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.”
As an update to my older post about Hamilton-themed office supplies, here are some additional office supplies available!
My office still boasts a Hamilton bobblehead and the mini-bust that I got a few years ago! Some newer supplies and office decorations are now on the market, including:
Alexander Hamilton Notebook (from the Signature Notebook Series)- Leather-bound notebook with Hamilton’s quotes. The product description states: “Alexander Hamilton is arguably one of the most inspiring—if not the most significant—of our Founding Fathers, and today, Hamilton’s legacy of brilliance still rewards us all. His defense and advocacy of the Constitution continue to shape our political discourse, and his profound impact on our then-fledging nation was accomplished largely through the power of his written word. Now you can put pen to paper in your very own Alexander Hamilton Signature Notebook, and let his words encourage and inspire you as you record your daily musings.” It is available from Target from $9.87.
Blue Hamilton Mousepad- The Alex in Blue mousepad is a nonstick blue mousepad with a rubber backing. Available from Cafe Press for $9.99.
Alexander Hamilton Statue Sculpture Figurine- This 13 inch figurine is made of cold cast resin with a bronze powder finish and is available from Amazon for $56.25.
Alexander Hamilton Glass Paperweight- made of tempered glass with a felted base. The product description states that it is “an enduring inspiration and reminder of personal commitment and excellence. A visable symbol of Americas rich heritage.” It is available from Amazon for $9.95.
Alexander Hamilton’s third child, Alexander Hamilton, Jr. was born in 1786. Like his father and older brother Philip, Alexander completed a course of study at Columbia College. Hamilton, Jr. was active in politics and had a military career, spending some time in Spain and Portugal before the War of 1812, and serving as aide-de-camp to General Morgan Lewis. After time in Europe and Florida, Hamilton, Jr. returned to New York and practiced as a lawyer in the Court of Chancery.
Interestingly, Hamilton, Jr.’s legal career would place him on a collision course with Aaron Burr.
On July 3, 1833, 77-year old Aaron Burr had married wealthy widow Eliza Jumel. Philip Hone, a successful merchant and the mayor of New York from 1825-1826 wrote in his diary:
Wednesday, July 3. — The celebrated Colonel Burr was married on Monday evening to the equally celebrated Mrs. Jumel, widow of Stephen Jumel. It is benevolent in her to keep the old man in his latter days. One good turn deserves another.
“Upon Stephen Jumel’s death, Eliza was one of the wealthiest widows in New York. However, she sought additional security in terms of her place in society. Her marriage to former vice president Aaron Burr in 1833 bolstered her footing among the New York elite. The marriage was solely out of convenience for both sides. Aaron Burr was 77 when they married, and he was looking for a source of funds to assist him to cover his expenses. Eliza quickly saw his endgame and also learned of his infidelity with a much younger woman. Eliza sued for divorce. In an interesting turn of events, her lawyer was Alexander Hamilton’s son. Perhaps this was delayed karma for Aaron Burr, who had shot and killed Hamilton 30 years prior.”
William Henry Shelton wrote that during the divorce trial, Jumel and Burr were “hurling correspondents at each other, and on the part of Burr, in the unfair proportion of four to one.”
The divorce case based on Burr’s alleged infidelity proceeded privately in the Court of Chancery. Hamilton, Jr. represented Eliza Jumel, and Charles O’Conor represented Burr. On September 14, 1836, coincidentally the day of Burr’s death, the divorce was granted by Judge Philo T. Ruggles.
In an August 18, 1792 letter to President Washington, Hamilton commented on the differences between the South and North and described the talk of separation from a small group of “respectable men.” Hamilton noted that “happily,” despite this talk of separation, the “prevailing sentiment” of the people during this time period was in favor of maintaining the Union.
It is certainly much to be regretted that party discriminations are so far Geographical as they have been; and that ideas of a severance of the Union are creeping in both North and South. In the South it is supposed that more government than is expedient is desired by the North. In the North, it is believed, that the prejudices of the South are incompatible with the necessary degree of Government and with the attainment of the essential ends of National Union. In both quarters there are respectable men who talk of separation, as a thing dictated by the different geniusses and different prejudices of the parts. But happily their number is not considerable—& the prevailing sentiment of the people is in favour of their true interest,union. And it is to be hoped that the Efforts of wise men will be able to prevent a scism, which would be injurious in different degrees to different portions of the Union; but would seriously wound the prosperity of all.
Hamilton’s words of warning, nearly 70 years before the Civil War began, underscore the deep-seated tensions between North and South.
In addition to the duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton was involved with several other duels, either as one of the challengers, or as a second for his friends and acquaintances.
On July 18, 1795, Hamilton was publicly criticized over his defense of the Jay Treaty at a meeting in New York. Hamilton tried to intervene in an argument between Commodore James Nicholson and Federalist lawyer Josiah Ogden Hoffman. Nicholson was one of Hamilton’s most prominent critics, and the two had long-standing political disagreements. Nicholson then allegedly called Hamilton an “Abettor of Tories” and accused him of declining a previous challenge to duel. Hamilton was offended and challenged Nicholson to a duel.
On July 20, 1795, Hamilton sent a letter to Nicholson via his close friend, Nicholas Fish, who he had designated as his second for the duel:
New York Monday July 20. 1795.
The unprovoked rudeness and insult which I experienced from You on Saturday leaves me no option but that of a meeting with You, the object of which You will readily understand. I propose to You for the purpose Pawlus Hook as the place and monday next eleven o’clock as the time. I should not fix so remote a day but that I am charged with trusts for other persons which will previously require attention on my part. My friend Col. Fish who is to deliver You this will accompany me.
I am &c. Your humble Servt.
