Historic Valley Forge

Who Served Here?

Alexander Hamilton

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton
John Trumbull, 1803

Alexander Hamilton was born in Charlestown, Nevis, in the West Indies on January 11, 1757 (or 1755), to James Hamilton, a Scottish merchant of St. Christopher, and Rachel Fawcett. Rachel's father was a Huguenot physician and planter. While very young, she had been married to and divorced from a Danish proprietor on St. Croix. After her divorce, the court prohibited her remarriage. The marriage to James Hamilton was acceptable socially in the West Indies, but not elsewhere. The union resulted in the birth of two sons. It was not a very successful marriage either . . . they were living apart less than 10 years later. Rachel and her boys lived on St. Croix, dependent on her relatives. She passed away in 1768. His father survived until 1799 — but the boys were virtually orphans before they were even teenagers.

Alexander was educated early by his mother and a presbyterian clergyman on St. Croix. At the age of 12 he began work as a clerk in a general store, but the boy had a keen intellect and ambitious goals. He was an excellent writer, in French as well as English. By 1772, his aunts scrimped and saved to send the young intellectual to New York for formal education.

An 1859 print of King's College,
as it appeared in 1756

He started school in Elizabethtown NJ, but by 1773 was entered at Kings College (Now Columbia). He was quite a mature young man, with a strong grasp on political issues concerning British and American government, which he exhibited in a series of anonymous pamphlets so discerning, they were attributed to John Jay. He was only 17 at the time.

Hamilton leaning against a cannon

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) in the Uniform of the New York Artillery
Alonzo Chappel

In 1775 he withrew from his college studies and founded a volunteer military company. On March 14, 1776, was commissioned Captain of the New York Provincial Company of Artillery. He exhibited great skill and intelligence in his duties with artillery, and Nathanael Greene noticed. (It may have been Greene who introduced Alexander Hamilton to George Washington). He was asked to serve on the staff of Lord Stirling, which he declined, and continued his career with the artillery effectively at Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, as well as seeing action at Trenton and Princeton in the New Jersey campaign.

Washington recognized Hamilton's leadership abilities, as well as his extraordinary talent for writing. Hamilton was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and made his aide-de-camp on March 1, 1777. Just twenty years old at the time, Hamilton had already made remarkable accomplishments.

Hamilton spent the winter of 1777-1778 with Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge. It was during this winter that Brigadier General Horatio Gates tried unsuccessfully to incriminate Hamilton during the Conway Cabal.

portrait of Elizabeth Shuyler Hamilton

Portrait of Mrs. Alexander Hamilton
Ralph Earl, circa 1787
Painted while Earl was in the
New York City Jail

On December 14, 1780, Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of Philip Schuyler, a Revolutionary War general, and Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler. Both the Schuylers and Rensselaers were very wealthy and prominent New York families. It was a happy marriage that produced eight children. On February 16, 1781, Hamilton quarreled with Washington, and their relationship was forever soured. Attempts at reconciliation were not successful, and Hamilton's wish was to simply continue his duties until a replacement could be found. Several months later, in July, Hamilton was given command of a battalion of Lafayette's Division in Moses Hazen's Brigade. He was quite successful in leading an attack at Yorktown and aided in the success of the surrender there. He continued in the military for a couple of years when he was made Colonel on September 30, 1783. He left the service by the end of the year.


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