Hamilton’s youngest son, William Stephen Hamilton is actually buried in Sacramento, California. As a Californian, I was interested to learn more about this piece of Hamiltonian history within my state.
“William Stephen Hamilton, youngest son of Alexander Hamilton, the distinguished revolutionary statesman, came to California in 1849. Previous to that time he had served as a surveyor of public lands in Illinois, discovered the Hamilton Diggings in southwestern Wisconsin in 1827, engaged in the Black Hawk War, when as a colonel he distinguished himself for efficiency and bravery, and was several times a member of the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin. On coming to California, Hamilton engaged in mining for about a year, after which he went to Sacramento to trade. He died in that city on October 7, 1850.
William Stephen likely died of cholera, and reportedly told a friend that he would “rather have been hung in the Lead Mines” than “to have lived in this miserable hole.” Not a happy ending to a Gold Rush story, but given the widespread nature and destruction caused by the 1850 cholera epidemic in Sacramento, his was not a unique story.
An unmarked grave in the city cemetery constituted the resting place of William Hamilton until 1879, when friends had the body removed to a more appropriate part of the cemetery and a slab of polished Quincy granite placed over it. In 1889, at the suggestion of John O. Brown, mayor of Sacramento, the remains were again moved, this time to a new plot in the cemetery named in honor of the deceased, Hamilton Square. At this time, the handsome, oddly shaped monument of massive Quincy granite was sent out from Massachusetts by the grand-nephew of the pioneer. One one side it bears a bronze medallion of Alexander Hamilton.”
Marcus Breton of the Sacramento Bee recently published an article entitled “Will anyone write a musical for the Hamilton buried in Sacramento?” which describes William Stephen Hamilton’s life and his connection to Sacramento in more detail.
The Sacramento Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution has tended to William Stephen Hamilton’s gravesince his body was moved to its final resting place, and in 2012, they revitalized the grave site.
Sotheby’s description of the auction items stated:
The material in the auction includes highly personal documents, such as love letters exchanged between Hamilton and his wife Eliza, as well as the condolence letter, sealed with black wax, his father-in-law, Phillip Skyler, sent to his daughter after Hamilton was killed in the duel with Burr (estimate $15/20,000). However, his public career is also well represented with notes he wrote for one of Washington’s annual addresses to congress (estimate $15/25,000) as well as legal papers from his private practice, among many others documents. Perhaps the most poignant relic in the sale is a lock of Hamilton’s hair with a letter of presentation from his wife Eliza (estimate $15/25,000).
The New York Times coverage of the auction noted that Hamilton artifacts are now valued more than Washington artifacts:
“Hamilton has exceeded the value of George Washington with this auction,” John Reznikoff, a dealer from Stamford, Conn., said after the hammer dropped on the last of 77 lots of letters and documents, which had been held by Hamilton descendants for more than 200 years. “If you compare letters with comparable content, Hamilton’s now cost more.”
On March 14, 1801, Margarita (Peggy) Schuyler Van Rensselaer died at her husband’s mansion in Albany after prolonged suffering from an unknown illness. She was laid to rest in a private family vault on the grounds of the Van Rensselaer Manor House. I’ve written previously about the romance between Peggy and her husband Stephen, who had eloped against her father’s wishes when Peggy was 25 and Stephen was 19.
Hamilton was in the Albany area attending court, and kept an eye on Peggy and reported back to his wife Eliza:
“Your Sister Peggy had a better night last night than for three weeks past and is much easier this morning. Yet her situation is such as only to authorise a glimmering of hope. Adieu my beloved. A thousand tender wishes for you.”
On March 10, 1801, Hamilton’s legal business in Albany was complete, but he wrote to Eliza that Peggy and his father and mother-in-law had asked him to stay in town during her illness:
The Senate has refused on account of the interference with other business to hear any more causes this session; so that were it not for the situation of your Sister Peggy, her request that I would stay a few days longer and the like request of your father and mother, I could now return to you. But how can I resist these motives for continuing a while longer?
Things must change this week but at all events I set out for New York the beginning of the next. I cannot resolve to be longer kept from you and my dear Children.
There has been little alteration either way in Peggys situation for these past four days.
On March 16, 1801, Alexander Hamilton wrote to Eliza, conveying the news that Peggy had passed away and reassuring her that Peggy had been “sensible” and “resigned” as she faced her death.
On Saturday, My Dear Eliza, your sister took leave of her sufferings and friends, I trust, to find repose and happiness in a better country.
Viewing all that she had endured for so long a time, I could not but feel a relief in the termination of the scene. She was sensible to the last and resigned to the important change.
Your father and mother are now calm. All is as well as it can be; except the dreadful ceremonies which custom seems to have imposed as indispensable in this pla⟨ce⟩, and which at every instant open anew the closing wounds of bleeding hearts. Tomorrow the funeral takes place. The day after I hope to set sail for N York.