In the letter, Hamilton cites Nicholson’s “unproved rudeness” and his “insult” of Hamilton as the reason for the confrontation being necessary. He states that Nicholson’s conduct has left Hamilton with “no option” but a meeting with him, and proposes that the duel be set for the following Monday. He notes that the only reason he is proposing a date seven days in the future is because of his prior commitments.
Nicholson responded immediately, stating that he feared an inquiry into the duel and insisting that the duel take place the following day rather than a week later:
I had the honor of recieving a note from you a few minutes ago by Colo: Fish relative to an Altercation that took place between us on Saturday last. On an occasion of this Kind I shall certainly not decline your invitation. Its peremptory tenor necessarily precludes any discussion on my part of the merits of the controversy. The publicity of the affair & the unusual visit of your friend have however unfortunately occasioned an alarm in my family & may produce an inquiry—you will therefore perceive that my situation will be rendered extremely disagreeable unless our interview takes place before that time. I have therefore to intreat that it may not be postponed longer than tomorrow Morning.
I am &ca. yrs.
Eventually, on July 26, 1795, after Hamilton and Nicholson had gone through three drafts of apologies (that Hamilton wrote for Nicholson’s review), Nicholson signed a declaration apologizing for his conduct:
Mr. Nicholson declares that the warmth of the expressions which he recollects to have used to Mr. Hamilton proceeded from a misapprehension of the nature of his interposition in the altercation between Mr. Hoffman & Mr. Nicholson that as to the suggestion alleged to have been made by Mr. Nicholson namely that Mr. Hamilton had declined a former interview he does not recollect and is not conscious of having made it, neither did he intend the imputation which it would seem to imply and that if he did make the suggestion he regrets the pain which it must have occasioned to Mr. Hamilton.
The seconds representing Hamilton and Nicholson were DeWitt Clinton, Nicholas Fish, Rufus King, Brockholst Livingston. Once Nicholson and Hamilton agreed on the apology, they signed off on the following statement, thus ending the challenge in a “satisfactory and honorable way”:
The subscribers having been made acquainted with the correspondence between Mr Hamilton and Mr Nicholson relative to a controversy that took place between them on Saturday before last, do hereby certify that the same has been settled in a satisfactory and honorable way to both the parties.
Interestingly, Nicholson’s son-in-law, Albert Gallatin, would serve as the Secretary of Treasury under President Jefferson. Gallatin, like Nicholson, was a vigorous critic of Hamilton’s tenure as Treasury Secretary, but eventually “he followed a Hamiltonian course.”
Angelica Schuyler’s marriage to Englishman John Barker Church jolted Albany society, and angered her father, who had disapproved of the match. Angelica and John, who was traveling under the assumed name of John Carter to avoid trouble after a duel, met and began a secret romance without consulting her father, General Philip Schuyler. They then eloped at the home of the young Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer III (who would later secretly elope with Angelica and Eliza’s sister Peggy!!)
General Schuyler wrote to his friend William Duer (who had provided Church/Carter with a letter of introduction to the General) of his disapproval of the match and his gradual forgiveness of the couple:
“Carter and my eldest daughter ran off and married on the 23rd July. Unacquainted with his family, his connections and situation in life, the match was exceedingly disagreeable to me, and I had signified it to him. But as there is no undoing this gordian knot, I took what I hope you will think the prudent part: I frowned, I made them humble themselves, forgave, and called them home.”
After this awkward family reunion, the couple was welcomed back into the Schuyler home, and Church stopped using his fake identity.
Catherine Schuyler’s biographer, Mary Gay Humphreys stated:
“The mystery concerning Carter proved to be alarming only in the fact that it was a mystery. He had left England on account of a duel, assuming the name of Carter for that of John Barker Church, which he subsequently resumed. At the time he was Commissary for Rochambeau, and was afterwards associated with General Wadsworth in the same department. In this capacity he had the opportunity of amassing a large fortune, and the wayward couple became prominent in the social life of New York, London, and Paris.”
In Historic Houses of New Jersey, Weymer Jay Mills provides some romantic color to the story and writes:
“There was another Revolutionary love-affair in General Schuyler’s family which history has scarcely noted,- overshadowed as it is by that of Hamilton and his Betsey- and that is the elopement of Angelica, his eldest daughter with John Barker Church, a gentleman of fortune masquerading in America under the nom de guerre of Carter. The vivacious and clever Angelica, who far outshone the more retiring Elizabeth, met him at a Philadelphia assembly at the beginning of the war. Possessed of dashing manners and almost godlike beauty, it is small wonder that he attracted the attention of the maiden. From his mother, Elizabeth Barker, celebrated at the court of George III for her loveliness, he inherited the languishing blue eyes and finely-chiseled features which Reynolds and Cosway have immortalized. Although but a few years past his school days, he was already the hero of many adventures and a breaker of hearts. To escape a marriage with a wealthy kinswoman, whose Lowestoft estates joined his own, and the consequences of a duel, he fled from London without baggage or credentials; and it was under this assumed name that he wooed and won the most brilliant daughter of one of New York’s first families. General Schuyler at first did not approve of the marriage, but through the influence of the Patroon Van Rensselaer, who encouraged and sheltered the young couple at his manor, he gradually relented, and finally received them with open arms at the Albany homestead.
If you’re in the New York/New Jersey area, check out the AHA Society’s series of events from January 7-11, 2017 in commemoration of Alexander Hamilton’s birthday on January 11, 1757. The AHA Society has a full list and description of events here.
The events include talks by authors Stephen Knott, Michael Newton, and Jeff Wiser. Unfortunately, I will not be attending this year, but look forward to hearing all the updates from those who do!