An Early American Love Story
On December 14, 1780, Elizabeth Schuyler was married to Alexander Hamilton in Albany, New York. Both were 23 years of age. Hamilton, one of George Washington's personal military aides, had already begun to attract attention not only for his keen intellect and superb organizational skills, but also as a potential player on the American political stage. Elizabeth was the daughter of General Philip Schuyler, a former commander of the Northern Continental Army, and Catherine vanRenssalaer, each a descendent of prominent, politically-powerful Dutch families that had taken root in the Hudson River Valley region.
Elizabeth was a rather plain woman, quiet and good-natured, who loved children and domestic duties, qualities that had initially attracted Hamilton. Intrigued by her simplicity and gentle manner, yet somewhat disturbed by her lack of a finished luster, the brilliant Hamilton had encouraged Elizabeth to "employ all of your leisure of reading and endeavoring to excel in those splendid qualities in the character of every fine woman." Nonetheless, he loved her dearly, proclaiming "the delicacy of your mind and manner, the real goodness of your heart place you in my estimation far above all your sex."
Six sons and two daughters were born in the ensuing years, but their marriage eventually came to know the full measure of both joy and sorrow. Their eldest son, Philip, lost his life in a duel while their daughter, Angelica, a high-strung girl, was driven by the shock of her brothers' sudden death into an insanity from which she would never emerge. Stunned by this pair of tragedies, Hamilton reproached himself, agonizing that "the best and ablest hope of my family has been taken from me…Everyday only proves to me more and more that his American world was not made for me."
Several years earlier, he had become involved with a married woman who together with her husband had hatched an extortion plot against him. The affair ended in disaster, obliging him to publicly acknowledge the whole sordid mess, a confession that brought considerable glee to his enemies. Full of remorse, he later lamented "I can never cease to condemn myself for the pain which I have inflicted on one so eminently entitled to all my gratitude, fidelity and love." Elizabeth, ever loyal and ever generous, forgave him completely although she harbored deep feelings of resentment against those who had entrapped him, especially Senator (later President) James Monroe of Virginia who nurtured an intense dislike for Hamilton. Some 30 years later, long after Hamilton had died, she confronted Monroe and coldly rebuked him for his part in the conspiracy to "calumniate [her] dear husband."
In 1779, the year prior to their marriage, Hamilton had written a love verse to Elizabeth that she had placed in a little sack attached to a chain around her neck. She wore it faithfully until she died. The note was torn and yellowed with the passage of time and had been painstakingly mended on several occasions with a fine needle and thread when it was discovered after her death.
A modest and unassuming woman, Elizabeth had neither the ability nor desire during their married life to move about in the same powerful and intellectual circles as her gifted husband. Knowing full well the extent of his genius, she had always thought of him as her champion, ever since that day many years before when, unable to believe her good fortune, she had become his wife. That alone was all she had hoped for and she had responded by offering him and their family a lifetime of loving care and devotion.
Hamilton suffered the same fate as his son in an historic duel with Vice President Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804. He effectively sealed his own doom by revolving not to fire the first shot a decision that reflected both his unwillingness to take another life and his hatred for the whole "ferocious and unprincipled custom of dueling." On the previous day, he penned a farewell letter to Elizabeth which concluded with the words, "Adieu, best of wives and best of women. Embrace all my darling children for me. I am ever yours- AH."
He died with the name of Jesus on his lips, affirming his strong belief in Christianity and redemption, unusual for that era since men in public life seldom displayed any religious sentiments. He was 47.
Elizabeth would live on for another 50 years, greatly revering his memory during the prolonged period of her widowhood.
John Romano, DDS
Hamilton College '49
1. Alexander Hamilton- American byRichard Brookheiser
2. Alexander Hamilton- Portrait in Paradox by John C. Miller
3. The Young Hamilton by James Flexner
4. Alexander Hamilton- Portrait of a Prodigy by David Loth
5. Alexander Hamilton by Henry Cabot Lodge