Hamil-Fam: William Stephen Hamilton’s California Connection

The Melendrez family from West Covina – Erin, 8, with her parents Carmen and Martin – look at the grave of William Stephen Hamilton at the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery on Tuesday. Hamilton is the son of America’s first treasury secretary, the subject of the hit musical “Hamilton.”
Picture from the Sacramento Bee

Hamilton’s youngest son, William Stephen Hamilton is actually buried in Sacramento, California.  As a Californian, I was interested to learn more about this piece of Hamiltonian history within my state.

The book Historic Spots in California notes:

“William Stephen Hamilton, youngest son of Alexander Hamilton, the distinguished revolutionary statesman, came to California in 1849.  Previous to that time he had served as a surveyor of public lands in Illinois, discovered the Hamilton Diggings in southwestern Wisconsin in 1827, engaged in the Black Hawk War, when as a colonel he distinguished himself for efficiency and bravery, and was several times a member of the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin.  On coming to California, Hamilton engaged in mining for about a year, after which he went to Sacramento to trade.  He died in that city on October 7, 1850.

William Stephen likely died of cholera, and reportedly told a friend that he would “rather have been hung in the Lead Mines” than “to have lived in this miserable hole.”  Not a happy ending to a Gold Rush story, but given the widespread nature and destruction caused by the 1850  cholera epidemic in Sacramento, his was not a unique story.

Historic Spots goes on to state:

An unmarked grave in the city cemetery constituted the resting place of William Hamilton until 1879, when friends had the body removed to a more appropriate part of the cemetery and a slab of polished Quincy granite placed over it.  In 1889, at the suggestion of John O. Brown, mayor of Sacramento, the remains were again moved, this time to a new plot in the cemetery named in honor of the deceased, Hamilton Square.  At this time, the handsome, oddly shaped monument of massive Quincy granite was sent out from Massachusetts by the grand-nephew of the pioneer.  One one side it bears a bronze medallion of Alexander Hamilton.”

Marcus Breton of the Sacramento Bee recently published an article entitled “Will anyone write a musical for the Hamilton buried in Sacramento?” which describes William Stephen Hamilton’s life and his connection to Sacramento in more detail.

The Sacramento Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution has tended to William Stephen Hamilton’s gravesince his body was moved to its final resting place, and in 2012, they revitalized the grave site.


Hamil-Fam: The Tragedy of Angelica Hamilton

Angelica Hamilton was born on September 25, 1784, a year after her older brother Philip.  She was named after her aunt, Angelica Schuyler Church.  Angelica was described as charming and lively, and would often play piano with her father.

In a November 1793 letter to Angelica, Hamilton, ever the affectionate father, wrote:

I was very glad to learn, my dear daughter, that you were going to begin the study of the French language. We hope you will in every respect behave in such a manner as will secure to you the good-will and regard of all those with whom you are. If you happen to displease any of them, be always ready to make a frank apology. But the best way is to act with so much politeness, good manners, and circumspection, as never to have occasion to make any apology. Your mother joins in best love to you. Adieu, my very dear daughter.

In the Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton, Allan McLane Hamilton wrote:

“Angelica, a very beautiful girl, was born shortly after her father’s residence in New York City after the peace. She was evidently a charming character and very much like the aunt after whom she was named, being clever and talented. She seems to have had good musical training, and this lady frequently speaks of her in her letters from London. ‘Adieu, my dear Eliza,’ wrote Angelica Church in 1796, ‘I shall bring with me a Governness who understands music pretty well, she will be able to instruct Angelica and Eliza.’

The piano which Angelica received as a gift from her aunt and played with her father is on display at Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

Picture from Forgotten New York: http://forgotten-ny.com/2012/12/hamilton-grange/

Tragedy struck in 1801, after Angelica’s brother Philip died in a duel and Angelica suffered a mental breakdown, from which she never recovered.

Allan McLane Hamilton wrote:

Upon receipt of the news of her brother’s death in the Eacker duel, she suffered so great a shock that her mind became permanently impaired, and although taken care of by her devoted mother for a long time there was no amelioration in her condition, and she was finally placed under the care of Dr. MacDonald of Flushing, and remained in his charge until her death at the age of seventy-three. During her latter life she constantly referred to the dear brother so nearly her own age as if alive. Her music, that her father used to oversee and encourage, stayed by her all these years. To the end she played the same old-fashioned songs and minuets upon the venerable piano that had been bought for her, many years before, in London, by Angelica Church, during her girlhood, and was sent to New York through a friend of her father.  She survived her mother by two and a half years.”

Ron Chernow described the tragedy in his book:

Having been exceedingly close to her older brother, Angelica was so unhinged by his death that she suffered a mental breakdown.  That fall, Hamilton did everything in his power to restore her health at the Grange and catered to her every wish.  He asked Charles C. Pinckney to send her watermelons and three or four parakeets- “She is very fond of birds” – but all the loving attention did not work, and her mental problems worsened.  James Kent tactfully described the teenage girl as having “a very uncommon simplicity and modesty of deportment.”  She lived until age seventy-three and wound up under the care of a Dr. Macdonald in Flushing, Queens.  Only intermittently lucid, consigned to an eternal childhood, she often did not recognize family members.  For the rest of her life, she sang songs that she had played on the piano in duets with her father, and she always talked of her dead brother as if he were still alive.  In her will, Eliza entreated her children to be “kind, affectionate, and attentive to my said unfortunate daughter Angelica.”  In 1856, Angelica’s younger sister, Eliza, contemplating Angelica’s expected death, wrote, “Poor sister, what a happy release will be hers.  Lost to herself half a century!”