I long to come to console and comfort you my darling Betsey. Adieu my sweet angel. Remember the duty of Christian Resignation. Ever Yrs
In 1848, the old vault which had housed Peggy’s remains was demolished, and her remains were removed to an underground vault in Lot 1, Section 14 at the Albany Rural Cemetery. Above the vault is a large white marble monument. The east face of the monument bears the inscription “Margaret Schuyler Wife of Stephen Van Rensselaer Died March 14th, 1801.”
Peggy was survived by her husband and her son, Stephen Van Rensselaer IV. Her husband remarried in 1802, a year after her death, to Cornelia Paterson.
At age 21, a young and fiery Alexander Hamilton directed some serious vitriol towards Samuel Chase, a Maryland Congressman. As a Congressman, Chase had known of Congress’ secret plan for securing flour to supply the French fleet. He then passed on this information to profit-minded associates, who hatched a plan to corner the supply of flour and raise its price. In a series of three Publius letters in October and November 1778, Hamilton blasted Chase for seeking to profit from the Revolution, and using his position as a Member of Congress to damage the country and the Revolutionary movement.
The first Publius letter, published on October 16, 1778 accused Chase of violating his sacred responsibilities of office:
But when a man, appointed to be the guardian of the State, and the depositary of the happiness and morals of the people—forgetful of the solemn relation, in which he stands—descends to the dishonest artifices of a mercantile projector, and sacrifices his conscience and his trust to pecuniary motives; there is no strain of abhorrence, of which the human mind is capable, nor punishment, the vengeance of the people can inflict, which may not be applied to him, with justice. If it should have happened that a Member of C———ss has been this degenerate character, and has been known to turn the knowledge of secrets, to which his office gave him access, to the purposes of private profit, by employing emissaries to engross an article of immediate necessity to the public service; he ought to feel the utmost rigor of public resentment, and be detested as a traitor of the worst and most dangerous kind.
Hamilton’s deep abhorrence of corruption and the use of political power for personal gain is apparent in his criticism of Chase. Particularly during a time of war, Hamilton felt that Chase’s use of information he had gained through his position of political trust for profit made him a “traitor of the worst and most dangerous kind.”
Hamilton’s second letter, published on October 26, 1778, criticized Chase as a man of mediocre (at best) talents, who had forced himself into public view as a result of the scandal and thus “acquired an indisputed title to be immortalised in infamy.” Hamilton packed no punches in his letter, and his contempt of Chase shines unmistakably through:
The honor of being the hero of a public panegeric, is what you could hardly have aspired to, either from your talents, or from your good qualities. The partiality of your friends has never given you credit for more than mediocrity in the former; and experience has proved, that you are indebted for all your consequence, to the reverse of the latter. Had you not struck out a new line of prostitution for yourself, you might still have remained unnoticed, and contemptible—your name scarcely known beyond the little circle of your electors and clients, and recorded only in the journals of C–––––ss. But you have now forced yourself into view, in a light too singular and conspicuous to be over-looked, and have acquired an indisputed title to be immortalised in infamy.
In his third and final Publius letter on the subject of Chase’s corruption, dated November 16, 1778, Hamilton painted a picture of Chase as someone driven by greed alone, who had achieved success but who had gone too far to return to a position of public trust
The love of money and the love of power are the predominating ingredients of your mind—cunning the characteristic of your understanding. This, has hitherto carried you successfully through life, and has alone raised you to the exterior consideration, you enjoy. The natural consequence of success, is temerity. It has now proceeded one step too far, and precipitated you into measures, from the consequences of which, you will not easily extricate yourself; your avarice will be fatal to your ambition. I have too good an opinion of the sense and spirit, to say nothing of the virtue of your countrymen, to believe they will permit you any longer to abuse their confidence, or trample upon their honour.
Hamilton urged Chase to resign from office in light of the scandal, and to stop the facade of patriotism.
It is a mark of compassion, to which you are not intitled, to advise you by a timely and voluntary retreat, to avoid the ignominy of a formal dismission. Your career has held out as long as you could have hoped. It is time you should cease to personate the fictitious character you have assumed, and appear what you really are—lay aside the mask of patriotism, and assert your station among the honorable tribe of speculators and projectors. Cultivate a closer alliance with your D—s—y and your W—t, the accomplices and instruments of your guilt, and console yourself for the advantage you have lost, by indulging your genius, without restraint, in all the forms and varieties of fashionable peculation.
Hamilton’s accusations effectively ended Chase’s career in the Continental Congress, and led him to near bankruptcy. Chase went home to Maryland, but returned to the national stage in the 1780s as a strong critic of the new Constitution. Chase would eventually switch his political beliefs and became aligned with the Federalist Party.
