Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton

1779 – 1780
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The year 1779 began with Hamilton splitting his time between Middlebrook, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. General George Washington was also between the two locations conducting military business with the Continental Congress.
During his time in Philadelphia, Hamilton privately criticized the Congress, “declaring that ¾ of the members of Congress were mortal enemies to talent and that ¾ of the remainder were contemptuous of integrity.” However, word got to the public and some people were outraged.

General Washington spent the winter of 1778-79 at the Wallace House in Somerville while the soldiers were in Middlebrook. They left the area on June 3, 1779 and moved north to West Point, New York. During the year, Washington maneuvered and constantly repositioned troops throughout the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania region. Hamilton was present at the war councils and strategy meetings. There would be over 10 battles, raids and skirmishes in the metropolitan area.

Two of the skirmishes that would influence the British strategy in the area were the Battle of Stony Point on July 15th and the Battle of Paulus Hook on August 19th.  In December the British would change their focus to the southern colonies and British General Clinton would re-deploy part of the army from the New York area. On December 25, a British garrison at Paulus Hook watched a fleet of 90 ships and 8,000 soldiers leave and head for Charleston, South Carolina. 

On November 27th, 1779, Washington and his “military family” left West Point, New York. He arrived in Morristown at the Ford Mansion with ten wagons and eighteen servants on December 1st. Hamilton would resume his duties as an aide-de-camp and French translator.

One bright spot during this harsh and cold winter was the fact that Hamilton fell in love in late January 1780. He had been thinking about marriage but could not find the right woman until Elizabeth Schuyler showed up at the headquarters. (Hamilton had been introduced to Elizabeth in early November 1777 when he was visiting the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York and he met her during the summer of 1779.) She had delivered a letter from her father, Philip, for General Washington.  Elizabeth arrived with her friend Kitty Livingston and a trusted male companion and stayed with her father’s sister Gertrude and her husband Doctor John Cochran in Morristown. They were living in the home of his friend Doctor Jabez Campfield.

On January 30, 1780, Washington responded to Schuyler’s letter and mentioned that his daughter had paid a visit to Mrs. Washington and himself. Before closing, he noted that “Miss Schuyler is well…”  There is a strong possibility that the carriage driver returned to Albany with General Washington’s letter.

It is not certain how Hamilton began courting Elizabeth – research indicates he may have encountered her at church or was a guest at a family event. According to one source, Hamilton became a “frequent visitor” at the Campfield home. Some of the aides called her “the little saint”. Elizabeth was “good-natured though somewhat serious, she was at ease in the outdoors and devout in her Christian faith.” Another description told that “She was a sweet, amiable and vivacious girl, with brown hair and beautiful dark eyes.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Some of Washington’s officers stayed at Arnold’s Tavern and others at the Continental House. The latter building was being used as a government warehouse on the first floor. The officers resided on the second floor and dances (called assembly balls) were also being held in the building. In one case, officers donated $400.00 each to have three dances with refreshments. Since Hamilton enjoyed dancing, it is certain that he and Elizabeth attended the dances.

In early March, history was turning another page in their lives when they expressed a wish to be married. Shortly afterward, Hamilton, General Arthur St. Clair and Lieutenant Colonel Edward Carrington left for a meeting with the British at Amboy to discuss a prisoner exchange on March 9th. The three men returned Morristown on March 26th and proceeded to write their reports.

Prior to his leaving, Alexander Hamilton had written a letter to Elizabeth’s parents asking for their permission to marry her, as was the custom at that time. He had to wait until April 9th for the favorable answer and he was overjoyed. Included in the approval letter was a statement that there must be no elopement. Her oldest sister, Angelica, had eloped three years before and it caused much pain to the both of them. (Interesting note is that all four of Elizabeth’s sisters had eloped.)

On April 28th, Philip Schuyler was in Morristown on government business where he would discuss with Washington the organization of the military staffing of the various departments and the strategy regarding the French. He had just arrived from Philadelphia after a conference with the Continental Congress in this matter. Philip was planning to spend a few months in town so he rented a house. He invited his wife Catherine to join him and meet her future son-in-law. He would stay until the army left in June.

Alexander and Elizabeth continued their dating and routine until Hamilton left about June 7th. Catherine and Elizabeth returned to Albany in early June. Philip would remain for a while and split his time between Philadelphia and the army. The demands of the military campaign of the summer of 1780 were great which prevented him from visiting Elizabeth but many letters were exchanged.

Hamilton left in late November, with Major James McHenry, for Albany. He had left all the wedding preparations to his future bride and her family. They were married on December 14, 1780, in the parlor of the Schuyler Mansion-her childhood home. General Washington, with the blessing of Martha, sent their greetings and best wishes from New Windsor, New York, where he was spending the winter of 1780-81.

Prepared by Lee Fahley,  Ranger  Morristown National Historical Park/Statue of Liberty    6 February 2013

Sourced from interpretive files, at Morristown NHP.

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