New Exhibit- Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel

The New York Public Library has announced a new free exhibit on Alexander Hamilton that they will be hosting from June 24, 2016 through December 31, 2016.  The library’s press release describing the exhibit states:

Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel features more than two dozen items on display from the Library’s collections, focusing on his ambitious early life, work as a statesman and creation of the Federalist Papers, as well as the scandals that marred his legacy. The exhibition also explores Hamilton’s volatile relationships with Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

Some of the exciting highlights of the new exhibition include:

  • Hamilton’s draft of George Washington’s farewell address alongside Washington’s version
  • The Federalist (commonly known as the Federalist Papers) as originally published in a historic newspaper
  • Hamilton’s proposed plan for a U.S. Constitution
  • The Reynolds Pamphlet, in which Hamilton’s admits to an affair with Maria Reynolds
  • Letters from Hamilton to his wife Eliza, and  her sister Angelica Schuyler Church; correspondence Hamilton sent on behalf of Washington, and a letter he sent to Washington about the Newburgh Conspiracy
  • Letter introducing Burr to the Schuyler family
  • Broadside of the letter that incited the duel that led to Hamilton’s death

The exhibit is open to the public for free, and will be at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 5th Ave and 42nd Street.  I’ll certainly be checking it out this summer!

Hamilton Grange: Moving Hamilton’s House

Hamilton Grange National Memorial, Hamilton’s country home is the only home he ever owned.  The home was built in 1801, three years before Hamilton’s death.  In 1889, the home was moved for the first time to 287 Convent Avenue.  According to the New York Times, the National Park Service took stewardship of the property in 1962.

In 1967, the Landmarks Preservation Committee observed:

“The almost square architectural mass of Hamilton Grange is impressive in its symmetry and handsome proportions.  Designed by one of the City’s best early architects, John McComb, Jr., and incorporating features suggested by Hamilton, this Federal style house, with its porches and unpretentious clpaboard exterior, has a gracious dignity.  ‘The Grange’ was planned as a country seat by Alexander Hamilton for the open countryside and was named after his paternal grandfather’s home in Scotland.  It is one of the few remaining notable historical houses, designed in the Federal Style, of true architectural distinction.”

In 2006, the National Park Service began an $8.2 million restoration project to restore the house, including a restoration of the original entryway and front and back porches.  For the first time in 119 years, the house would be visible from all four sides.  However, the ultimate location of the house created some controversy because the house was placed in a different orientation than was originally intended so that it could face 141st Street, as documented by the New York Times in a February 2008 article:

This spring, the National Park Service plans to move the Grange from a cramped nook on Convent Avenue to a far more generous setting in a hillside corner of nearby St. Nicholas Park in Upper Manhattan.

In doing so, the service will swing the house around to face West 141st Street. That means that the Grange’s front door will end up oriented northeast rather than southwest, as was intended by Hamilton and his architect, John McComb Jr., when the home was completed in 1802.

This is a grave concern to some preservationists, who believe the government is squandering a chance to authentically restore the home of a towering founding father.

After the house was moved, the National Park Service created a short video, available on YouTube documenting the process of moving the house and explaining the historical significance of Hamilton Grange.

Wolfe House & Building Movers also released a nine minute video compilation of news coverage of the house being moved so that you can watch it in action.

If you’re in New York, make sure to stop by Hamilton Grange, now located at 414 W 141st St, New York, NY 10031!  Information on visiting hours and tours is available here.

Hamilton at 26 Broadway

Many of you have visited Hamilton Grange National Memorial, the only home Hamilton ever owned. However, before he built his country home, Hamilton resided in several other New York City addresses.

Allan McLane Hamilton described Hamilton’s New York addresses in The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton:

“Hamilton, during the early years of his practice, lived at 57 Wall Street before his removal to Philadelphia with the rest of the Cabinet.  On his return in 1795, he occupied a small house at 56 Pine Street, and later moved to 58 Partition Street (now Fulton Street), then to Liberty Street, near Broadway.  From there he went to 26 Broadway, where he lived until 1802, when he built and occupied his country seat, nine miles above the city, which he called “The Grange,” after the Scotch home of his ancestors.”