Interestingly, after his fall from the Continental Congress in disgrace, Chase was appointed by President Washington to be a Supreme Court justice in 1796. Chase later came into President Jefferson’s cross-hairs after openly criticizing the Democratic-Republicans for the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801. Chase was served with eight articles of impeachment, and Vice President Aaron Burr presided over his impeachment trial. Chase was ultimately not impeached by a large margin, and served on the Supreme Court until his death. Chase’s victory in avoiding impeachment helped maintain judicial independence from the executive and legislative branches. To read more about the trial, I recommend a 1967 article from the Maryland Law Review: “The Trials of Mr. Justice Samuel Chase.” It’s a fascinating read, and is available for free online via Digital Commons.
I wrote earlier about Hamilton’s advice on finding a husband to his sister-in-law, Margarita (Peggy) Schuyler and wanted to share a little more about Peggy’s daring elopement with her distant relative, 19 year old Stephen Van Rensselaer III in 1783.
According to an account by Maunsell Van Rensselaer, Stephen “was in love with Margaret Schuyler, daughter of the General, and although only nineteen was anxious to get married. To this the father objected, and the young couple settled the matter by getting married without delay.”
In A Place in History: Albany in the Age of Revolution, 1775-1825 Warren Roberts writes:
“Margarita climbed out of her second-floor room in her father’s mansion to elope with her 19 year old husband. She was 25 and six years older than her husband.”
“The general’s temper was none of the mildest, and he was greatest enraged at this defiance of his paternal authority, and vented his wrath upon his secretary, accusing him of having aided the escapade.”
Stephen was a wealthy orphan who had just graduated from Harvard College a year before the couple was wed, but had not yet attained his majority and come into his inheritance. Because of his young age, mutual friends expressed concern that the marriage between Peggy and Stephen would fail. Harrison Gray Otis, a friend of Van Renesselaer’s, wrote to Killian Van Rensselaer :
“Stephen’s precipitate marriage has been to me a source of surprise and indeed of regret. He certainly is too young to enter into a connection of this kind; the period of his life is an important crisis; it is the time to acquire Fame, or at least to prepare for its acquisition. It is the time to engage in a busy life, to arouse the Facultys into action, to awake from a lethargic Inattention, which is generally the consequence of youthful pleasures, and make a figure upon the active Theatre. Instead of this our friend has indulged the momentary impulse of youthful Passions, and has yielded to the dictates of Remorseful Fancy.”
Fortunately for the couple, Otis’ fears were unfounded. Mary Gay Humphreys wrote in her biography of Catherine Schuyler:
“The young couple, handsomely entrenched in wealth and position, were doubtless speedily forgiven, as well they might be. Neither fame nor happiness passed by their married life, which was only too brief. Mrs. Stephen Van Rensselaer, the wife of the Patroon, is still the lively Peggy, the favorite of all the dinner-tables and balls.”
In a letter to Angelica Schuyler Church, Alexander Hamilton described having dinner with Peggy and Stephen in 1794:
“Your sister Margaret is also wonderfully restored. She and Mr. Rensselaer supped with us — She never was in better spirits. The sight of these friends has diminished though not dissipated a sadness which took possession of my heart on my departure from New York. I am more and more the fool of affection and friendship. In a little time I shall not be able to stir from the side of my family & friends.”
Interestingly, Van Rensselaer had played an important role in the elopement of Peggy’s sister, Angelica in 1777. The couple had exchanged vows in Van Rensselaer’s home, and he reportedly helped convince Angelica and Peggy’s father, General Philip Schuyler, to accept the newly married couple. Little did General Schuyler know that six years later, the boy Patroon would be eloping with another one of his daughters!
On January 22, 1800, Hamilton playfully wrote to his sister-in-law about his experience of dining in the presence of her portrait on a visit to his in-laws in Albany:
The pleasure of this was heightened by that of dining in the presence of a lady for whom I have a particular friendship. I was placed directly in front of her and was much occupied with her during the whole Dinner. She did not appear to her usual advantage, and yet she was very interesting. The eloquence of silence is not a common attribute of hers; but on this occasion she employed it par force and it was not considered as a fault. Though I am fond of hearing her speak, her silence was so well placed that I did not attempt to make her break it. You will conjecture that I must have been myself dumb with admiration. Perhaps so, and yet this was not the reason of my forbearing to invite a conversation with her. If you cannot find yourself a solution for this enigma, you must call in the aid of Mr. Church—and if he should fail to give you the needful assistance write to your friend Mr. Trumbull for an explanation.
Trumbull had painted the portrait of Angelica Church, her son Philip Schuyler Church, and a servant during his time in London. Trumbull had a close relationship with Angelica’s husband John Barker Church. In his autobiography, Trumbull recalled that when he was a struggling artist, Church had offered to lend him money at a low interest rate whenever he needed funds without requiring any security to guarantee repayment. Trumbull wrote:
“Instances of patronage like this, to young men studying the fine arts, I presume are uncommon, and deserve to be gratefully remembered. … The kindness of Mr. Church, in advancing me, at times when my prospects were not the most promising, and on my personal security merely, the sums which form the above account, will forever deserve my most sincere acknowledgments; without such aid, my subsequent success would have been checked by pecuniary embarrassments.”