In February 1780, Hamilton wrote a letter to Eliza’s younger sister, Margarita (nicknamed Peggy) to introduce himself. At this time, he hadn’t met Peggy, but he had heard about her from Eliza.
I venture to tell you in confidence, that by some odd contrivance or other, your sister has found out the secret of interesting me in every thing that concerns her; and though I have not the happiness of a personal acquaintance with you, I have had the good fortune to see several very pretty pictures of your person and mind which have inspired me with a more than common partiality for both.
You will no doubt admit it as a full proof of my frankness and good opinion of you, that I with so little ceremony introduce myself to your acquaintance and at the first step make you my confident.
Hamilton playfully described having “serious and henious” charges to make against Eliza because of her beauty and charm:
I have some things of a very serious and heinous nature to lay to her charge. She is most unmercifully handsome and so perverse that she has none of those pretty affectations which are the prerogatives of beauty.
Hamilton’s description is framed in the difference between Eliza and all other women in society, who Hamilton characterized as being frivolous and foolish. His backhanded compliments wouldn’t be out of place in a modern day dating website.
Her good sense is destitute of that happy mixture of vanity and ostentation which would make it conspicuous to the whole tribe of fools and foplings as well as to men of understanding so that as the matter now stands it is ⟨very⟩ little known beyond the circle of these. She has good nature affability and vivacity unembellished with that charming frivolousiness which is justly deemed one of the principal accomplishments of a belle. In short she is so strange a creature that she possesses all the beauties virtues and graces of her sex without any of those amiable defects, which from their general prevalence are esteemed by connoisseurs necessary shades in the character of a fine woman.
Hamilton joked that Eliza was breaking hearts and turning heads all over Morristown.
I should never have done, were I to attempt to give you a catalogue of the whole, of all the hearts she has vanquished, of all the heads she has turned, of all the philosophers she has unmade, or of all the inconstants she has fixed to the great prejudice of the general service of the female world.
He told Peggy that Eliza’s influence was so strong, that to preserve the safety of the state and the army she needed to be removed from the neighborhood:
It is essential to the safety of the state and to the tranquillity of the army that one of two things take place; either that she be immediately removed from our neighbourhood, or that some other nymph qualified to maintain an equal sway come into it. By dividing her empire it will be weakened and she will be much less dangerous when she has a rival equal in charms to dispute the prize with her.
On March 14, 1801, Margarita (Peggy) Schuyler Van Rensselaer died at her husband’s mansion in Albany after prolonged suffering from an unknown illness. She was laid to rest in a private family vault on the grounds of the Van Rensselaer Manor House. I’ve written previously about the romance between Peggy and her husband Stephen, who had eloped against her father’s wishes when Peggy was 25 and Stephen was 19.
Hamilton was in the Albany area attending court, and kept an eye on Peggy and reported back to his wife Eliza:
“Your Sister Peggy had a better night last night than for three weeks past and is much easier this morning. Yet her situation is such as only to authorise a glimmering of hope. Adieu my beloved. A thousand tender wishes for you.”
On March 10, 1801, Hamilton’s legal business in Albany was complete, but he wrote to Eliza that Peggy and his father and mother-in-law had asked him to stay in town during her illness:
The Senate has refused on account of the interference with other business to hear any more causes this session; so that were it not for the situation of your Sister Peggy, her request that I would stay a few days longer and the like request of your father and mother, I could now return to you. But how can I resist these motives for continuing a while longer?
Things must change this week but at all events I set out for New York the beginning of the next. I cannot resolve to be longer kept from you and my dear Children.
There has been little alteration either way in Peggys situation for these past four days.
On March 16, 1801, Alexander Hamilton wrote to Eliza, conveying the news that Peggy had passed away and reassuring her that Peggy had been “sensible” and “resigned” as she faced her death.
On Saturday, My Dear Eliza, your sister took leave of her sufferings and friends, I trust, to find repose and happiness in a better country.
Viewing all that she had endured for so long a time, I could not but feel a relief in the termination of the scene. She was sensible to the last and resigned to the important change.
Your father and mother are now calm. All is as well as it can be; except the dreadful ceremonies which custom seems to have imposed as indispensable in this pla⟨ce⟩, and which at every instant open anew the closing wounds of bleeding hearts. Tomorrow the funeral takes place. The day after I hope to set sail for N York.
I long to come to console and comfort you my darling Betsey. Adieu my sweet angel. Remember the duty of Christian Resignation. Ever Yrs
In 1848, the old vault which had housed Peggy’s remains was demolished, and her remains were removed to an underground vault in Lot 1, Section 14 at the Albany Rural Cemetery. Above the vault is a large white marble monument. The east face of the monument bears the inscription “Margaret Schuyler Wife of Stephen Van Rensselaer Died March 14th, 1801.”
Peggy was survived by her husband and her son, Stephen Van Rensselaer IV. Her husband remarried in 1802, a year after her death, to Cornelia Paterson.
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!
In a January 21, 1781 letter to his sister-in-law Margarita (Peggy) Schuyler, Hamilton lay out his philosophy on marriage and selecting the right partner. Hamilton noted that his wife, Eliza:
“….fancies herself the happiest woman in the world, and would need persuade all her friends to embark with her in the matrimonial voyage. But I pray you do not let her advice have so much influence as to make you matrimony-mad.”
He noted that despite Eliza’s happiness with their early married life, it was important for Peggy to be cautious before making such a commitment.
However, when marriages were made between two incompatible people, Hamilton expressed the skeptical view that:
“…its a dog of life when two dissonant tempers meet, and ’tis ten to one but this is the case.”
Therefore, Hamilton urged Peggy to be “cautious in the choice” and recommended that she:
“Get a man of sense, not ugly enough to be pointed at—with some good-nature—a few grains of feeling—a little taste—a little imagination—and above all a good deal of decision to keep you in order; for that I foresee will be no easy task. If you can find one with all these qualities, willing to marry you, marry him as soon as you please.”
Two years later, Peggy eloped with young Stephen van Rensselaer III. The marriage raised some eyebrows because Peggy was 25 and van Rensselar was only 19. The couple had three children, but only one, Stephen van Rensselaer IV, survived to adulthood. Peggy died at age 42 in 1801.
Below is a continuation of my previous post about Hamilton Broadway lines in the context of the primary sources that inspired them.
“Laurens, I like you a lot.” (Hamilton, “My Shot”)
Cold in my professions, warm in ⟨my⟩ friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it m⟨ight⟩ be in my power, by action rather than words, ⟨to⟩ convince you that I love you. I shall only tell you that ’till you bade us Adieu, I hardly knew the value you had taught my heart to set upon you. Indeed, my friend, it was not well done. You know the opinion I entertain of mankind, and how much it is my desire to preserve myself free from particular attachments, and to keep my happiness independent on the caprice of others. You sh⟨ould⟩ not have taken advantage of my sensibility to ste⟨al⟩ into my affections without my consent. But as you have done it and as we are generally indulgent to those we love, I shall not scruple to pardon the fraud you have committed, on condition that for my sake, if not for your own, you will always continue to merit the partiality, which you have so artfully instilled into ⟨me⟩. – Hamilton writing to John Laurens in April 1779.
“Will you relish being a poor man’s wife? Unable to provide for your life?” (Hamilton to Eliza, “That Would Be Enough”)
“But now we are talking of times to come, tell me my pretty damsel have you made up your mind upon the subject of housekeeping? Do you soberly relish the pleasure of being a poor mans wife? Have you learned to think a home spun preferable to a brocade and the rumbling of a waggon wheel to the musical rattling of a coach and six? Will you be able to see with perfect composure your old acquaintances flaunting it in gay life, tripping it along in elegance and splendor, while you hold an humble station and have no other enjoyments than the sober comforts of a good wife? Can you in short be an Aquileia and chearfully plant turnips with me, if fortune should so order it? If you cannot my Dear we are playing a comedy of all in the wrong, and you should correct the mistake before we begin to act the tragedy of the unhappy couple.” – Hamilton writing to Elizabeth Schuyler in August 1780.
“Hamilton’s a host unto himself. As long as he can hold a pen, he’s a threat.” (Jefferson to Madison, “Adams Administration”)
“Hamilton is really a colossus to the anti-Republican party. Without numbers, he is a host within himself.” – Jefferson writing to Madison on September 21, 1795.
“Jefferson has beliefs. Burr has none.” (Hamilton, “Election of 1800”)
“There is no doubt but that upon every virtuous and prudent calculation Jefferson is to be preferred. He is by far not so dangerous a man and he has pretensions to character.
As to Burr there is nothing in his favour. His private character is not defended by his most partial friends. He is bankrupt beyond redemption except by the plunder of his country.” – Hamilton writing to Oliver Wolcott, Jr. on December 16, 1800. For more of Hamilton’s thoughts on Jefferson v. Burr, see my post here.
By March of 1780, Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler were engaged. The wedding date was set for December of that year, and as Hamilton continued his duties as General Washington’s aide-de-campe, he wrote her several letters expressing his sentiments. Although most of Elizabeth’s friends affectionately called her Eliza, Hamilton referred to her as his Betsey. The letters excerpted below are from the period July 1780 to October 1781, and are all available via the National Archives’ Founders Online.
I love you more and more every hour. The sweet softness and delicacy of your mind and manners, the elevation of your sentiments, the real goodness of your heart, its tenderness to me, the beauties of your face and person, your unpretending good sense and that innocent simplicity and frankness which pervade your actions; all these appear to me with increasing amiableness and place you in my estimation above all the rest of your sex.
July 31, 1780– Because Eliza’s letters have never been found, we don’t know what the back and forth exchange was between the two, but it appears that Hamilton was reassuring Eliza about his feelings for her.
Since my last I have received three letters from you,the sweetest ever dictated by a fond heart. Banish your uneasiness my love; I discard for ever, every idea injurious to your tenderness which every thing convinces me is without an equal but in mine. I have no time to indulge my heart by dwelling on those assurances which it delights to be ever giving you of its admiration, of its esteem of its love. My life shall be a continued proof of the unbounded affection of your
In August of 1780, a few months before they were to be married, Hamilton playfully questioned whether Eliza would be able to handle the challenges of her new uncertain financial situation after the two were married. He asks her to think seriously about whether she can adjust to a lifestyle of financial uncertainty and be satisfied with it even when she sees her friends and acquaintances living far grander lifestyles:
But now we are talking of times to come, tell me my pretty damsel have you made up your mind upon the subject of housekeeping? Do you soberly relish the pleasure of being a poor mans wife? Have you learned to think a home spun preferable to a brocade and the rumbling of a waggon wheel to the musical rattling of a coach and six? Will you be able to see with perfect composure your old acquaintances flaunting it in gay life, tripping it along in elegance and splendor, while you hold an humble station and have no other enjoyments than the sober comforts of a good wife? Can you in short be an Aquileia and chearfully plant turnips with me, if fortune should so order it? If you cannot my Dear we are playing a comedy of all in the wrong, and you should correct the mistake before we begin to act the tragedy of the unhappy couple.