He further describes Hamilton’s neighborhood in 26 Broadway:

“When he lived at 26 Broadway, the west side of that thoroughfare below Trinity Church was, with one exception built up and occupied by well-to-do and prominent persons.  The exception was a small gun-shop on the south-west corner of Morris Street.”

Ferdinand S. Bartram similarly described the 26 Broadway location as “the most fashionable residence portion of the city.”

In his book The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940: A Celebration of Height, Joseph J. Korom writes:

“The soil beneath the Standard Oil Building, its  site officially recorded and known as 26 Broadway, once belonged to Native Americans, to the Dutch, then the British, and for a time it even supported the home of Alexander Hamilton.  But probably this site is most celebrated because of the series of “Standard Oil Buildings” that occupied it.

The world’s most celebrated, and to some the most notorious, oil concern was headquartered on these premises starting in 1885.  The Standard Oil Trust Company headquarters would remain at this location for the next forty-nine years.”

“26 Broadway 00” by Wurts Brothers – Collection of photographs of New York City. Catalog Call Number: AZ 06-6805. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

In his biography of John D. Rockefeller, Ron Chernow described the 1885 construction of the Standard Oil building:

“In late 1883, Standard Oil began to assemble real estate at the southern tip of Manhattan for new headquarters, destined to soar above Broadway at Bowling Green on the onetime site of Alexander Hamilton’s home.  Having long outgrown William’s old offices at two different locations on Pearl Street, the firm had operated for three years from modest, unprepossessing quarters at 44 Broadway.  Now, on May 1, 1885, after spending nearly one million dollars on it, Standard Oil moved into its impregnable new fortress, a massive, granite, nine-story building.  The combine’s name didn’t appear outside, just the building number.  Twenty-six Broadway soon became the world’s most famous business address, shorthand for the oil trust itself, evoking its mystery, power, and efficiency.”

The building was designated as a New York City landmark in 1995.  The report from the Landmarks Preservation Commission states:

The powerful sculptural massing and arresting silhouette of the Standard Oil Building represent the new set-back skyscraper forms that emerged during the early 1920s. Limestone curtain walls facing Broadway, Beaver Street, and New Street are enriched with large-scale neo-Renaissance ornamentation that enhance the building’s picturesque quality. The building, erected as Standard Oil approached its fiftieth year of operation, reinforced the presence of the oil industry giant in the heart of New York City’s financial and shipping center. From the headquarters building at No. 26 Broadway, John D. Rockefeller’s associates directed the Standard Oil Company that monopolized the American oil industry, endured a sensational anti-trust decision, and retained a dominant role in the international oil business. Although Standard Oil’s successor firm sold the structure in 1956, the building at No. 26 Broadway has remained a prominent address in lower Manhattan.


The Manhattan Well: A Haunted History

On January 2, 1800, the body of a young woman named Gulielma Sands was found in a well in New York that had been developed by Aaron Burr’s Manhattan Company.  The chief suspect in the murder was Ms. Sands’ suspected lover, Levi Weeks.  Weeks was the brother of Ezra Weeks, a notable architect who had assisted with the construction of Hamilton’s Harlem home.  Ezra Weeks was able to retain Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and Brockholst Livingston as Levi’s defense counsel.  The Weeks trial was the first recorded murder trial in American history and people followed it with rapt attention.  The grueling trial lasted 44 hours and had approximately 75 witnesses testify with only a single break in between the proceedings.  Ultimately, Hamilton, Burr, and Livingston convinced the jury to acquit Mr. Weeks in less than 10 minutes.  I’ve spoken in detail about the trial in my talk at  Morris-Jumel mansion (the talk will be available online soon and I will post it on this blog) and the full digitized transcript from the Library of Congress is available here.

Although most of the participants of the famous trial have long since perished or disappeared, one remains: the infamous well itself.

The well and its creator were integral components of the murder mystery and subsequent trial.  One early newspaper account of the discovery of Ms. Sands’ body is from the January 4, 1800 New York Spectator and states: “Yesterday afternoon, the body of a young woman…was found dead in a well recently dug by the Manhattan Company, a little east of Mr. Tyler’s….Strong suspicions are entertained of having been willfully murdered.”

