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.
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[…] gave this letter to Nathaniel Pendleton, his second in the duel, as part of his efforts to put his affairs in order prior to his interview with Aaron Burr at Weehawken on July 11, 1804. (Reprinted in the Papers of […]