The Last Will and Testament of Alexander Hamilton

On July 9, 1804, a few days before his fateful duel with Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton signed his last will of testament.

In the Name of God Amen! I Alexander Hamilton of the City of New York Counsellor at Law do make this my last Will and Testament as follows. First I appoint John B Church Nicholas Fish and Nathaniel Pendleton of the City aforesaid Esquires to be Executors and Trustees of this my Will and I devise to them their heirs and Assigns, as joint Tenants and not as Tenants in common, All my Estate real and personal whatsoever and wheresoever upon Trust at their discretion to sell and dispose of the same, at such time and times in such manner and upon such terms as they the Survivors and Survivor shall think fit and out of the proceeds to pay all the Debts which I shall owe at the time of my decease, in whole, if the fund shall be sufficient, proportionally, if it shall be insufficient, and the residue, if any there shall be to pay and deliver to my excellent and dear Wife Elizabeth Hamilton.

Hamilton had a long history with each of the individuals he chose as his executors: John Church, Nathaniel Pendleton, and Nicholas Fish.  John Church was the husband of Angelica Schuyler and Hamilton’s brother-in-law.   Nicholas Fish had been Hamilton’s friend since they were teenagers involved in the early part of the Revolution.  Fish even named his son after Hamilton (Hamilton Fish would go on to become Governor of New York and Secretary of State under President Grant).  Virginian Nathaniel Pendleton was a close friend and colleague of Hamilton’s at the New York Bar.  In the 1790s, Pendleton had been named a potential candidate for the position of Secretary of State, but Hamilton feared that he had “been somewhat tainted by the prejudices of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison.”  When Hamilton and Pendleton were both practicing in New York, they became close friends.  Pendleton also served as Hamilton’s second in his duel with Burr, and he helped Hamilton put his affairs in order before the duel.

The second part of Hamilton’s will expressed his concern for the financial situation of his family.  Hamilton was aware that because he had focused his career in the public service, he would not be leaving his wife and children in the best financial footing.

Though if it shall please God to spare my life I may look for a considerable surplus out of my present property—Yet if he should speedily call me to the eternal wor[l]d, a forced sale as is usual may possibly render it insufficient to satisfy my Debts. I pray God that something may remain for the maintenance and education of my dear Wife and Children. But should it on the contrary happen that there is not enough for the payment of my Debts, I entreat my Dear Children, if they or any of them shall ever be able, to make up the Deficiency. I without hesitation commit to their delicacy a wish which is dictated by my own. Though conscious that I have too far sacrificed the interests of my family to public avocations & on this account have the less claim to burthen my Children, yet I trust in their magnanimity to appreciate as they ought this my request. In so unfavourable an event of things, the support of their dear Mother with the most respectful and tender attention is a duty all the sacredness of which they will feel. Probably her own patrimonial resources will preserve her from Indigence. But in all situations they are charged to bear in mind that she has been to them the most devoted and best of mothers. In Testimony whereof I have hereunto subscribed my hand the Ninth day of July in the year of our lord One thousand Eight hundred & four.

Hamilton’s will was part of a series of documents that Hamilton delivered to Nathaniel Pendleton prior to the duel and opened after Hamilton’s death.  In a letter dated July 4, 1804, the same day that Hamilton and Burr sat at the same table for dinner with other former Continental Army officers at Fraunces Tavern, Hamilton thanked Pendleton for helping him finalize his affair before the duel.

I thank you My Dear Sir for your friendly offices in this last critical scene, if such it shall be. Excuse me for having inserted your name as Executor. I fear it may not be in your favor to do much good to my family. But I am sure you will do all the good you can.

The Death of Philip Hamilton

I’ve posted earlier about the November 1801 death of Philip Hamilton in  a duel with George I. Eacker.  Philip’s dramatic death triggered a flurry of highly politicized press coverage.  Federalist newspapers painted Philip as a boyish victim of a seasoned lawyer who was unable to look past a youthful teasing.  In contrast, Republican newspapers claimed that Philip and Price were aggressors and had viciously attacked Eacker and cornered him into a duel, leaving him no choice but to protect his honor.  A detailed account with more complete excerpts of this back-and-forth between rival newspapers was published in 1867 by Historical Magazine and is available via Google ebooks.


The New York Evening Post’s November 24, 1801 death notice stated:

“This morning, in the 20th year of his age, Philip Hamilton, eldest son of General Hamilton– murdered in a duel–”

“On Friday evening last, young Hamilton and young Price, sitting in the same box with Mr. George I Eacker, began in levity a conversation respecting an oration delivered by the latter in July, and made use of some expressions respecting it, which were overheard by Eacker, who asked Hamilton to step into the lobby; Price followed—here the expression damned rascals was used by Eacker to one of them, and a little scuffle ensued; but they soon adjourned to a public house: an explanation was then demanded, which one of them the official expression was meant for; after a little hesitation, it was declared to be meant for each…”

The Post characterized Philip Hamilton as

“…a young man of most amiable disposition and cultivated mind; much esteemed and affectionately beloved by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance.”

On November 25, 1801, The New-York Gazette and General Advertiser published a similar account of the proceedings leading up to the duel:

“On the morning of the 14th instant, Mr. Philip Hamilton, eldest son of General Hamilton, in the 20th year of his age, of a wound received in a duel with Capt. George I. Eacker.  Few events have so much interested the public, whether they consider the youth and promising talents of the deceased, the feelings of most affectionate parents, or the false honor to which his life was sacrificed.

The duel was occasioned by some frolicksome and satirical expressions made by Mr. Hamilton and a young Mr. Price, at a Theatre, on the Friday preceding, about an oration of Mr. Eacker’s and in his hearing.  This conduct Mr. Eacker resented in a very intemperate manner, collared Mr. Hamilton, called them damned rascals and villains, and said if he did not hear from them, he would treat them as such.  Challenges were consequently sent to him by both.

Mr. Eacker and Mr. Price met on the Sunday following, and after exchanging four shots without injury to either, the seconds interfered.  On Monday, the fatal duel between Mr. Eacker and Mr. Hamilton took place.  Young Hamilton was shot through the body, on the first discharge, and fell without firing.  He languished until the next morning, and then expired.”

In response to the accounts in the New York Evening post and the New-York Gazette, the Republican American Citizen and General Advertiser, , expressed outrage at the characterization of Philip’s death as “murder” and portrayed Philip and Richard Price as being responsible for the duel.  Some excerpts of this press coverage are included below, and more is available here:

“Immediately preceding the pantomime, the box being full, Messrs. Hamilton and Price, leaving the opposite side of the house, again intruded into the box occupied by Mr. Eacker and his party.  At the moment of their entrance, they commenced a loud conversation, replete with the most sarcastic remarks upon Mr. Eacker.  Their manner was more offensive, if possible than their conversation.  Mr. Eacker himself, thus pointedly the object of contempt and ridicule, and his name being mentioned aloud, could no longer sustain the painful sensation resulting from his situation.”


“Mr. Price and the unfortunate Mr. Hamilton, were, we assure the public, the aggressors.  They violently assaulted Mr. Eacker, whose conduct through every stage of the unfortunate affair, was perfectly honorable and exempt from blame.  They commenced the assault upon and challenged Mr. Eacker.

Interestingly, the American Citizen’s coverage does not mention Eacker’s 4th of July oration, although the newspaper had published excerpts of in its July 24, 1801 edition.  Although Hamilton’s name does not appear in the excerpts of Eacker’s speech I have read (I have only read newspaper excerpts and have not seen the entire published speech), Eacker’s criticisms of the Federalist party directly attack Hamilton’s policies.  In the excerpt below, Eacker describes how the Federalists have undermined the principles of the revolution, and how the Washington and Adams administrations damaged these principles.

“We have already seen the sacred principles of our revolution openly assaulted, and its venerable advocates reviled and exposed to public contempt.  The endeavours to undermine the popular attachment to a free government are notorious.  We have seen foreign influence attempting to make us subservient to its projects of hostility and ambition!

“An alliance, offensive and defensive, with the enemy of our greatness, was openly advocated; and the poisonous works of corruption nearly involved our destiny in total ruin!”

In Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, Fawn McCay Brodie wrote:

“Philip had gone out of his way to invite a duel, had gone into the duel with no intention of firing, thus inviting a duel or death, all this to defend the honor of his father, a father who had by humiliating confession recently brought agonies to his family and made himself the butt of national ridicule.  Philip could have chosen no way to die that would have brought his parents greater agony and guilt.”

Eacker died within three years of the duel, immediately before Alexander Hamilton’s death in 1804.  Notably, Eacker and Philip Hamilton (and Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton) are fairly close neighbors in death.  In Walks in Our Churchyards: Old New York, Trinity Parish, John Flavel Mines wrote of Eacker’s death: “Young Eacker died of consumption before three years had passed…and is buried in St. Paul’s Churchyard on the Vesey Street Side.”  Philip Hamilton is buried across the street, at an unknown spot in Trinity Church.  According to Allan Pollock’s 1880 History of Trinity Church and Its Grave Yard, Philip was “interred in this same plot of ground, about ten years before the death of his father.”

Image of Eacker’s Gravestone from