Hamil-Fam: William Stephen Hamilton’s California Connection

The Melendrez family from West Covina – Erin, 8, with her parents Carmen and Martin – look at the grave of William Stephen Hamilton at the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery on Tuesday. Hamilton is the son of America’s first treasury secretary, the subject of the hit musical “Hamilton.”
Picture from the Sacramento Bee

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.

The book Historic Spots in California notes:

“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.

Historic Spots goes on to state:

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.

 

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