Duelversary: Hamilton after the Duel

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.”

The Last Will and Testament of Alexander Hamilton

On July 9, 1804, a few days before his fateful duel with Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton signed his last will of testament.

In the Name of God Amen! I Alexander Hamilton of the City of New York Counsellor at Law do make this my last Will and Testament as follows. First I appoint John B Church Nicholas Fish and Nathaniel Pendleton of the City aforesaid Esquires to be Executors and Trustees of this my Will and I devise to them their heirs and Assigns, as joint Tenants and not as Tenants in common, All my Estate real and personal whatsoever and wheresoever upon Trust at their discretion to sell and dispose of the same, at such time and times in such manner and upon such terms as they the Survivors and Survivor shall think fit and out of the proceeds to pay all the Debts which I shall owe at the time of my decease, in whole, if the fund shall be sufficient, proportionally, if it shall be insufficient, and the residue, if any there shall be to pay and deliver to my excellent and dear Wife Elizabeth Hamilton.

Hamilton had a long history with each of the individuals he chose as his executors: John Church, Nathaniel Pendleton, and Nicholas Fish.  John Church was the husband of Angelica Schuyler and Hamilton’s brother-in-law.   Nicholas Fish had been Hamilton’s friend since they were teenagers involved in the early part of the Revolution.  Fish even named his son after Hamilton (Hamilton Fish would go on to become Governor of New York and Secretary of State under President Grant).  Virginian Nathaniel Pendleton was a close friend and colleague of Hamilton’s at the New York Bar.  In the 1790s, Pendleton had been named a potential candidate for the position of Secretary of State, but Hamilton feared that he had “been somewhat tainted by the prejudices of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison.”  When Hamilton and Pendleton were both practicing in New York, they became close friends.  Pendleton also served as Hamilton’s second in his duel with Burr, and he helped Hamilton put his affairs in order before the duel.

The second part of Hamilton’s will expressed his concern for the financial situation of his family.  Hamilton was aware that because he had focused his career in the public service, he would not be leaving his wife and children in the best financial footing.

Though if it shall please God to spare my life I may look for a considerable surplus out of my present property—Yet if he should speedily call me to the eternal wor[l]d, a forced sale as is usual may possibly render it insufficient to satisfy my Debts. I pray God that something may remain for the maintenance and education of my dear Wife and Children. But should it on the contrary happen that there is not enough for the payment of my Debts, I entreat my Dear Children, if they or any of them shall ever be able, to make up the Deficiency. I without hesitation commit to their delicacy a wish which is dictated by my own. Though conscious that I have too far sacrificed the interests of my family to public avocations & on this account have the less claim to burthen my Children, yet I trust in their magnanimity to appreciate as they ought this my request. In so unfavourable an event of things, the support of their dear Mother with the most respectful and tender attention is a duty all the sacredness of which they will feel. Probably her own patrimonial resources will preserve her from Indigence. But in all situations they are charged to bear in mind that she has been to them the most devoted and best of mothers. In Testimony whereof I have hereunto subscribed my hand the Ninth day of July in the year of our lord One thousand Eight hundred & four.

Hamilton’s will was part of a series of documents that Hamilton delivered to Nathaniel Pendleton prior to the duel and opened after Hamilton’s death.  In a letter dated July 4, 1804, the same day that Hamilton and Burr sat at the same table for dinner with other former Continental Army officers at Fraunces Tavern, Hamilton thanked Pendleton for helping him finalize his affair before the duel.

I thank you My Dear Sir for your friendly offices in this last critical scene, if such it shall be. Excuse me for having inserted your name as Executor. I fear it may not be in your favor to do much good to my family. But I am sure you will do all the good you can.

The Death of Philip Hamilton

I’ve posted earlier about the November 1801 death of Philip Hamilton in  a duel with George I. Eacker.  Philip’s dramatic death triggered a flurry of highly politicized press coverage.  Federalist newspapers painted Philip as a boyish victim of a seasoned lawyer who was unable to look past a youthful teasing.  In contrast, Republican newspapers claimed that Philip and Price were aggressors and had viciously attacked Eacker and cornered him into a duel, leaving him no choice but to protect his honor.  A detailed account with more complete excerpts of this back-and-forth between rival newspapers was published in 1867 by Historical Magazine and is available via Google ebooks.


