On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr began their fatal duel in Weehawken. After Hamilton was mortally wounded, he was taken by boat back to New York City, where he passed away the following day. In a letter to William Coleman (Hamilton’s friend and the editor of the New York Post), Dr. David Hosack, Hamilton’s attending physician, described Hamilton’s moments after the duel. Dr. Hosack’s full account is available from Founders Online.
Dr. Hosack first described calling out to Hamilton and finding him after he had been shot. Dr. Hosack determined that the only chance that Hamilton had to survive would be to get onto a boat and go to New York City immediately for treatment.
When called to him, upon his receiving the fatal wound, I found him half sitting on the ground, supported in the arms of Mr. Pendleton. His countenance of death I shall never forget. He had at that instant just strength to say, “This is a mortal wound, Doctor;” when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless. I immediately stripped up his clothes, and soon, alas! ascertained that the direction of the ball must have been through some vital part.* His pulses were not to be felt; his respiration was entirely suspended; and upon laying my hand on his heart, and perceiving no motion there, I considered him as irrecoverably gone. I however observed to Mr. Pendleton, that the only chance for his reviving was immediately to get him upon the water. We therefore lifted him up, and carried him out of the wood, to the margin of the bank, where the bargemen aided us in conveying him into the boat, which immediately put off.
As the party approached the shore, Hamilton gave Dr. Hosack instructions as to how to break the news to his wife, Eliza.
Perceiving that we approached the shore, he said, “Let Mrs. Hamilton be immediately sent for—let the event be gradually broken to her; but give her hopes.” Looking up we saw his friend Mr. Bayard standing on the wharf in great agitation. He had been told by his servant that Gen. Hamilton, Mr. Pendleton, and myself, had crossed the river in a boat together, and too well he conjectured the fatal errand, and foreboded the dreadful result. Perceiving, as we came nearer, that Mr. Pendleton and myself only sat up in the stern sheets, he clasped his hands together in the most violent apprehension; but when I called to him to have a cot prepared, and he at the same moment saw his poor friend lying in the bottom of the boat, he threw up his eyes and burst into a flood of tears and lamentation. Hamilton alone appeared tranquil and composed. We then conveyed him as tenderly as possible up to the house. The distresses of this amiable family were such that till the first shock was abated, they were scarcely able to summon fortitude enough to yield sufficient assistance to their dying friend.
In his last hours, Hamilton spent time with his wife and children, and expressed his anxiety for their future and their grief.
During the night, he had some imperfect sleep; but the succeeding morning his symptoms were aggravated, attended however with a diminution of pain. His mind retained all its usual strength and composure. The great source of his anxiety seemed to be in his sympathy with his half distracted wife and children. He spoke to me frequently of them—“My beloved wife and children,” were always his expressions. But his fortitude triumphed over his situation, dreadful as it was; once, indeed, at the sight of his children brought to the bed-side together, seven in number, his utterance forsook him; he opened his eyes, gave them one look, and closed them again, till they were taken away. As a proof of his extraordinary composure of mind, let me add, that he alone could calm the frantic grief of their mother. “Remember, my Eliza, you are a Christian,” were the expressions with which he frequently, with a firm voice, but in pathetic and impressive manner, addressed her. His words, and the tone in which they were uttered, will never be effaced from my memory. At about two o’clock, as the public well knows, he expired.
Incorrupta fides—nudaque veritas
Quando ullum invenient parem?
Multis ille quidem flebilis occidit.
The powerful Latin phrase Dr. Hosack quoted in the letter is translated below:
“When will incorruptible Faith and naked Truth
Find another his equal?
He has died wept by many.”