Hamiltonian errors

Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1806. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

When Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton premiered on Disney+, I enjoyed watching the musical with my family. (My seven-year-old daughter’s favorite character was King George III!) This prompted me to look a bit more at Alexander Hamilton’s genealogy, which I had worked on a little bit years ago. Gary Boyd Robert’s The Royal Descents of 900 Immigrants shows a royal descent back from James II, King of Scotland (died 1460), through Alexander’s father James Hamilton of the West Indies. (Patrilineal descendants of Alexander have taken Y-DNA tests and matched descendants of related Scottish Hamilton families, for those various tall tales questioning Alexander’s paternity.)

Click on charts to expand them.

However, what I had not realized was that Alexander Hamilton was still in touch with his father long after achieving renown in the new American government. The elder Hamilton (then living in St. Vincent, British West Indies) wrote his son a letter in 1793, when Alexander was serving as the first Secretary of the Treasury.

The website “Discovering Hamilton” provided some additional detail on James Hamilton’s life and included the reference (cited by Gertrude Atherton in The Conqueror, a novelized account of Alexander Hamilton’s life published in 1902) that James was buried at St. Vincent in 1799.

However, I was surprised at the remark “killed by Col. Baird.” Knowing Alexander Hamilton was killed by Vice-President Aaron Burr, I assumed this remark referred to the father, in which case three generations of Hamiltons – Alexander’s son Philip died via a duel in 1801 – were killed in a five-year period! Why hadn’t any historian talked about the elder Hamilton’s death?

I searched for “Col. Baird” in St. Vincent and came up empty. Posting it to friends on Facebook sparked some interest, and genealogical colleague Henry Bisharat found another article, “Alexander Hamilton: The West Indian Founding Father,” written in 2004, stating that for “Col. Baird” was meant “Col. Burr.” (Aaron Burr’s highest rank in the Continental Army was Lieutenant Colonel.) Obviously! Now that all makes sense. The article mentioned that (like me), Florence Lewisohn[1] had “misread the entry, assuming that the victim was James Hamilton (senior).” Since the burial register was from 1799, and the Burr Hamilton duel was not until 1804, there was some later annotation to the burial register. Problem solved!

Since I do not have anything else to say about Hamilton’s genealogy, below is a chart showing one kinship (of several) between the three Schuyler sisters to three of the six U.S. Presidents with Dutch ancestry!

Sources for chart: Gary Boyd Roberts, Ancestors of American Presidents, 484; George Washington Schuyler, Colonial New York: Philip Schuyler and his family, esp. 2: 242-43. (Despite the lyrics in “Satisfied,” Major General Philip Schuyler [1733-1804] had three sons who lived to adulthood.) The other presidents with Dutch ancestry were Martin Van Buren, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Gerald Rudolph Ford.

Note

[1] Author of St. Croix under Seven Flags (Hollywood, Fla.: The Dukane Press, 1970).

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About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

7 thoughts on “Hamiltonian errors

  1. While it would be a stretch of the truth to say that it was the VERY FIRST thought I had this morning, I did honestly muse about Alexander Hamilton and his Scottish father (and sponsor/proposed biological father with the son who looked just like Alexander) soon after waking. Then what should appear in Vita Brevis but this post?! Truly an amazing coincidence. And thanks for the information confirming with DNA that—while he was still not legitimate— Alexander was, in fact, the son of his official father.

  2. Thanks for this interesting note, Christopher. For readers interested in learning more about Hamilton, I highly recommend Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. In addition to an exhaustive presentation of Hamilton’s career and accomplishments and the events he experienced, the book very thoroughly discusses Hamilton’s childhood and family and Hamilton’s efforts to stay in touch with his father and brother in the 1780s and 90s. This excellent biography is quite long and a bit wordy but very well worth the reading effort. For kids preparing to see the musical or watch the movie, I recommend Alexander Hamilton (Jr. Graphic Founding Fathers) by Jane H. Gould and George vs. George: The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer. Hamilton the Exhibition in Chicago during 2019 was terrific, but unfortunately closed early, and plans for a tour of the exhibition were abandoned. If the creators manage to sell Hamilton the Exhibition and if it is reestablished in a new location, it’s likely to still be excellent.

  3. At first my interest was piqued by the possible Baird connection to the senior Hamilton’s demise. My family tree includes Hamiltons, Bairds, and Burrs, though Aaron Burr is only a cousin. I’m glad that the mystery was solved and the errant entry in the register was duly corrected.

  4. Thanks for your interesting post on multiple fronts. With regard to Hamilton’s ancestry there is something perhaps worth noting: for Americans of royal descent the lines coming from James II are among the most interesting–far more than royal descent from the Houses of Lancaster and York during the 15th century. His mother was Mary of Guelders, bringing in lines of a far wider range of European royal descent than marriages from the Houses of Lancaster and York, which were mostly confined to the English nobility.

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