Thursday, October 5, 2017

From the Archives: Alexander Hamilton Seeks a Wife, 1779

Thursday, October 5, 2017
Susan reporting:

One of the questions that authors are asked most frequently is "Where do you get your ideas?" Most of the time, there's no specific answer. I really don't know, especially since years can pass between that first flickering idea to a full-fledged book. 

While searching for something else (as if often the case),  I found this blog post from February 2011. I'd forgotten entirely about it (which often happens, too), but clearly I was already thinking about Elizabeth Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton more than six years ago, and likely longer. I certainly didn't know then that a blog post would eventually grow into my new historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, but here you are: the birth of a book-idea. Maybe.

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 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 a very public infidelity, 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 seemingly mercenary beginning, Alexander Hamilton really did get lucky and wed the girl of his dreams....

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.


KarenAnne said...

The girl was not so lucky, however. Looking at that list, I'll bet during the engagement all her girl friends were saying "Run, Eliza, run far far away."

Ledys said...

It’s awesome how all of this was on your mind, even then! Thank you for sharing! I have always been a little puzzled about why Alexander did not rush to communicate his engagement to Laurens right after it happened. I am sure you touch on this on the book, which I will read as soon as I can! (And the only reason why I am putting it off is because I know that once I start I won’t be able to put it down until I am through, and we have some big engagements this next week that I have to prepare for. I am so excited the book is finally out!)

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