The New York Evening Post’s November 24, 1801 death notice stated:

“This morning, in the 20th year of his age, Philip Hamilton, eldest son of General Hamilton– murdered in a duel–”

“On Friday evening last, young Hamilton and young Price, sitting in the same box with Mr. George I Eacker, began in levity a conversation respecting an oration delivered by the latter in July, and made use of some expressions respecting it, which were overheard by Eacker, who asked Hamilton to step into the lobby; Price followed—here the expression damned rascals was used by Eacker to one of them, and a little scuffle ensued; but they soon adjourned to a public house: an explanation was then demanded, which one of them the official expression was meant for; after a little hesitation, it was declared to be meant for each…”

The Post characterized Philip Hamilton as

“…a young man of most amiable disposition and cultivated mind; much esteemed and affectionately beloved by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance.”

On November 25, 1801, The New-York Gazette and General Advertiser published a similar account of the proceedings leading up to the duel:

“On the morning of the 14th instant, Mr. Philip Hamilton, eldest son of General Hamilton, in the 20th year of his age, of a wound received in a duel with Capt. George I. Eacker.  Few events have so much interested the public, whether they consider the youth and promising talents of the deceased, the feelings of most affectionate parents, or the false honor to which his life was sacrificed.

The duel was occasioned by some frolicksome and satirical expressions made by Mr. Hamilton and a young Mr. Price, at a Theatre, on the Friday preceding, about an oration of Mr. Eacker’s and in his hearing.  This conduct Mr. Eacker resented in a very intemperate manner, collared Mr. Hamilton, called them damned rascals and villains, and said if he did not hear from them, he would treat them as such.  Challenges were consequently sent to him by both.

Mr. Eacker and Mr. Price met on the Sunday following, and after exchanging four shots without injury to either, the seconds interfered.  On Monday, the fatal duel between Mr. Eacker and Mr. Hamilton took place.  Young Hamilton was shot through the body, on the first discharge, and fell without firing.  He languished until the next morning, and then expired.”

In response to the accounts in the New York Evening post and the New-York Gazette, the Republican American Citizen and General Advertiser, , expressed outrage at the characterization of Philip’s death as “murder” and portrayed Philip and Richard Price as being responsible for the duel.  Some excerpts of this press coverage are included below, and more is available here:

“Immediately preceding the pantomime, the box being full, Messrs. Hamilton and Price, leaving the opposite side of the house, again intruded into the box occupied by Mr. Eacker and his party.  At the moment of their entrance, they commenced a loud conversation, replete with the most sarcastic remarks upon Mr. Eacker.  Their manner was more offensive, if possible than their conversation.  Mr. Eacker himself, thus pointedly the object of contempt and ridicule, and his name being mentioned aloud, could no longer sustain the painful sensation resulting from his situation.”


“Mr. Price and the unfortunate Mr. Hamilton, were, we assure the public, the aggressors.  They violently assaulted Mr. Eacker, whose conduct through every stage of the unfortunate affair, was perfectly honorable and exempt from blame.  They commenced the assault upon and challenged Mr. Eacker.

Interestingly, the American Citizen’s coverage does not mention Eacker’s 4th of July oration, although the newspaper had published excerpts of in its July 24, 1801 edition.  Although Hamilton’s name does not appear in the excerpts of Eacker’s speech I have read (I have only read newspaper excerpts and have not seen the entire published speech), Eacker’s criticisms of the Federalist party directly attack Hamilton’s policies.  In the excerpt below, Eacker describes how the Federalists have undermined the principles of the revolution, and how the Washington and Adams administrations damaged these principles.

“We have already seen the sacred principles of our revolution openly assaulted, and its venerable advocates reviled and exposed to public contempt.  The endeavours to undermine the popular attachment to a free government are notorious.  We have seen foreign influence attempting to make us subservient to its projects of hostility and ambition!

“An alliance, offensive and defensive, with the enemy of our greatness, was openly advocated; and the poisonous works of corruption nearly involved our destiny in total ruin!”

In Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, Fawn McCay Brodie wrote:

“Philip had gone out of his way to invite a duel, had gone into the duel with no intention of firing, thus inviting a duel or death, all this to defend the honor of his father, a father who had by humiliating confession recently brought agonies to his family and made himself the butt of national ridicule.  Philip could have chosen no way to die that would have brought his parents greater agony and guilt.”

Eacker died within three years of the duel, immediately before Alexander Hamilton’s death in 1804.  Notably, Eacker and Philip Hamilton (and Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton) are fairly close neighbors in death.  In Walks in Our Churchyards: Old New York, Trinity Parish, John Flavel Mines wrote of Eacker’s death: “Young Eacker died of consumption before three years had passed…and is buried in St. Paul’s Churchyard on the Vesey Street Side.”  Philip Hamilton is buried across the street, at an unknown spot in Trinity Church.  According to Allan Pollock’s 1880 History of Trinity Church and Its Grave Yard, Philip was “interred in this same plot of ground, about ten years before the death of his father.”