The Manhattan Well was commissioned by Aaron Burr’s Manhattan Company, which had engendered controversy both for unnecessarily increasing the scope of its powers and for allegedly doing a poor job of delivering water to the citizens of New York.  The charter of the Manhattan Company provided that in addition to providing water for New York City, the Company could form a bank and sell insurance subscriptions, among other things.  The Manhattan Company eventually morphed into JP Morgan Chase, which is now the largest bank in the United States.

A May 1, 1799 editorial in the New York Gazette bashed Aaron Burr, John Church (Hamilton’s brother-in-law and Angelica Schuyler’s husband), John Watts, and the other founders of the Manhattan Company and stated that they were concerned with speculating and increasing their power rather than furthering the goal of clean water for New York.

“A law my fellow Citizens, more impolitic, alarming and corrupt has not been passed by any legislature since the Revolution.  A law every clause of which is stamped with damning proof, that it was intended not to benefit the public; but to raise up an object of speculation to enrich those who were interested in it.”

Brian Phillips Murphy, who is now a history professor at Baruch College, published his 2009 dissertation on the Manhattan Well.  The paper is entitled “‘A very convenient instrument’: The Manhattan Company, Aaron Burr, and the Eelection of 1800” and is a fascinating read if you are interested in learning more about the history of the Manhattan Company.

The Manhattan Well was referenced repeatedly during the trial of Levi Weeks.  Several witnesses recounted hearing screams come from the vicinity of the well.  For example, Catherine Lyon, a neighbor of Sands and Weeks testified:

“About a half an hour or less after I saw Elma, I heard from the field behind the hill at Lispernards a cry in the woman’s voice of ‘murder, murder, Oh save me!'”

Additionally Arnetta Van Norden, who lived 100 yards from the well testified:

“We live about half way from Broadway to the well.  About 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening, my husband heard a noise, and he stood up and observed it was from the well.  I then looked through the window, and we heard a woman cry out from towards the well, ‘Lord have mercy on me, Lord help me.”


According to the Wall Street Journal:

“In 1817, a four-story building was built at 129 Spring Street, just south of the well.  An 1872 Harper’s Weekly article stated that the well was located “in the rear of a carpenters shop at the end of an alley, No. 89½ Greene Street, a hundred feet or more north of Spring Street.”

During the years of 1852-1853 and 1854-1855, the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York lists 129 Spring Street as the location of a pawnbroker named Leah Silver.

According to Angela Serratore of the Paris Review the area around the well was home to a brothel and an anti-tobacco shop:

In a small town, the well might’ve become a legendary destination, frequented by tourists and sulky, rebellious teenagers, but lower Manhattan refused to stay put, and soon the only physical reminder of Elma Sands was covered up. In the 1820s, the once-bucolic meadow became a neighborhood full of upper-middle-class row homes, including one at 129 Spring Street, which is today the legal address of the well. By midcentury, it was a destination for shopping, entertaining, and sinning.

Just half a block down from the well, at no. 111 Spring Street, there existed a brothel kept by a Mrs. Hattie Taylor, described in an 1870 guide to whorehouses as “a third class house, where may be found the lowest class of courtezans. It is patronized by roughs and rowdies, and gentlemen who turn their shirts wrong side out when the other side is dirty.” During this period, 129 Spring was a shop run by a Mr. O. Spotswood, the peddler of an antidote to tobacco addiction, leading the modern reader to ruminate upon the kind of person who, in 1862, is both hooked on smoking and desperate (one dollar for a packet of five remedies!) to quit.

On April 18, 1869, the New York Times published a paragraph about the well (containing some inaccurate statements about the trial):

“The old well, known as the Manhattan Well, down which was thrown the corpse of Gulielma Sands, murdered, as is believed, by her lover, Levi Weeks, some seventy years ago, and the locality of which had been forgotten, has been rediscovered by the occupant of the building No. 115 Spring-street.  The well was found while the flower-garden of No. 115 was being dug.  It is of large diameter and was covered over with large flat stones.

