Alexander Hamilton’s New Jersey
Painting: The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton January 3, 1777.
By Taylor Smith
“Hamilton” has become something of a phenomenon.
The play won 11 Tony Awards, including best musical, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a Grammy Award for best musical theater album. Additional awards include the Kennedy Prize for Drama and a “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The musical’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has freestyled for President Obama and a national tour is set for 2017.
What New Jersey residents might not know is that Alexander Hamilton has many connections to the state. Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, Alexander Hamilton, details Hamilton’s journey from the West Indies to New Jersey, and New York.
When Hamilton first arrived in America, he resided in Elizabethtown (currently Elizabeth, New Jersey) and studied at Elizabethtown Academy in hopes of pursuing a degree at Princeton University in Princeton, which was then known as the College of New Jersey.
Hamilton met with the Head of School, John Witherspoon, in September of 1772. Unfortunately, his acceptance was later revoked due to his desire to pursue an accelerated degree in less than four year’s time. In contrast, James Madison and Aaron Burr had both completed accelerated degree programs.
Having been snubbed by his first choice, Hamilton entered King’s College in 1774 (now Columbia University). He embraced New York, finding Manhattan to be a city of immigrants. He himself was, as John Adams put it, “the bastard brat of a Scotch peddler.” Orphaned at 12, he sought to establish roots in North America and quickly acclimated to life in early New York.
As a student at King’s College, Hamilton pursued studies in mathematics and became involved in politics. Committed to the revolutionary cause, he gave speeches in praise of the Boston Tea Party and wrote pamphlets and handouts in support of The Continental Congress.
In 1775, when an angry mob stormed King’s College searching for the school’s loyalist president Myles Cooper, Hamilton diffused the situation by delivering a lengthy speech, giving Cooper time to flee on a British frigate.
Following graduation, Hamilton joined the Revolutionary army as an artillery officer and his company was used in strategic areas throughout New York and New Jersey, including Trenton, Princeton, and Morristown.
On December 25, 1776, Hamilton was with General George Washington and his troops as they rowed across the Delaware River. The conditions were icy and dangerous, but Washington felt that catching the Hessians off-guard was their best hope for victory.
The Battle of Trenton occurred the following morning, when Captain Hamilton’s artillery companies were stationed at King Street and Queen Street in downtown Trenton.
Hamilton was with Washington when he embarked on what was to become known as The Battle of Princeton, a victory for the Revolutionary Army. Legend has it that Hamilton fired a canon at the remaining British soldiers in Nassau Hall.
Following the battles of Trenton and Princeton, Hamilton was invited to join Washington’s staff as an aide-de-camp. As Washington’s chief staff aide, Hamilton penned letters to Congress, drafted orders from Washington, and participated in intelligence and diplomatic duties amongst the Continental Army’s most high-ranking officers.
During the course of The Battle of Monmouth Courthouse in Freehold, Hamilton bravely rallied fleeing American soldiers, once again proving his worth to the Revolutionary War effort.
Now a Lieutenant Colonel, Hamilton spent two winters in Morristown, New Jersey. During this time, he met and began to court Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of General Philip Schuyler, a wealthy New Yorker of Dutch descent. The couple married on December 14, 1780 at the Schuyler estate near Albany, New York.
Hamilton resigned from Congress in July 1783 and began to practice law in New York. In 1784, he founded the Bank of New York, which stayed in business for over 220 years before merging. Severely damaged during the war, King’s College was restored as Columbia College, with Hamilton playing a key role in the restoration.
In 1791, Hamilton formed the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures on the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey. The goal was to use the Great Falls to create a thriving industrial community. Although the project eventually closed, Paterson went on to become a center for textile and silk production.
The famous duel between Aaron Burr and Hamilton took place at dawn on July 11, 1804 on a rocky ledge in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton was mortally wounded by Burr and taken to the Greenwich Village home of his close friend William Bayard Jr., where he died. He was buried in Trinity Churchyard in Manhattan.