Image of Eacker’s Gravestone from http://registers.trinitywallstreet.org/files/history/churchyard/stpaul/history.php?id=70#here


Hamil-Tunes: Hamilton and Burr’s Pre-Duel Dinner

The week before their fateful/fatal interview in Weehawken, Hamilton and Burr both attended a 4th of July dinner meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati at Fraunces Tavern.  The Society was a group of Revolutionary War officers and Hamilton was president general, succeeding George Washington after his death.  During the dinner, Burr and Hamilton reportedly sat at the very same table!  While Burr seemed silent and serious, Hamilton was in seemingly high spirits and accepted a request to entertain his fellow former officers with a military song.

John Trumbull (who painted some of my favorite portraits of Hamilton and was also a member of the Society) wrote in his memoirs:

“On the 4th of July, I dined with the Society of the Cincinnati, my old military comrades, and then met, among others Gen. Hamilton and Col. Burr.  The singularity of their manner was observed by all, but few had any suspicion of the cause. Burr, contrary to his wont, was silent, gloomy, sour ; while Hamilton entered with glee into all the gaiety of a convivial party, and even sang an old military song.  A few days only passed, when the wonder was solved by that unhappy event which deprived the United States of two of their most distinguished citizens.”

Historians have disputed what song Hamilton actually sang, with some suggesting he sang “The Drum,” and others “How Stands the Glass Around.”

Ron Chernow writes:

“At first, Hamilton could not be induced to sign, then submitted.  ‘Well, you shall have it,’ he said, doubltess to cheers from the veterans.  Some have said his valedictory song was a haunting old military ballad called ‘How Stands the Glass Around,’ a song reputedly sung by General Wolfe on the eve of his battlefield death outside Quebec in 1759.  Others said that it was a soldiers’ drinking song called ‘The Drum.’  Both tunes expressed a common sentiment: a soldier’s proud resignation in the face of war and death.”

In his lecture on Hamilton’s military career, James Edward Graybill published a letter from Hamilton’s grandson Schuyler Hamilton regarding the song Hamilton sang prior to the duel which stated:

“I have always been of the opinion, from what I have heard from my father and uncles, that the song sung by my grandfather at the dinner of the Cincinnati where Colonel Burr was present, was General Wolff’s famous camp song, which begins with the words ‘How stands the glass around?'”

The first two stanzas of How Stands the Glass Around are reprinted below and express the brotherhood and solidarity of soldiers facing the threat of imminent danger and possible death.  Listen to a rendition of the song in the embedded video from YouTube!

How stands the glass around?
For shame you take no care, my boys,
How stands the glass around?
Let wine and mirth abound;
The trumpet sound,
The colors they do fly my boys;
To fight, kill or wound;
As you would be found,
Contented with hard fare, my boys
On the cold ground
O why, soldiers why?
O why should we be melancholy boys,
O why soldiers why?
Whose bus’ness is to die;
What? sighing? Fye!
Drink on, drown fear, be jolly boys;
‘Tis he, you or I, wet, hot, cold or dry;
We’re always bound to follow boys,
And scorn to fly.

Eliphalet Nott’s “On the Death of Hamilton” and the Condemnation of Dueling

Eliphalet Nott, a notable clergyman in Albany, used the occasion of Hamilton’s death in 1804 to deliver a widely-publicized condemnation of the practice of dueling.  Nott’s sermon was “one of several sermons delivered by prominent preachers at that time, and having for their immediate purpose the breaking up of the custom of dueling.”  William Jennings Bryan also included the sermon in his collection of The World’s Famous Orations, published in 1906, over 100 years after the duel., and it was considered an example of the principles of elocution.

Nott began his sermon with a passionate description of the many facets of Hamilton’s career and personal life that made him worthy of national acclaim.

Would to God my talents were adequate to the occasion. But such as they are, I devoutly proffer them to unfold the nature and counteract the influence of that barbarous custom which, like a resistless torrent, is undermining the foundations of civil government, breaking down the barriers of social happiness, and sweeping away virtue, talents, and domestic felicity in its desolating course. Another and an illustrious character—a father—a general—a statesman—the very man who stood on an eminence and without a rival among sages and heroes, the future hope of his country in danger—this man, yielding to the influence of a custom which deserves our eternal reprobation, has been brought to an untimely end.

The Hero, called from his sequestered retreat, whose first appearance in the field, tho a stripling, conciliated the esteem of Washington, our good old father. Moving by whose side, during all the perils of the Revolution, our young chieftain was a contributor to the veteran’s glory, the guardian of his person, and the copartner of his toils.

The Conqueror, who, sparing of human blood when victory favored, stayed the uplifted arm and nobly said to the vanquished enemy, “Live!”