The supposed murderer invited the girl Sands to take a ride with him one Winter’s evening, and that was the last seen of her alive.  Weeks was tried for the murder, and was defended by Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and Edward P. Livingston.  The evidence was insufficient to convict, but he found it convenient to leave the City as soon as the trial was concluded.  The old well was known to exist, but its precise location had passed from the memory of the ‘oldest inhabitant.'”

On December 4, 1932, Bruce Rae of the New York Times noted in a book review:

“New Yorkers may be interested to know that they can still shout ‘Who killed Elma Sands’ into the very well where her body was found.  It stands in an alley off Greene Street just above Spring.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that the DaGrossa family, who owned the property at 129 Spring Street and ran it as the Manhattan Bistro, excavated their basement in 1980 and found the well “buried in a dirt-filled area off the basement.”  While the Manhattan Bistro was in existence, the well was kept in the basement and was not on public display.

Several websites mention the well and discuss the murder mystery.  In 2013 Curbed NY named the well one of the thirteen most haunted places in New York City (along with Morris-Jumel Mansion, St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, and others).

Picture from WSJ:


Currently, the well is open to the public in the men’s department of the COS clothing store.  I visited the store during my visit to New York last month.  The well now has some stylish mannequins around it and seems to be doing quite well.  Talk about living history!

Embedded image permalink

Sale of Hamilton Duel Site Sets Hudson County Record

On October 16, 2014, a mansion built on the site of the Hamilton-Burr duel in Weehawken, New Jersey sold for $6.2 million, setting a new record for Hudson County.  According to the New York Post, the property was purchased by “part of an unnamed top fashion family.”

The Daily Mail has published several pictures of the mansion and states:

“The 7,200-square-foot floor plan is divided into four bedrooms, a gym, an extravagant office, and a private terrace with gaping windows looking out over the Hudson River. “

Idyllic: The new owners can recline among the shrubbery on their private terrace while taking in the buzz of New York City

Historic: The opulent rooms are decked in oak wood, marble and gold, with wrought iron railings outside in neoclassical style

Spell-binding: At night, the bright white house which is lined with trimmed rows of hedges and potted plants, gleams 

The house was built in 2002, and was originally listed for $7.5 million.  Real estate firm Douglas Elliman listed the property.

Fodor’s: Nevis a Must-Visit Destination!

Fodor’s Travel recently released a list of five reasons to visit Nevis right now.  Number three on the list is: soak up some Caribbean history:

“The first written accounts of Nevis came from Columbus, who sailed past the island in 1493; in another 150 years or so, it became the most profitable British colony per capita, thanks to sugar. You can still get a feel for those times by visiting any of the several ruins, including those of the New River and Coconut Walk estates on the island’s east side. One popular site is the remains of Cottle Church, north of Charlestown, built by a wealthy planter so his family and slaves could worship together—which was illegal at the time. And U.S founding father Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis; his childhood home (he left when he was 9) now houses the Alexander Hamilton Museum.”

This isn’t the first time that Nevis has been highly recommended by an international publication.  In November 2012, Forbes published an article entitled “10 Reasons to Visit Nevis this Winter,” focusing on the many resort activities and beautiful scenery on the island.

Nevis is of course on the bucket list of most Hamiltonians because it is Hamilton’s birthplace.  Although Hamilton only lived in Nevis until he was eight years old, some of his early experiences there, particularly his observations of the slave trade, may have shaped his later views on slavery.

The current Hamilton House is a replica of the original house, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1840.

Images of Hamilton: Hamilton Statue in Central Park

If you’ve visited Central Park, you may have come across a very handsome statue of Alexander Hamilton.  The statue is located between 82nd and 83rd streets on the East Side of the park.  The statue was donated by Hamilton’s son, John C. Hamilton to the park in 1880.  The Hamilton statue was sculpted by Carl H. Conrads, an American sculptor best known for his work commemorating the Civil War.  Conrads served in the Union Army during the Civil War and designed statues that you can find in West Point and San Francisco.


