Hamil-Fam: The Tragedy of Angelica Hamilton

Angelica Hamilton was born on September 25, 1784, a year after her older brother Philip.  She was named after her aunt, Angelica Schuyler Church.  Angelica was described as charming and lively, and would often play piano with her father.

In a November 1793 letter to Angelica, Hamilton, ever the affectionate father, wrote:

I was very glad to learn, my dear daughter, that you were going to begin the study of the French language. We hope you will in every respect behave in such a manner as will secure to you the good-will and regard of all those with whom you are. If you happen to displease any of them, be always ready to make a frank apology. But the best way is to act with so much politeness, good manners, and circumspection, as never to have occasion to make any apology. Your mother joins in best love to you. Adieu, my very dear daughter.

In the Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton, Allan McLane Hamilton wrote:

“Angelica, a very beautiful girl, was born shortly after her father’s residence in New York City after the peace. She was evidently a charming character and very much like the aunt after whom she was named, being clever and talented. She seems to have had good musical training, and this lady frequently speaks of her in her letters from London. ‘Adieu, my dear Eliza,’ wrote Angelica Church in 1796, ‘I shall bring with me a Governness who understands music pretty well, she will be able to instruct Angelica and Eliza.’

The piano which Angelica received as a gift from her aunt and played with her father is on display at Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

Picture from Forgotten New York: http://forgotten-ny.com/2012/12/hamilton-grange/

Tragedy struck in 1801, after Angelica’s brother Philip died in a duel and Angelica suffered a mental breakdown, from which she never recovered.

Allan McLane Hamilton wrote:

Upon receipt of the news of her brother’s death in the Eacker duel, she suffered so great a shock that her mind became permanently impaired, and although taken care of by her devoted mother for a long time there was no amelioration in her condition, and she was finally placed under the care of Dr. MacDonald of Flushing, and remained in his charge until her death at the age of seventy-three. During her latter life she constantly referred to the dear brother so nearly her own age as if alive. Her music, that her father used to oversee and encourage, stayed by her all these years. To the end she played the same old-fashioned songs and minuets upon the venerable piano that had been bought for her, many years before, in London, by Angelica Church, during her girlhood, and was sent to New York through a friend of her father.  She survived her mother by two and a half years.”

Ron Chernow described the tragedy in his book:

Having been exceedingly close to her older brother, Angelica was so unhinged by his death that she suffered a mental breakdown.  That fall, Hamilton did everything in his power to restore her health at the Grange and catered to her every wish.  He asked Charles C. Pinckney to send her watermelons and three or four parakeets- “She is very fond of birds” – but all the loving attention did not work, and her mental problems worsened.  James Kent tactfully described the teenage girl as having “a very uncommon simplicity and modesty of deportment.”  She lived until age seventy-three and wound up under the care of a Dr. Macdonald in Flushing, Queens.  Only intermittently lucid, consigned to an eternal childhood, she often did not recognize family members.  For the rest of her life, she sang songs that she had played on the piano in duets with her father, and she always talked of her dead brother as if he were still alive.  In her will, Eliza entreated her children to be “kind, affectionate, and attentive to my said unfortunate daughter Angelica.”  In 1856, Angelica’s younger sister, Eliza, contemplating Angelica’s expected death, wrote, “Poor sister, what a happy release will be hers.  Lost to herself half a century!”

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