The main protagonist of one of the most successful musicals of all time, Alexander Hamilton was an invaluable founding father of the United States of America. Not only was he a hugely influential member of the Continental Congress, but he authored The Federalist Papers and became a champion of the U.S. Constitution.
Hamilton was also America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, responsible for founding the nation’s first national bank, managing the country’s finances and helping settle its debts.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s broadway show has since shone a spotlight upon Hamilton’s captivating life and achievements. Here are 10 fascinating facts about the American statesman, politician, legal scholar, military commander, lawyer, banker, and economist (…and you thought you were busy!)
1. He was an immigrant of the United States
Despite there being dispute amongst historians on the year that Hamilton was actually born (either 1755 or 1757), we do know that he was not born in the United States. Hamilton was born out of wedlock to Rachel Fauccette and James Hamilton on island of Nevis in the Leeward Islands, then part of the British West Indian colonies.
Hamilton spent much of his early life surrounded by the horrors of enslavement. He worked as a clerk with the St. Croix trading firm Beekman and Cruger, which imported everything needed for a plantation economy — including enslaved people from West Africa.
Hamilton left this life behind and travelled to Boston, and then New York in 1772 where he sought an education (which was denied to him in the West Indies because his parents were not married). He was accepted into King’s College, now Columbia University, in the same year.
2. He was a hero of the Revolutionary War
In 1775, after the first engagement of American troops with the British at Lexington and Concord, Hamilton and other students from his college joined a New York volunteer militia company called the Corsicans.
Through his efforts as a volunteer, young Hamilton became General George Washington’s aide de camp – his right-hand man. After becoming restless and tired of essentially serving as a high-status clerk, Hamilton resigned from Washington’s inner circle in 1781. After this, however, Hamilton personally led an attack and charge at the Battle of Yorktown that would see him achieve the status of War Hero.
3. He captained the US Army’s oldest serving unit
In early 1776, a year after the outbreak of the American Revolution, the 20-year-old West Indian immigrant had organised a modest artillery militia unit that became the New York Provincial Company of Artillery.
Battery D, 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division, which can trace its lineage back to Hamilton’s artillery company, was officially the oldest serving unit in the regular United States Army. On 17 March 1776, Hamilton was made captain of the group, and under his leadership it saw action in several key moments including the Battle of Princeton and the Battle of White Plains.
4. He was involved in the nation’s first public sex-scandal
In 1791, a supposed widow named Maria Reynolds approached Hamilton and begged him for financial support. She played on his heartstrings by claiming that her husband James Reynolds had abandoned her. Blinded by his sympathy and feelings of strong attachment to Maria, Hamilton failed to realise that Maria’s sob story was actually an attempt to manipulate the then Secretary of the Treasury.
After delivering monetary aid to Reynolds for the first time at the house where she was lodging, the two began an illicit affair that would last, with varying frequency, until approximately June 1792.
It was not long before Maria’s husband found out about the affair and used his knowledge to blackmail Hamilton, who paid him regularly to remain silent.
After James Reynolds was implicated in another financial scandal, he informed investigators that Hamilton had been using government funds as hush money. When confronted with this, Hamilton admitted to the affair, but he also insisted that he had used his own personal funds to cover it up, even showing Monroe his love letters from Maria Reynolds as proof.
Monroe gave the letters to his close friend Thomas Jefferson, one of Hamilton’s fiercest political enemies. Jefferson passed them on to publisher James Callender, already notorious as the pre-eminent 19th-century peddler of political gossip.
In 1797, the scandal exploded after Callender printed the Reynolds-Hamilton letters in his paper. Hamilton published his own lengthy pamphlet in which he acknowledged the extramarital relationship. Hamilton was publicly applauded for his honesty, but his political career was effectively destroyed.
5. He received George Washington’s last written letter
Two days before his death on 14 December 1799, the first president of the United States, George Washington had sent his last written letter to Alexander Hamilton.
In the letter, Washington (who had been a mentor to Hamilton throughout his entire political career) praised his apprentice’s idea regarding the establishment of a national military academy.
Washington wrote that to Hamilton that such an institution would be of “primary importance to the country”.
6. He pledged to waste his shot when duelling Burr
A result of personal bitterness and a long fought political feud, Alexander Hamilton was challenged to a duel by the American politician and lawyer Aaron Burr. The duel took place in Weehawken, New Jersey early in the morning of 11 July 1804 and resulted in Hamilton’s death. Burr’s shot hit Hamilton in the abdomen area above the right hip, fractured a rib, tore through his diaphragm and liver, and lodged in his spine. Hamilton fell instantly.
Interestingly, before the duel Hamilton had already told confidants and made clear in valedictory letters that he intended to throw away his shot, possibly by purposefully shooting wide of Burr. In any case, Hamilton certainly fired his pistol, missing Burr’s head and snapping a branch behind him.
Burr’s reaction to Hamilton’s death somewhat confirmed Hamilton’s sincerity, the politician moving toward his dead rival in a speechless manner seemingly indicative of regret. The Hamilton-Burr duel has become the most famous duel in the nation’s history.
7. His son died 3 years prior, at the exact same location
While Hamilton had managed to avoid confrontation and duel challenges throughout most of his life, his eldest son Philip was not so lucky. Three years before his duel with Burr, Philip had confronted a New York lawyer George Eacker after witnessing Eacker’s speech denouncing his father.
When Eacker refused to retract his damning statements, a duel was set for the 20 November in Weehawken, New Jersey – the exact same location where his father would be shot almost three years later.
Eacker escaped unscathed, but Philip was shot above the right hip and died an agonizing death the following day. The loss devastated the Hamilton family, and many historians believe it led to Hamilton’s own reluctance to fire directly at Aaron Burr during their legendary duel just three years later.
8. He founded the New York Post
Hamilton’s close friend and associate John Adams lost the 1800 election to Thomas Jefferson – another man Hamilton consistently clashed with throughout his political career. In November 1801, Hamilton decided to create The New York Evening Post – an anti-Democratic-Republican publication which regularly slandered Jefferson.
Today the newspaper is known as the New York Post, a publication owned by Rupert Murdoch, the multi-media tycoon, since 1976.
9. He left his family in debt
When Hamilton died in 1804, he had actually left his family in a precarious financial situation. Days before he died, Hamilton’s statement explained his financial circumstances “if an accident should happen” to him. In it, he tied his public service to the present state of his finances, which included debts that would prove a burden to his family.
In fact, the state of the debts prompted Eliza, his wife, to ask Congress for money and land that was given to him for his service in the Revolutionary War that he previously forfeited.
10. He authored The Federalist Papers
Hamilton will be remembered for a host of achievements. Not only were his accomplishments so plentiful and revolutionary but his life was considered fascinating enough for someone to write an award-winning, almost three hour long musical about it.
If we are to remember Hamilton for one thing however, it must be for his championing of the US Constitution and his authorship of The Federalist Papers. 85 essays were written between October 1787 and May 1788 by John Jay, James Madison and Hamilton. John Jay became ill and only wrote 5 essays. James Madison wrote 29, and Hamilton wrote the other 51.
Thanks to their efforts and Hamilton’s extraordinary work-ethic to produce so many endorsing works, the Constitution became ratified on 21 June 1788, after 9 of 13 states approved it.