The Statesman, the correctness of whose principles and the strength of whose mind are inscribed on the records of Congress and on the annals of the council chamber; whose genius impressed itself upon the Constitution of his country; and whose memory the government—illustrious fabric, resting on this basis—will perpetuate while it lasts; and shaken by the violence of party should it fall, which may Heaven avert, his prophetic declarations will be found inscribed on its ruins.

The Counselor, who was at once the pride of the bar and the admiration of the court; whose apprehensions were quick as lightning, and whose development of truth was luminous as its path; whose argument no change of circumstances could embarrass; whose knowledge appeared intuitive; and who, by a single glance, and with as much facility as the eye of the eagle passes over the landscape, surveyed the whole field of controversy; saw in what way truth might be most successfully defended and how error must be approached; and who, without ever stopping, ever hesitating, by a rapid and manly march, led the listening judge and the fascinated juror, step by step, through a delightsome region, brightening as he advanced, till his argument rose to demonstration, and eloquence was rendered useless by conviction; whose talents were employed on the side of righteousness; whose voice, whether in the council chamber, or at the bar of justice, was virtue’s consolation; at whose approach oppressed humanity felt a secret rapture, and the heart of injured innocence leaped for joy.

Where Hamilton was, in whatever sphere he moved, the friendless had a friend, the fatherless a father, and the poor man, tho unable to reward his kindness, found an advocate. It was when the rich oppressed the poor; when the powerful menaced the defenseless; when truth was disregarded or the eternal principles of justice violated—it was on these occasions that he exerted all his strength; it was on these occasions that he sometimes soared so high and shone with a radiance so transcendent, I had almost said, so “heavenly, as filled those around him with awe and gave to him the force and authority of a prophet.”

The Patriot, whose integrity baffled the scrutiny of inquisition; whose manly virtue never shaped itself to circumstances; who, always great, always himself, stood amid the varying tides of party, firm, like the rock which, far from land, lifts its majestic top above the waves and remains unshaken by the storms which agitate the ocean.

The Friend, who knew no guile; whose bosom was transparent and deep; in the bottom of whose heart was rooted every tender and sympathetic virtue; whose various worth opposing parties acknowledged while alive, and on whose tomb they unite, with equal sympathy and grief, to heap their honors.

He then went on to criticize societal institutions for permitting the custom of dueling to continue and used the tragedy of Hamilton’s death to spur his audience to take action to condemn dueling.

But I have said, and I repeat it, there are those whom I can not forgive. I can not forgive that minister at the altar who has hitherto forborne to remonstrate an this subject. I can not forgive that public prosecutor who, entrusted with the duty of avenging his country’s wrongs, has seen those wrongs, and taken no measures to avenge them. I can not forgive that judge upon the bench, or that governor in the chair of state, who has lightly passed over such offenses. I can not forgive the public, in whose opinion the duelist finds a sanctuary. I can not forgive you, my brethren, who till this late hour have been silent while successive murders were committed.

No; I cannot forgive you that you have not in common with the freemen of this State, raised your voice to the powers that be and loudly and explicitly demanded an execution of your laws; demanded this in a manner which, if it did not reach the ear of government, would at least have reached the heavens and pleaded your excuse before the God that filleth them—in whose presence as I stand I should not feel myself innocent of the blood that crieth against us had I been silent. But I have not been silent. Many of you who hear me are my witnesses—the walls of yonder temple, where I have heretofore addressed you, are my witnesses, how freely I have animadverted upon this subject in the presence both of those who have violated the laws and of those whose indispensable duty it is to see the laws executed on those who violate them.

A short time since, and he who is the occasion of our sorrows was the ornament of his country. He stood on an eminence, and glory covered him. From that eminence he has fallen—suddenly, for ever fallen. His intercourse with the living world is now ended; and those who would hereafter find him must seek him in the grave. There, cold and lifeless, is the heart which just now was the seat of friendship. There, dim and sightless, is the eye whose radiant and enlivening orb beamed with intelligence; and there, closed for ever, are those lips on whose persuasive accents we have so often and so lately hung with transport! From the darkness which rests upon his tomb there proceeds, methinks, a light in which it is clearly seen that those gaudy objects which men pursue are only phantoms. In this light, how dimly shines the splendor of victory; how humble appears the majesty of grandeur! The bubble which seemed to have so much solidity has burst; and we again see that all below the sun is vanity.

Nott’s sermon was not alone.  At a Philadelphia meeting, one of the resolutions was that “the clergymen of several denominations, be requested to expatiate, on Sunday next, upon the irreligious and pernicious tendency of a custom, which has deprived our country of one of her best and most valuable citizens.”