10 Things That You Have Secretly Been Dying to Know About the World of ‘Hamilton’
Hamilton-fever is a global phenomenon. Your parents want to see it. Your grandparents are angling for tickets. But, still, you may still have some questions—and you don’t want to slog through hundreds of thinkpieces to get answers. We got you!
1. Why did we all start talking about Alexander Hamilton this fall?
In 2004, the historian Ron Chernow published a sympathetic biography of Alexander Hamilton, perhaps the least popular of the founding fathers. A few years later, the composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda read Chernow’s biography while on vacation. Soon he was working on a hip-hop “concept album” about Hamilton, and in April 2009, performed the first number, about Hamilton’s early life, at the White House. In February 2015, the musical Hamilton opened at the Public Theater in New York. It sold out, and kept selling out. In July, the show began previews on Broadway; it officially opened in August. The re-sale price for tickets topped $400. In September 2015, NPR put the cast album online. That month, Miranda won a MacArthur “genius grant.” In October, the cast album was officially released.
It’s really good.
2. In 1776, was New York really “the greatest city in the world”?
Hamilton’s principle female characters are Angelica and Eliza Schuyler come into the musical on a note of New York City triumphalism. But, all hometown pride aside, in 1776, New York was probably not the “greatest” city in the world.
London was on its way to becoming the largest city in the world. Paris had about half a million people, and was Europe’s intellectual center. Philadelphia, with 40,000 people, was actually the second-largest English-speaking city in the world. With 25,000 people, though, New York was the second largest city in the country. That’s still tiny, though. When Hamilton attended King’s College (which would become Columbia University), it was located a block from the Commons, where City Hall park is located today.
Still, New York was already a polyglot metropolis. When Hamilton arrived, more than a dozen languages were spoken in the city, and it was one of the British colonies most bustling ports. In that sense, some of what makes New York great today made New York of the 1770s, great, too.
But, at this particular moment, New York City was not the most stable place to be. New York was one of the first sites of battle in the Revolutionary War, and by the fall of 1776, the British army had taken over Manhattan. Only about a third of the city’s population remained in the city, and some of it had been burnt. As an aide to Gen. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton spent much of the war outside the city, in New Jersey. He met Eliza Schuyler on a mission that took him upstate to Albany, where her father’s estate was, and much of their courtship took place around Morristown, N.J. Their actual wedding took place at the Schuyler mansion upstate.
3. What do we know about Hamilton’s relationship to John Laurens?
Of Hamilton’s early friendships, perhaps the strongest was with John Laurens, the abolitionist son of South Carolina plantation owner. In the musical Miranda hints that Hamilton and Laurens might have been more than just friends, and Tumblr really, really, really wants that to be true.
It’s definitely true that Hamilton loved Laurens: he said so himself, in a series of very affectionate letters. In one of the earliest and most often cited, he writes “I wish, my Dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words to convince you that I love you. … You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent.”
And as members of George Washington’s military staff, they would have been in very close quarters, as they and the other young men working directly for the general often had to share beds. In one letter, asking Laurens to help find him a wife, Hamilton indicates that his friend has an intimate knowledge of his physical assets: “It will be necessary for you to give an account of the lover–his size, make, quality of mind and body, achievements, expectations, fortune, &c. In drawing my picture, you will no doubt be civil to your friend; mind you do justice to the length of my nose....” (This last being an 18th century shorthand for another body part.)
Laurens’ letters to Hamilton were less effusive, and plenty of historians thing their warm relationship can be put down as typical 18th male bonding. But speculation about the nature of Hamilton and Laurens’ relationship can be attributed to the intriguing note that one of Hamilton’s children left on one letter: “I must not publish the whole of this.” Whatever was scratched from that letter may be innocent enough, but we’ll never know.
4. When Laurens duels General Charles Lee for bad-mouthing Washington, why does Hamilton say Laurens should have “shot him in the mouth”?
In his book, Chernow tells the story of another war-related duel, during which Gen. Thomas Conway was shot by Gen. John Cadwalader. Cadwalader, Chernow writes, “fired a ball through Conway’s mouth that came out of the back of his head….’I have stopped the damned rascal’s lying tongue at any rate,’ he observed as his opponent lay in agony on the ground.”
5. Where was Hamilton’s place in Harlem?
While courting Eliza, in the song “Helpless,” Hamilton tells her “we’ll get a little place in Harlem and we’ll figure it out.” In 1783, after the British left New York City, the Hamiltons did move into the city, to a house on Wall Street, which Chernow describes as “a prosperous thoroughfare lined with three-story brick buildings.” (Aaron Burr lived down the block.)
Later, though, in 1800, Hamilton began buying land up in Harlem Heights, with a view of the Hudson, Harlem and East rivers. He and Eliza built a house, the Grange, around what’s now W. 143rd & Convent Avenue, near City College, and the present-day Alexander Hamilton playground on 141st Street. Hamilton bought the property after the scandal of his affair with Maria Reynolds had become public; their house was not finished until 1802, after Philip Hamilton had died in a duel.
The actual house was moved to nearby St. Nicholas Park, and is open to visitors.
6. Did Philip actually insult George Eacker in a theater?
Contemporary press accounts disagreed as to whether Philip Hamilton and his friend were gunning for a duel and purposefully insulted Eacker or if Eacker, who was nine years older than Philip, took their immature comments too seriously. But all accounts did agree that the original provocation happened in a theater—Park Theater, which was on Park Row, across the street from what’s now City Hall park.
7. Where else can I find Alexander Hamilton in New York City?
In granite, in Central Park, just north of 82nd Street, east of the Great Lawn.
Or, it’s possible to visit his grave at the Trinity Church Cemetery.
8. What happened to Angelica?
Contrary to the timeline in the play, Angelica was already married when Hamilton met her. Her husband’s business kept her in Europe for many years, where she became close with Thomas Jefferson–who somewhat scandalously suggested that the two of them travel together in America. Angelica and her husband returned to New York in 1797, where Angelica became a social fixture. Her son, also named Philip, bought a parcel of land in upstate New York, and built a planned community there, named after her: Angelica, N.Y.
9. What did Angelica and Eliza actually look like?
The Schuyler sisters!
10. Could Alexander Hamilton have been president?
In the musical Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson has a blunt assessment of Hamilton’s political prospects after the Reynolds affair is disclosed: “Never going to be president now.” (Hamilton’s biographer, Chernow, actually has a less dramatic assessment of the damage, and says that Hamilton was not so diminished by the disclosure.)
Technically, Alexander Hamilton could have run for president. To be qualified for office at the time, one must be 35 years of age, a resident “within the United States” for 14 years, and “a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution.” Hamilton did not run for president during his lifetime; he died in the election year, 1804, when Thomas Jefferson won his second term.
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