Alexander Hamilton was born January 11, 1757 (or 1755), to James Hamilton, a Scottish merchant, and Rachel Fawcett, in Charlestown, Nevis in the British West Indies. James later abandoned Rachel and when Rachel later contracted yellow fever and died in 1768, Hamilton and his older brother James Jr. were orphaned.
Without his mother, Hamilton became a clerk at the local import-export firms and he proved so capable as a trader that he was left in charge of the firm for five months in 1771, while the owner was at sea. He soon desired a life outside of the island and after a letter he wrote his father was published in the newspaper impressed the local community leaders, they collected enough funds to send Hamilton to the North American colonies for his education.
In October 1772, he arrived by ship in Boston, and from there proceeded to New York City. Hamilton entered King’s College (now Columbia) in the autumn of 1773. He was forced to stop his studies before graduating when the college closed its doors during the British occupation of the city.
In 1775, Hamilton and other King’s College students joined a New York volunteer militia company called the Corsicans. This was the beginning of his military career. By 1777, he participated in the Battle of Princeton, in which he contributed to the American victory over the British. After this, Hamilton refused invitations to become general’s aides believing that his best chance to improve his station in life was glory on the battlefield. However, Hamilton eventually received an offer he felt he could not refuse, to serve as George Washington’s aide.
Hamilton spent four years as Washington’s chief staff aide. He handled letters to Congress, state governors, and the most powerful general in the Continental Army. He also drafted many of Washington’s orders and letters at Washington’s direction. In his position, Hamilton was involved in a wide variety of high level duties, including intelligence, diplomacy, and negotiation with senior army officers as Washington’s emissary.
While on Washington’s staff, Hamilton long sought command and a return to active combat. After resigning from his staff position, he asked Washington and others for a field command. On July 31, 1781, Washington relented and assigned Hamilton as commander of a battalion of light infantry companies of the 1st and 2nd New York regiments and two provisional companies from Connecticut. In the planning of the attack on Yorktown, Hamilton was given command of three battalions, which were instrumental in taking two forts that forced the British to surrender their entire army at Yorktown, Virginia. This was a decisive victory by the Americans and was the last major battle in the American Revolution.
After the war, Hamilton was appointed as a New York representative to the Congress of the Confederation. Hamilton then resigned from Congress and in July 1782 he passed the bar and set up and law practice in Albany. In 1784, he founded the Bank of New York, one of the oldest still-existing banks in America. In 1787, Hamilton was chosen as a New York delegate for the Constitutional Convention, which was held to draft the new U.S. Constitution. Though Hamilton was still not content with the final Constitution by the end of the Convention, he decided to sign it anyway as it was a vast improvement over the Articles of Confederation. To convince others to sign the new Constitution, Hamilton recruited John Jay and James Madison to write a series of essays defending the proposed Constitution, now known as The Federalist Papers. He wrote 51 of the 85 essays published.
Now President, Washington appointed Hamilton as the first United States Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789. Hamilton would serve in this position until the end of January 1795, when he resigned. In the time he served, Hamilton oversaw his colleagues under the leadership of Washington, and Washington often sought Hamilton’s advice and assistance on matters outside of his treasury department duties. His ideas for the treasury led to the adoption of the Coinage Act of 1782 by Congress, which led to the creation of the United States Mint.
Hamilton’s resignation as Secretary of the Treasury in 1795 did not remove him from public life. He resumed practicing law and remained close with Washington as an advisor and friend. He even helped Washington in the writing of his Farewell Address by writing drafts for Washington.
In the election of 1800, Hamilton decided to throw his support behind presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson, who Hamilton frequently disagreed with and did not like, over Aaron Burr, who Hamilton had a long and bitter rivalry with. He convinced other Congressmen to do the same, leading to Jefferson becoming President and Burr Vice-President in 1800. After it was clear Jefferson was not going to support Burr being Vice-President in the 1804 election, Burr decided to run as governor of New York. Burr was defeated by forces that included Hamilton. These defeats along with a comment by Hamilton that Burr believed was an attack on his honor by Hamilton and Hamilton’s subsequent refusal to apologize, led to one of the most famous duels in American history. The duel began at dawn on July 11, 1804. Vice-President Burr shot Hamilton delivering a fatal wound. The paralyzed Hamilton who knew he was mortally wounded, was brought to the home of his friend William Bayard Jr. After final visits from family and friends and considerable suffering, Alexander Hamilton died on July 12, 1804.
Can't get enough of the musical? Love historical fiction? Then you may be interested in some of these novels based on some of the major players in Hamilton.
"Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!" - Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, "The Schuyler Sisters"
"I have never been the type to try and grab the spotlight. We were at a revel with some rebels on a hot night, laughin’ at my sister as she’s dazzling the room then you walked in and my heart went 'Boom!'" - Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, "Helpless"
"You and your words flooded my senses. Your sentences left me defenseless. You built me palaces out of paragraphs, you built cathedrals. I’m re-reading the letters you wrote me. I’m searching and scanning for answers in every line, for some kind of sign, and when you were mine the world seemed to burn." - Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, "Burn"
"And when my time is up, have I done enough?" - Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story"
"And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!" - Angelica Schuyler, "The Schuyler Sisters"
"Like the scripture says: 'Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.' They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made. I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree. A moment alone in the shade, at home in this nation we’ve made." - George Washington, "One Last Time"
“Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after [Hamilton].” -Aaron Burr, "A Winter's Ball"
"I’ve been in Paris meeting lots of different ladies... I guess I basic’lly missed the late eighties... I traveled the wide, wide world and came back to this…" Thomas Jefferson, "What Did I Miss"
"Look, when Britain taxed our tea, we got frisky. Imagine what gon’ happen when you try to tax our whisky." - Thomas Jefferson, "Cabinet Battle #1"
"Now I’m the model of a modern major general, the venerated Virginian veteran whose men are all lining up, to put me up on a pedestal." - George Washington, "Right Hand Man"
“Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” – Alexander Hamilton, "The World Was Wide Enough" Learn more about the men and women who inspired the Broadway musical Hamilton.
"Tens of thousands of people flood the streets, There are screams and church bells ringing And as our fallen foes retreat, We hear the drinking song they’re singing. The world turned upside down. - “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”
"You're on your own. Awesome. Wow! Do you have a clue what happens now?" —King George, “What Comes Next”
"No one really knows how the game is played, the art of the trade, how the sausage gets made. We just assume that it happens but no one else is in the room where it happens." - Aaron Burr, "The Room Where It Happens"
"The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father, Got a lot farther by working a lot harder, By being a lot smarter, By being a self-starter." – Alexander Hamilton, “Alexander Hamilton”
"Now I’m the model of a modern major general, the venerated Virginian veteran whose men are all lining up, to put me up on a pedestal, writin’ letters to relatives embellishin’ my elegance and eloquence, but the elephant is in the room, the truth is in ya face when ya hear the British cannons go..." -George Washington, "Right Hand Man"
"Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory: You have no control: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story." -George Washington, "History Has Its Eyes on You"
"After forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as I myself must soon be to the mansions of rest." – George Washington, "One Last Time"
“I am the one thing in life I can control. I am inimitable, I am an original.” —Aaron Burr, “Wait for It”
"If we lay a strong enough foundation, we’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you, and you’ll blow us all away... someday, someday. Yeah, you’ll blow us all away, someday, someday." -Aaron Burr, "Dear Theodosia"
“‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ We fought for these ideals; we shouldn’t settle for less. These are wise words, enterprising men quote ’em. Don’t act surprised, you guys, cuz I wrote ’em.” –Thomas Jefferson, “Cabinet Battle #1”
"Sometimes I wonder why I even bring the thunder." -Thomas Jefferson, "Cabinet Battle #1"
"There’s a letter on my desk from the President. Haven’t even put my bags down yet. . . . It says the President’s assembling a cabinet and that I am to be the Secretary of State, great! And that I’m already Senate-approved... I just got home and now I’m headed up to New York." -Thomas Jefferson, "What Did I Miss?"
"Maybe we can solve one problem with another and win a victory for the Southerners" -James Madison, "The Room Where It Happens:
“Why do write like you’re running out of time? Write every day like you’re running out of time? Every day you fight like you’re running out of time.” —Burr, “Nonstop”
“Oui oui, mon ami, je m’appelle Lafayette! The Lancelot of the revolutionary set! I came from afar just to say ‘Bonsoir!’ Tell the King ‘Casse toi!’ Who’s the best? C’est moi!"" —Lafayette, “Aaron Burr, Sir”
“And when my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell my story?” —Eliza Hamilton, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”
“You want a revolution? I want a revelation. So listen to my declaration: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.' And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!” —Angelica Schuyler, “The Schuyler Sisters”
"Dear Alexander: I am slow to anger, but I toe the line as I reckon with the effects of your life on mine. I look back on where I failed, and in every place I checked, the only common thread has been your disrespect. . . . If you’ve got something to say, name a time and place, face to face. I have the honor to be Your Obedient Servant, A dot Burr." - Aaron Burr, "Your Obedient Servant"
"I don’t wanna fight, But I won’t apologize for doing what’s right. I have the honor to be Your Obedient Servant, A dot Ham." -Alexander Hamilton, "Your Obedient Servant"
"They say George Washington’s yielding his power and stepping away. . . . There’s nobody else in their country who looms quite as large . . . John Adams?! I know him. That can’t be. . . . That poor man, they’re gonna eat him alive!" -King George, "I Know Him"