Hamil-Fam: Alexander Hamilton, Jr. and Aaron Burr’s Divorce

Alexander Hamilton’s third child, Alexander Hamilton, Jr. was born in 1786.  Like his father and older brother Philip, Alexander completed a course of study at Columbia College.  Hamilton, Jr. was active in politics and had a military career, spending some time in Spain and Portugal before the War of 1812, and serving as aide-de-camp to General Morgan Lewis.  After time in Europe and Florida, Hamilton, Jr. returned to New York and practiced as a lawyer in the Court of Chancery.

Interestingly, Hamilton, Jr.’s legal career would place him on a collision course with Aaron Burr.

On July 3, 1833, 77-year old Aaron Burr had married wealthy widow Eliza Jumel.  Philip Hone, a successful merchant and the mayor of New York from 1825-1826 wrote in his diary:

Wednesday, July 3. — The celebrated Colonel Burr was married on Monday evening to the equally celebrated Mrs. Jumel, widow of Stephen Jumel. It is benevolent in her to keep the old man in his latter days. One good turn deserves another.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/5/53/Lithograph_of_Eliza_Jumel.jpg/220px-Lithograph_of_Eliza_Jumel.jpg
Image of Eliza Jumel from Wikipedia

In The Morris-Jumel Mansion, Carol Ward writes:

“Upon Stephen Jumel’s death, Eliza was one of the wealthiest widows in New York.  However, she sought additional security in terms of her place in society.  Her marriage to former vice president Aaron Burr in 1833 bolstered her footing among the New York elite.  The marriage was solely out of convenience for both sides.  Aaron Burr was 77 when they married, and he was looking for a source of funds to assist him to cover his expenses.  Eliza quickly saw his endgame and also learned of his infidelity with a much younger woman.  Eliza sued for divorce.  In an interesting turn of events, her lawyer was Alexander Hamilton’s son.  Perhaps this was delayed karma for Aaron Burr, who had shot and killed Hamilton 30 years prior.”

William Henry Shelton wrote that during the divorce trial, Jumel and Burr were “hurling correspondents at each other, and on the part of Burr, in the unfair proportion of four to one.”

The divorce case based on Burr’s alleged infidelity proceeded privately in the Court of Chancery.  Hamilton, Jr. represented Eliza Jumel, and Charles O’Conor represented Burr.  On September 14, 1836, coincidentally the day of Burr’s death, the divorce was granted by Judge Philo T. Ruggles.

Hamilton’s Premonitions of Civil War

In an August 18, 1792 letter to President Washington, Hamilton commented on the differences between the South and North and described the talk of separation from a small group of “respectable men.”  Hamilton noted that “happily,” despite this talk of separation, the “prevailing sentiment” of the people during this time period was in favor of maintaining the Union.

It is certainly much to be regretted that party discriminations are so far Geographical as they have been; and that ideas of a severance of the Union are creeping in both North and South. In the South it is supposed that more government than is expedient is desired by the North. In the North, it is believed, that the prejudices of the South are incompatible with the necessary degree of Government and with the attainment of the essential ends of National Union. In both quarters there are respectable men who talk of separation, as a thing dictated by the different geniusses and different prejudices of the parts. But happily their number is not considerable—& the prevailing sentiment of the people is in favour of their true interest, union. And it is to be hoped that the Efforts of wise men will be able to prevent a scism, which would be injurious in different degrees to different portions of the Union; but would seriously wound the prosperity of all.

Hamilton’s words of warning, nearly 70 years before the Civil War began, underscore the deep-seated tensions between North and South.

Duels for Days: Hamilton vs. James Nicholson

In addition to the duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton was involved with several other duels, either as one of the challengers, or as a second for his friends and acquaintances.

On July 18, 1795, Hamilton was publicly criticized over his defense of the Jay Treaty at a meeting in New York.  Hamilton tried to intervene in an argument between Commodore James Nicholson and Federalist lawyer Josiah Ogden Hoffman.  Nicholson was one of Hamilton’s most prominent critics, and the two had long-standing political disagreements.  Nicholson then allegedly called Hamilton an “Abettor of Tories” and accused him of declining a previous challenge to duel.  Hamilton was offended and challenged Nicholson to a duel.