The 1880 statue actually replaces an earlier Hamilton statue that was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1835 and had stood on the floor of the original New York Stock Exchange building.  According to Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City:

“A valiant attempt was made to rescue a 15-foot statue of Alexander Hamilton from the floor of the exchange, but just as the statute reached the doorway, the roof collapsed, destroying it.  The statue, by Robert Ball Hughes, was the first marble statue created in the United States and had been installed only eight months earlier.  Though it took 45 years, the statue was ultimately replaced by Hamilton’s youngest son, John C. Hamilton, and it stands in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This statue in the park is remarkable in that it is made entirely of granite– not the easiest stone to carve–and it has long been thought that John C. Hamilton commissioned the work out of this durable stone so that no matter what calamities might befall Central Park his father’s statute would endure.”

The original statue is pictured here, in an image from the New York Public Library.

On November 22, 1880 Chauncey Mitchell Depew made a public address to commemorate the unveiling of the statue at Central Park.  Some excerpts are below:

“Precocious intellects in all ages of the world have flashed with meteoric splendor; and for a brief space amazed mankind; but he only whose full equipped mind knew no youth and never failed in the full maturity of its powers was Alexander Hamilton. ”


“…Hamilton, at eighteen, was hailed by the whole country as the peer of the Adamses and of Jay.  But when the multitude, smarting under wrongs and fired by the eloquence of their champion, sought riotous vengeance upon their enemies, he stayed the angry mob while the President of his College escaped, and offered to lead in defence of property and the majesty of the law.  Popular passion never swayed his judgment; personal ambition, or the applause of the hour, never moved or deterred him.”

“Hamilton forged the links and welded the chain which binds the Union.  He saw the dangers of Secession, and pointed out the remedy against it in the implied powers of the Constitution.”

“Upon the boundless sea of experiment without chart of compass, he invented both.  He smote the sources of revenue with such skill and power, that from the barren rocks flowed the streams which filled the Treasury and the Sinking Fund, and the exhausted land was fertilized by its own productiveness.  Out of chaos he developed perfected schemes which have stood every strain and met every emergency in our national life.”

For the full text of Depew’s remarks, see here.

Hamilton’s Lighthouses

As Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton worked diligently to create a network of federally funded lighthouses throughout the country.  Hamilton was the first head of the Lighthouse Services.

According to the National Park Service, “on August 7, 1789, President George Washington signed the ninth act of the United States Congress which provided that the states turn over their lighthouses, including those under construction and those proposed, to the central government. In creating the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment, aids to navigation became the responsibility of the Secretary of the Treasury.”

Once the law was passed, Hamilton began the task of placing each existing lighthouse under federal control.  Hamilton also saw the Lighthouse Services as something properly in the domain of his Treasury Department.  He “urged Congress to dispense with dues levied on passing ships, believing the move would encourage commerce and that the Treasury Department could handle the financial responsibility of navigational aids entirely on its own.”

Cape Henry in Virginia was the first new lighthouse built from federal government funds through Hamilton’s program.  In March 1791, the Government signed a contract with John McComb to build and equip a lighthouse for $17,500.  Once the structure was completed, Hamilton and Washington personally handled many of the minute details of selecting light keepers and funding repairs.   Ron Chernow characterizes the process of building lighthouses as “an administrative routine that stifled the two men with maddening minutiae.”  The first lighthouse keeper selected by Washington, William Lewis, was a former soldier in Washington’s army and was hired in October 1792.

The lighthouse below, at Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, was built on a spot that Hamilton passed as a 17-year old on his first journey from the West Indies to New York.  Reportedly, the ship carrying Hamilton, the Thunderbolt, caught fire and nearly sank a few miles away from the cape.  In 1794, Hamilton, who dubbed Diamond Shoals, the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” recommended establishing a lighthouse on the Hatteras Sand Banks to Congress.  On July 10, 1797, Congress authorized $44,000 for constructing a lighthouse at Cape Hatteras.

During the early years of the American Republic, Hamilton’s work with the Coast Guard and the Lighthouse Services both facilitated commerce and strengthened the power of the federal government.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse