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.

11-25-1801

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 http://registers.trinitywallstreet.org/files/history/churchyard/stpaul/history.php?id=70#here

 

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