Image from Bruce L. Nicholson
On July 20, 1795, Hamilton sent a letter to Nicholson via his close friend, Nicholas Fish, who he had designated as his second for the duel:

New York Monday July 20. 1795.

Sir

The unprovoked rudeness and insult which I experienced from You on Saturday leaves me no option but that of a meeting with You, the object of which You will readily understand. I propose to You for the purpose Pawlus Hook as the place and monday next eleven o’clock as the time. I should not fix so remote a day but that I am charged with trusts for other persons which will previously require attention on my part. My friend Col. Fish who is to deliver You this will accompany me.

I am &c.   Your humble Servt.

In the letter, Hamilton cites Nicholson’s “unproved rudeness” and his “insult” of Hamilton as the reason for the confrontation being necessary.  He states that Nicholson’s conduct has left Hamilton with “no option” but a meeting with him, and proposes that the duel be set for the following Monday.  He notes that the only reason he is proposing a date seven days in the future is because of his prior commitments.

Nicholson responded immediately, stating that he feared an inquiry into the duel and insisting that the duel take place the following day rather than a week later:

I had the honor of recieving a note from you a few minutes ago by Colo: Fish relative to an Altercation that took place between us on Saturday last. On an occasion of this Kind I shall certainly not decline your invitation. Its peremptory tenor necessarily precludes any discussion on my part of the merits of the controversy. The publicity of the affair & the unusual visit of your friend have however unfortunately occasioned an alarm in my family & may produce an inquiry—you will therefore perceive that my situation will be rendered extremely disagreeable unless our interview takes place before that time. I have therefore to intreat that it may not be postponed longer than tomorrow Morning.

I am &ca. yrs.

 

Eventually, on July 26, 1795, after Hamilton and Nicholson had gone through three drafts of apologies (that Hamilton wrote for Nicholson’s review), Nicholson signed a declaration apologizing for his conduct:

Mr. Nicholson declares that the warmth of the expressions which he recollects to have used to Mr. Hamilton proceeded from a misapprehension of the nature of his interposition in the altercation between Mr. Hoffman & Mr. Nicholson that as to the suggestion alleged to have been made by Mr. Nicholson namely that Mr. Hamilton had declined a former interview he does not recollect and is not conscious of having made it, neither did he intend the imputation which it would seem to imply and that if he did make the suggestion he regrets the pain which it must have occasioned to Mr. Hamilton.

The seconds representing Hamilton and Nicholson were DeWitt Clinton, Nicholas Fish, Rufus King, Brockholst Livingston.  Once Nicholson and Hamilton agreed on the apology, they signed off on the following statement, thus ending the challenge in a “satisfactory and honorable way”:

The subscribers having been made acquainted with the correspondence between Mr Hamilton and Mr Nicholson relative to a controversy that took place between them on Saturday before last, do hereby certify that the same has been settled in a satisfactory and honorable way to both the parties.

Interestingly, Nicholson’s son-in-law, Albert Gallatin, would serve as the Secretary of Treasury under President Jefferson.  Gallatin, like Nicholson, was a vigorous critic of Hamilton’s tenure as Treasury Secretary, but eventually “he followed a Hamiltonian course.”

Hamil-Fam: Angelica Schuyler’s Elopement

Angelica Schuyler’s marriage to Englishman John Barker Church jolted Albany society, and angered her father, who had disapproved of the match.  Angelica and John, who was traveling under the assumed name of John Carter to avoid trouble after a duel, met and began a secret romance without consulting her father, General Philip Schuyler.  They then  eloped at the home of the young Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer III (who would later secretly elope with Angelica and Eliza’s sister Peggy!!)

General Schuyler wrote to his friend William Duer (who had provided Church/Carter with a letter of introduction to the General) of his disapproval of the match and his gradual forgiveness of the couple:

“Carter and my eldest daughter ran off and married on the 23rd July.  Unacquainted with his family, his connections and situation in life, the match was exceedingly disagreeable to me, and I had signified it to him.  But as there is no undoing this gordian knot, I took what I hope you will think the prudent part: I frowned, I made them humble themselves, forgave, and called them home.”