I propose you a set of new questions my lovely girl; but though they are asked with an air of levity, they merit a very serious consideration, for on their being resolved in the affirmative stripped of all the colorings of a fond imagination our happiness may absolutely depend. I have not concealed my circumstances from my Betsey; they are far from splendid; they may possibly even be worse than I expect, for every day brings me fresh proof of the knavery of those to whom my little affairs are entrusted. They have already filed down what was in their hands more than one half, and I am told they go on diminishing it, ’till I fear they will reduce it below my former fears. An indifference to property enters into my character too much, and what affects me now as my Betsey is concerned in it, I should have laughed at or not thought of at all a year ago. But I have thoroughly examined my own heart. Beloved by you, I can be happy in any situation, and can struggle with every embarrassment of fortune with patience and firmness. I cannot however forbear entreating you to realize our union on the dark side and satisfy, without deceiving yourself, how far your affection for me can make you happy in a privation of those elegancies to which you have been accustomed. If fortune should smile upon us, it will do us no harm to have been prepared for adversity; if she frowns upon us, by being prepared, we shall encounter it without the chagrin of disappointment. Your future rank in life is a perfect lottery; you may move in an exalted you may move in a very humble sphere; the last is most probable; examine well your heart. And in doing it, dont figure to yourself a cottage in romance, with the spontaneous bounties of nature courting you to enjoyment. Dont imagine yourself a shepherdess, your hair embroidered with flowers a crook in your hand tending your flock under a shady tree, by the side of a cool fountain, your faithful shepherd sitting near and entertaining you with gentle tales of love. These are pretty dreams and very apt to enter into the heads of lovers when they think of a connection without the advantages of fortune. But they must not be indulged. You must apply your situation to real life, and think how you should feel in scenes of which you may find examples every day. So far My Dear Betsey as the tenderest affection can compensate for other inconveniences in making your estimate, you cannot give too large a credit for this article. My heart overflows with every thing for you, that admiration, esteem and love can inspire. I would this moment give the world to be near you only to kiss your sweet hand. Believe what I say to be truth and imagine what are my feelings when I say it. Let it awake your sympathy and let our hearts melt in a prayer to be soon united, never more to be separated.
On December 14, 1780, Alexander and Eliza were married at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany. Shortly afterwards, Hamilton returned to his post and wrote letters about the pain of being separated from his new wife.
I impatiently long to hear from you the state of your mind since our painful separation. Be as happy as you can, I entreat you, my amiable, my beloved wife. But let not absence deprive me of the least particle of your affection. Always remember those tender proofs I have so frequently given you of mine and preserve for me unabated the only blessing which can make life of any value to me.
Constantly uppermost in my thoughts and affections, I am happy only when my moments are devoted to some office that respects you. I would give the world to be able to tell you all I feel and all I wish, but consult your own heart and you will know mine. What a world will soon be between us!
October 12, 1781– Hamilton chastised Eliza for not writing him enough letters, but then expressed how his annoyance melted away when he thought of the impending birth of his child.
You complain of me my love, for not writing to you more frequently, but have I not greater reason to complain of you? Since I left Kings ferry, I have received three letters from you, that is three in seven weeks. You have no occupations to prevent your writing; I am constantly employed. Yet I am sure I have written to you during that period more than twenty letters. Don’t imagine that this neglect will go unpunished. I hope to see you in three or four weeks from this time, and you may then expect to be called to a severe account. I know you rely upon your power over me. You expect that your usual blandishments will have the usual charm. You think you have only to smile and caress and you will disarm my resentment; but you are mistaken. The crime is of too serious nature to be forgiven; except with one atonement which I am sure it will not be easy for you to make. This is to love me better than ever. If upon deliberate examination you should find this impossible, I may compound for one substitute. You shall engage shortly to present me with a boy. You will ask me if a girl will not answer the purpose. By no means. I fear, with all the mothers charms, she may inherit the caprices of her father and then she will enslave, tantalize and plague one half ⟨the⟩ sex, out of pure regard to which I protest against a daughter. So far from extenuating your offence this would be an aggravation of it.The idea of a smiling infant in my Betseys arms calls up all the father in it. In imagination I embrace the mother and embrace the child a thousand times. I can scarce refrain from shedding tears of joy. But I must not indulge these sensations; they are unfit for the boisterous scenes of war and whenever they intrude themselves make me but half a soldier.
In his script for Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda merges the American Founding with the tenor of modern America, such that history is both relived and reimagined. The characters in Hamilton recite excerpts from historical documents such as Washington’s Farewell Address and Hamilton’s History of the United States for the Year 1796, In Which the Charge of Speculation against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, is Fully Refuted (aka The Reynolds Pamphlet). Miranda also weaves in fragments of real quotes from Hamilton and his contemporaries, effortlessly fitting them into the fabric of the whole production.
