proposed in Witherell’s blog that this letter was written when Hamilton was a Colonel, i.e., in early 1783, because he wrote “Col Hamilton” on the back of his letter. In 1781, Alexander Hamilton was a Lieutenant Colonel, not a full Colonel. However, it was standard practice to address Lieutenant Colonels as Colonels. Thus, the “Col Hamilton” on the back of the letter does not mean that Hamilton was a full Colonel at the time this letter was written.

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

Don't throw away your shot. Share!

Where Did Alexander Hamilton Live While Attending Grammar School in Elizabethtown, New Jersey?

© Posted on January 22, 2018, by Michael E. Newton.

When Alexander Hamilton arrived on mainland North America in the autumn of 1772 to pursue his education, thanks to money given to him by his cousin, he enrolled in Francis Barber’s grammar school in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey, later known as the Elizabethtown Academy. He studied at this school from his arrival in October 1772 until he started college in September 1773.[1]

The grammar school in Elizabethtown had no dormitories. Out-of-town students were advised, “Boarding may be had in reputable Families on reasonable Terms.”

According to John Church Hamilton, his father Alexander Hamilton during his stay in Elizabethtown lived with William Livingston,[2] an esteemed New York lawyer who had come to New Jersey to retire. But where in Elizabethtown did William Livingston live?

William Livingston moves to Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in April–May 1772

William Livingston had been living in 1771 and early 1772 in a New York City house he rented from David Clarkson. On March 18, 1772, Livingston paid £100 to Clarkson “for house rent for house he lived in to the first May 1772.”

On April 6 and 13, 1772, William Livingston advertised in a New York newspaper his plan “to remove into the province of New-Jersey by the first of May” and informed the public that letters can be sent “to him at Elizabeth-Town.”

In late April or early May 1772, William Livingston and his family moved into an Elizabethtown house he rented from Jacob De Hart. A year later, on May 4, 1773, William Livingston paid John De Hart £25 for “one years house rent in behalf of Jacob De Hart.”

Presumably, William Livingston and family stayed in this rented house for another year as a new home was being built for the family northwest of town.

Thus, when Alexander Hamilton arrived in Elizabethtown in October 1772 and moved in with the Livingstons, they lived in this house rented from Jacob De Hart. But where in Elizabethtown was this house located?

Two Houses William Livingston Could Have Rented and in which Hamilton Could Have Lived

Jacob De Hart owned more than one house in Elizabethtown. One was just south of the stone bridge over the Elizabeth River (at present-day South Broad Street and Pearl Street). The other was a few blocks to the northwest on the west side of the Elizabeth River (at present-day Cherry Street and Rahway Avenue). The former location was just three-tenths of a mile from Elizabethtown’s grammar school. The latter was about six-tenths of a mile from the school.

Descriptions of both houses can be found in contemporary newspapers. Just days after Jacob De Hart’s wife Abigail passed away on June 10, 1770,[3] De Hart advertised his house for lease. This house, apparently the one on the west side of the river at present-day Cherry Street and Rahway Avenue, was described as a “large, convenient, and well situated Dwelling-House . . . suitable for a Gentleman, or any Business, with Out-houses, a good Orchard and Garden.”

In February 1771, this house was again advertised for lease along with “another House and Lot of Ground of the said Jacob Dehart, situated in a very pleasant Part of the Town, and suitable for any Kind of Business.” This second house is apparently the one south of the river at present-day South Broad Street and Pearl Street.

William Livingston could have rented either of these houses from Jacob De Hart. The house on the west side of the river at present-day Cherry Street and Rahway Avenue appears to be the larger of the two. It was farther away from the center of town, but closer to Livingston’s property to the northwest, where he was building a new house. The house at present-day South Broad Street and Pearl Street was not as large but closer to the center of town.

It was one of these two houses that William Livingston rented from Jacob De Hart and in which Alexander Hamilton lived for ten or eleven months while attending Elizabethtown’s grammar school. Unfortunately, given the available information, it cannot be determined with certainty which of these two houses Hamilton and the Livingstons lived in.

House William Livingston More Likely Rented and in which Alexander Hamilton More Likely Lived

Although there is no record which of the two houses William Livingston rented, we can still analyze the evidence to determine which is more likely. With a wife and nine surviving children, most of whom lived with their parents and those who didn’t presumably visiting often, and taking in at least one boarder, i.e., Alexander Hamilton, it makes sense that Livingston would have rented the larger of the two houses. Being closer to his property northwest of town, where Livingston was building a new house that must have needed his attention, probably also influenced his decision.

Thus, it would seem that William Livingston more likely rented the “large, convenient, and well situated Dwelling-House . . . suitable for a Gentleman, or any Business, with Out-houses, a good Orchard and Garden” on the west side of the Elizabeth River (at present-day Cherry Street and Rahway Avenue) and that it was in this house that Alexander Hamilton lived for ten or eleven months while attending Elizabethtown’s grammar school.

Liberty Hall

As mentioned earlier, William Livingston owned property northwest of Elizabethtown, on which he planned to build a new house for his permanent residence. When Livingston moved into the house he rented from De Hart, construction on this house a mile and a half to the northwest of town, to be called Liberty Hall, had not yet begun. William Livingston hired a master artisan in December 1772 to help design the house. Livingston planned to start building in the spring of 1773 and hoped to take up residence that autumn. Construction took longer than expected and he did not move into Liberty Hall until April 1774.[4]

On April 28, 1774, a grand event marked the opening of Liberty Hall: the marriage of John Jay to Sarah Livingston, William Livingston’s daughter.

By this time, Alexander Hamilton was in school at King’s College in New York City. Perhaps, as a close friend of the Livingstons, he came back to Elizabethtown to attend the wedding of John Jay and Sarah Livingston at Liberty Hall.

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

[1] Newton, Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years 69.

[2] John C. Hamilton, The Life of Alexander Hamilton 1:8; John C. Hamilton, History of the Republic 1:46.

[3] Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey 19:390n.

[4] William Livingston to Paparel Bloodgood, December 9, 1772 in The Papers of William Livingston 1:363–364; ibid. 5–6 and 364 note 2.

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

Don't throw away your shot. Share!