After this awkward family reunion, the couple was welcomed back into the Schuyler home, and Church stopped using his fake identity.

Catherine Schuyler’s biographer, Mary Gay Humphreys stated:

“The mystery concerning Carter proved to be alarming only in the fact that it was a mystery.  He had left England on account of a duel, assuming the name of Carter for that of John Barker Church, which he subsequently resumed.  At the time he was Commissary for Rochambeau, and was afterwards associated with General Wadsworth in the same department.  In this capacity he had the opportunity of amassing a large fortune, and the wayward couple became prominent in the social life of New York, London, and Paris.”

 

Mrs John Barker Church Son Philip and Servant John Trumbull.jpeg
John Trumbull painting of Angelica and her son from Wikipedia

In Historic Houses of New Jersey, Weymer Jay Mills provides some romantic color to the story and writes:

“There was another Revolutionary love-affair in General Schuyler’s family which history has scarcely noted,- overshadowed as it is by that of Hamilton and his Betsey- and that is the elopement of Angelica, his eldest daughter with John Barker Church, a gentleman of fortune masquerading in America under the nom de guerre of Carter.  The vivacious and clever Angelica, who far outshone the more retiring Elizabeth, met him at a Philadelphia assembly at the beginning of the war.  Possessed of dashing manners and almost godlike beauty, it is small wonder that he attracted the attention of the maiden.  From his mother, Elizabeth Barker, celebrated at the court of George III for her loveliness, he inherited the languishing blue eyes and finely-chiseled features which Reynolds and Cosway have immortalized.  Although but a few years past his school days, he was already the hero of many adventures and a breaker of hearts.  To escape a marriage with a wealthy kinswoman, whose Lowestoft estates joined his own, and the consequences of a duel, he fled from London without baggage or credentials; and it was under this assumed name that he wooed and won the most brilliant daughter of one of New York’s first families.  General Schuyler at first did not approve of the marriage, but through the influence of the Patroon Van Rensselaer, who encouraged and sheltered the young couple at his manor, he gradually relented, and finally received them with open arms at the Albany homestead.

Hamilton’s Guide to Dating/Marriage

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.

Image from Wikipedia
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.

Hamil-Burrn: Hamilton on Gen. Charles Lee and the Battle of Monmouth

Hamilton was not one to mince words, and his vitriol was especially sharp when it was directed to the forces undermining General Washington and the American forces during the Revolution.  One target with whom Hamilton had significant history and distrust was General Charles Lee.

In a July 5, 1778 letter to Elias Boudinot describing the Battle of Monmouth, Hamilton described Washington’s distinguished war council as a group of babies because of their desire to avoid direct confrontation with the British forces and wrote:

“When we came to Hopewell Township, The General unluckily called a council of war, the results of which would have done honor to the most honorable society of midwives, and to them only”

In a 1789 eulogy of Major General Nathanael Greene, Hamilton again exorciated the failed leadership of the war council before the Battle of Monmouth, describing it as “impotent” for allowing the British to retreat without pursuit.

It would be an unpleasing task and therefore I forbear to lift the veil from off those impotent Councils, which by a formal vote had decreed an undisturbed passage to an enemy retiring from the fairest fruits of his victories to seek an asylum from impending danger, disheartened by retreat, dispirited by desertion, broken by fatigue, retiring through woods defiles and morasses in which his discipline was useless, in the face of an army superior in numbers, elated by pursuit and ardent to signalise their courage.

Speaking directly about General Lee in his July 1778 letter to Boudinot, Hamilton wrote:

“Indeed, I can hardly persuade myself to be in good humour with success so far inferior to what we, in all probability should have had, had not the finest opportunity America ever possessed been fooled away by a man, in whom she has placed a large share of the most ill judged confidence.  You will have heard enough to know, that I mean General Lee.  This man is either a driveler in the business of soldiership or something much worse.”

Hamilton went on to describe General Lee’s cowardly performance at the Battle of Monmouth, noting that his leadership had led to troops retreating from the British forces, and that General Washington single-handedly brought order to the troops and rallied them to victory.