Below are a few lines that jumped out at me along with excerpts of the historic primary source documents that contain either the exact phrase or are very similar. (Note that this short list is by no means exhaustive and is entirely based on my memory from seeing the show in previews- if you think of others, add them into the comments section!)
“I wish there was a war.” (Hamilton to Burr)
“…my ambition is vigilant, so I continue the groveling condition of a clerk, or the like to which my fortune condemns me, and would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station. … I shall conclude by saying I wish there was a war.” – Letter from Hamilton to his friend Edward “Ned” Stevens dated November 11, 1769 (reprinted in Reminisces of James A. Hamilton, available here through Google Books).
At the time of this letter, Hamilton was still in St. Croix working as a clerk. Hamilton realized that in order to rise up and advance his station in life, something dramatic would need to happen and he expressed his willingness to take any risks that would not endanger his honor.
“I’m just saying, If you really loved me, you would share him!” (Angelica to Eliza)
“…by my Amiable you know that I mean your Husband, for I love him very much and if you were as generous as the old Romans, you would lend him to me for a little while, but do not be jealous, my dear Eliza, since I am more solicitous to promote his laudable ambition, than any person in the world…” – Letter from Angelica Church to Elizabeth Hamilton, July 30, 1794 (Reprinted in the Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton by Allan Mclane Hamilton, available on Google Books)
“Best of wives and best of women.” (Hamilton to Eliza before the duel)
“Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world.
Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.
Ever yours. AH” – Letter from Alexander Hamilton to Eliza Hamilton written July 4, 1804
Hamilton gave this letter to Nathaniel Pendleton, his second in the duel, as part of his efforts to put his affairs in order prior to his interview with Aaron Burr at Weehawken on July 11, 1804. (Reprinted in the Papers of Alexander Hamilton, available here via Google Books). Interestingly, Hamilton and Burr had dinner together with a group of fellow former Revolutionary War officers just days before the duel.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are some of my favorite snippets of Hamilton’s writing to/about his wife Elizabeth. Of course, Hamilton wasn’t always the perfect husband- he was away from his family often at the peak of his political career, and he had a much-publicized affair with Maria Reynolds, but :
“I love you more and more every hour. The sweet softness and delicacy of your mind and manners, the elevation of your sentiments, the real goodness of your heart- it’s tenderness to me- the beauties of your face and person- your unpretending good sense and that innocent symplicity and frankness which pervade your actions, all these appear to me with increasing amiableness, and place you in my estimation above all the rest of your sex.”
“I have told you, and I told you truly that I love you too much. You engross my thoughts too intirely to allow me to think of any thing else. You not only employ my mind all day; but you intrude upon my sleep. I meet you in every dream—and when I wake I cannot close my eyes again for ruminating on your sweetnesses. ‘Tis a pretty story indeed that I am to be thus monopolized, by a little nut-brown maid like you—and from a statesman and a soldier metamorphosed into a puny lover. I believe in my soul you are an inchantress; but I have tried in vain, if not to break, at least, to weaken the charms—you maintain your empire in spite of all my efforts—and after every new one, I make to withdraw myself from my allegiance my partial heart still returns and clings to you with increased attachment.
Among other causes of uneasiness, I dread lest you should imagine, I yield too easily to the barrs, that keep us asunder; but if you have such an idea you ought to banish it and reproach yourself with injustice. A spirit entering into bliss, heaven opening upon all its faculties, cannot long more ardently for the enjoyment, than I do my darling Betsey, to taste the heaven that awaits me in your bosom. Is my language too strong? it is a feeble picture of my feeling:?no words can tell you how much I love and how much I long—you will only know it when wrapt in each others arms we give and take those delicious caresses which love inspires and marriage sanctifies….”
Excerpts from a November 1798 letter:
Indeed, my Betsey, you need never fear a want of anxious attention to you, for you are now dearer than ever to me. Your happiness is the first and sweetest object of my wishes and cares. How can it be otherwise? You are all that is charming in my estimation and the more I see of your sex the more I become convinced of the judiciousness of my choice.