Since seeing the Broadway show Hamilton, I’ve been listening to the songs on my iPod whenever I’m out and about. I’m notorious among my friends for learning lyrics quickly, but since Hamilton has a lot of lyrics–most of them rapped–we’ll see how many of the words I’ll memorize.
One thing the musical has done is have me back in historical mode. As I mentioned earlier this month, I knew some basics about Alexander Hamilton and a bit more on the presidential Founding Fathers–I went through a long phase as a kid where I read kiddie history books on the presidents. And of course, being American, I was taught early American history.
But as a true history nerd–and as a historical fiction reader and writer–I love learning more about a period or historical people and I especially love learning about the lesser-known people. They tend to be less mythologized than the more famous people, but no less interesting.
So, here are four people I’d never heard of before I saw Hamilton. For those who think they might see this show sometime in the relative-near-future, there be spoilers.
1. John Laurens
Born to a slave-owning family in South Carolina, Laurens was educated in England and studied law. Returning home in 1777 with the Revolutionary War in full swing, Laurens volunteered for the Continental army. He became an aide-de-camp to Washington, where he became friends with the Marquis de Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton.
After the Battle of Brandywine, Lafayette said of Laurens: “It is not his fault that he was not killed or wounded…he did everything necessary to procure one or the other.”
Laurens’ great wish was to raise a regiment of slaves to fight in the war and then free them for their service; for a man raised in the slave-owning south, Laurens believed that slavery was wrong. He went to France mid-war to negotiate for French aid and returned home to see the French fleet help the Americans at the Battle of Yorktown. Laurens was shot and killed at a battle in August 1782, after Yorktown, which we’re often told was the last battle of the Revolutionary War.
2. Eliza Hamilton
Born in 1757 in Albany, New York, Elizabeth Schuyler was the daughter of Philip Schuyler, a wealthy man from an old Dutch family, and Catherine Van Rensselaer, who was also from an old and influential Dutch family–the family owned a ton of land around Albany. Present-day Rensselaer County in upstate New York is named for them. Eliza was the couple’s second daughter.
Eliza married Alexander Hamilton in 1780. She gave birth to eight children, endured Hamilton’s frequent absences and his notorious affair with Maria Reynolds, and defended him to his many critics. After Hamilton’s death, Eliza continued to defend her late husband, sifting through his thousands of pages of writing, founding and running the first private orphanage in New York City, speaking out against slavery, and raising funds for the Washington Monument.
She outlived her husband by fifty years, dying in 1854 in Washington, D.C.
3. Angelica Schuyler Church
Angelica Schuyler was Eliza Schuyler Hamilton’s older sister. During the Revolutionary War, Philip Schuyler was a Continental general. Angelica eloped with John Barker Church in 1777 and after the war, the couple left America for Europe, only returning in 1797. Church was the U.S. envoy to Paris for a few years, so Angelica met many of the influential men of the period. When the family moved to England, Angelica moved in very elevated social circles.
Angelica corresponded with many of the really famous men of the time–including her brother-in-law Alexander Hamilton, with whom she had a particularly affectionate relationship. Her letters are considered an interesting glimpse into the era and are kept at the University of Virginia and the Library of Congress.
4. Samuel Seabury
He’s a super minor, one-scene character in the show, but I looked the guy up. Seabury was a Loyalist and the first American Episcopal bishop. He wrote three open letters under the name A.W. Farmer, all of them Loyalist, all against Congress, arguing that the colonies should remain part of the British Empire. Alexander Hamilton wrote responses to these letters; I read one paragraph of “The Farmer Reputed.” Hamilton used too many commas.
Seabury was arrested in 1775, jailed, and took refuge in New York City (which was under British rule for most of the war). After the war, he remained in the United States.
Philip Hamilton, the eldest son of Alexander and Eliza, died in a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey, in 1801–three years before his father died in a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey.
Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr, disappeared in a presumed shipwreck in January 1813. She’d married a Southerner and was on her way north to visit her father.