No matter the time period, finding the perfect spouse seems to have been a constant challenge for men and women alike. Matchmaking today may have become one more internet transaction, but in the past, most people turned to friends and family to help them find a suitable mate. And in the past, just as today, the laundry-list of requirements in a potential spouse that the hopeful bride or groom sought must have sorely tried the patience of a good many friends.
Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), left, was one of early America's Founding Fathers, and is most remembered today as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. But in April, 1779, he was a recent college graduate and an ambitious young lieutenant colonel serving in the Continental Army as an aide to General George Washington, and one of the ways he hoped to rise in the world was to make a favorable marriage. In a letter to his good friend and fellow officer John Laurens, he enlisted Laurens' assistance in finding just the right lady:
"Such a wife as I want will, I know, be difficult to be found, but if you succeed, it will be the stronger proof of your zeal and dexterity. Take her description – She must be young, handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) sensible (a little learning will do), well bred (but she must have an aversion to the word ton) chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness) of some good nature, a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagant and an economist). In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of; I think I have arguments that will easily convert her to mine. As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me. She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better. You know my temper and circumstances and will therefore pay special attention to this article in the treaty. Though I run no risk of going to Purgatory for my avarice; yet as money is an essential ingredient to happiness in this world – as I have not much of my own and as I am very little calculated to get more either by my address or industry; it must needs be, that my wife, if I get one, bring at least a sufficiency to administer to her own extravagancies."
Amazingly, Hamilton soon did find himself a wife who met nearly all of these stipulations. Elizabeth Schuyler(1757-1854), right, was the daughter of General Philip Schuyler, and a member of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in New York. Hamilton wed her in December, 1780, in her family's mansion. The marriage produced eight children and survived Hamilton's various scandals and infidelities, and for the duration of Elizabeth's long life (she outlived her husband – killed in the famous duel with Aaron Burr – by fifty years), she defended Hamilton and refused to believe the gossip about him, no matter how true it might have been.
So perhaps despite the mercenary beginning, Alexander Hamilton really did get lucky and wed the girl of his dreams....
Many thanks to Barbara Bockrath for suggesting this quotation.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.