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Historical Accuracies That Make Hamilton Even Better

Published on July 17, 2020 8:00 AM EST
Historical Accuracies That Make Hamilton Even Better

In the opening song of the hit Broadway show Hamilton, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, we get hit with a bunch of information. It is a lot to take in, and if you are like me, you weren’t taught much about Hamilton’s origins before he became the “ten-dollar founding father.”

You might wonder how much of what we hear is true. I googled all kinds of questions during the Disney+ live stream. I swear I have learned more in the two times I watched this show than in Advanced American History. Hopefully, this article will answer your “is this factual” questions, that way you can enjoy the show without needing to fact check it!

Historical Accuracies That Make Hamilton Even Better

I am Alexander Hamilton

So, who was Alexander Hamilton? The show claims:

  • He was a bastard, orphan, son of a whore, and a Scotsman, who hailed from the Caribbean. These are genuine claims. Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Fawcett Lavien, was married to a St. Croix sugar planter named John Lavien. The couple had a violent relationship, and Rachel eventually left. She left him and fled of Nevis and St. Kitts (the Caribbean), where she met James Hamilton (a Scotsman). They lived together for 15 years, but she never divorced her first husband (making Alexander a bastard, and in the eyes of society, his mother a whore). His father left the family when he learned that Rachel was still technically married. Alexander wrote letters to his father, but never saw him again.
  • His mother went quick, and the cousin committed suicide. After Alexander’s father left, his mother died of a fever. Her first husband took the small inheritance and sent Alexander to live with a cousin. That cousin committed suicide, leaving Hamilton a penniless orphan
  • He was in charge of a trading charter at 14. He began working for Nicholas Cruger, a trade merchant. Cruger recognized how smart Alexander was, particularly his Math and Business skills, despite not having a formal education. Whenever Cruger had to travel, he would leave Alexander in charge of the company.
  • They sent him to the mainland, following a hurricane, after people took up a collection. Alexander’s letters and writings were published in St. Croix newspaper. His employer was so impressed by a message Hamilton wrote to his father about a hurricane, that he and a minister raised funds to send Hamilton to the mainland to go to college. 
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Just how smart was Alexander Hamilton? So bright, that despite being a bastard, orphan, son of a whore, and a Scotsman with no formal education, he became a powerhouse. He was only in his 20s during the revolutionary war. There were no IQ tests then, but many people estimate Hamilton’s IQ to be about 144 (quite a top-notch brain).

The Schuyler Sisters

Ok, so the biggest question I asked myself was about the relationship between Hamilton and Angelica, and Hamilton and Eliza. In the “First Burn” (not the version we hear on Disney+), Eliza says, “I know about whispers, I see how you look at my sister.” Ouch! The truth is a little less dramatic than the musical.

Angelica was already married to John Church when Hamilton met Eliza, so she didn’t sacrifice her potential relationship with him for her sister’s happiness. However, Angelica and Eliza had a very close relationship, especially since they were only a year apart.

It is also true that Alexander and Angelica would engage in some flirtatious letters. She once wrote him: “I am sensible how much I trouble I give you, but you will have the goodness to excuse it when you know that it proceeded from a persuasion that I was asking from one who promised me his love and attention if I returned to America.” 

Angelica also wrote to Eliza and tell her “loved and admired Hamilton very much, and if Eliza were as generous as the old Romans, she would lend him to her for a while.” Or as Lin-Manuel tells it:

Laughin’ at my sister cause she wants to form a harem;

I’m just sayin’ if you loved me, you would you share him.

There is no historical evidence that Hamilton and Angelica had an actual affair. It would appear that Hamilton loved his wife Eliza, based on this love letter he had written to her:

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You are certainly a little sorceress and have bewitched me, for you have made me disrelish every thing that used to please me, and have rendered me as restless and unsatisfied with all about me, as if I was the inhabitant of another world, and had nothing in common with this. I must in spite of myself become an inconstant to detach myself from you, for as it now stands I love you more than I ought—more than is consistent with my peace.

A. Burr and A. Ham

There are many show-stopping musical numbers, but one of my favorites is the scene between Hamilton and Burr right before their duel. The audience has spent over two hours watching these frenemies interact, and then we get to watch a scene where they politely debate about why they want to kill one another. What was the extent of their relationship? 

In fact, they were close until Burr switched parties to unseat Hamilton’s father-in-law as senator. Then Hamilton endorsed Jefferson, his most significant political rivalry. He called Burr “beyond redemption” and “despicable.” They wrote correspondence to one another about their grievances, and they signed the letters:

Your Obedient Servant, A. Ham (and A. Burr)

Call me son one more time

The first time I watched Hamilton, I felt that Washington and Hamilton were more than colleagues. Their relationship was that of close friends or father and son. However, the second time around (yes, I have watched it multiple times); I was more aware of the reserved manner that Washington presented. 

According to Tim Ott, the two men were never close friends, but Washington recognized Hamilton’s intelligence and valued him above others with political matters. If anyone was like a son to Washington, it was Marquis de Lafayette. 

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Hamilton had a habit of angering those he didn’t agree with, and Washington kept him in check and safeguarded his political reputation. Hamilton walked out on Washington when he scolded him for making him wait for a meeting during the revolution. He would come back when Washington soothed his ego and asked him to join the battle again. When Hamilton published the Reynold’s Pamphlet, “Washington reached out by sending a wine cooler and a thoughtful note that expressed his support without mentioning the infraction.” 

It must be nice. It must be nice…to have Washington on your side.

Hamilton’s downfall began shortly after Washington’s death. Hamilton wrote, “I have been much indebted to the kindness of the General, and he was an Aegis very essential to me.” Washington could protect Hamilton from his worst inclinations and his other “diametrically opposed, foes.” 

Shortly after Washington’s death, is when the incident between Burr and Hamilton escalated and the duel ensued.

Hamilton is a perfect example of historical fiction

As a genre, we define historical fiction as “A story that takes place in a setting drawn from history. Historical fiction is usually presented from the perspective of the historical characters, whose behavior is consistent with the manners and social norms of the time.

Scenes and dialogue are well researched and imaginatively reconstructed to be as authentic as possible—common elements: believability, historically accurate detail, authentic dialogue, historical settings, and persons. While there are no rules on how far in the past a story must be set to qualify it as a historical fiction piece, many are in agreement that the story must be set at least 25 years or more in the past.” 

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While Lin Manuel took some creative license, he stayed close to the truth, while making these historical figures feel more human. Combining hip hop and modern sound with broadway elements was genius! 

I found out during my research that tickets for Hamilton went up to $1300 on Broadway. I am so thankful that they decided to bring the musical to the small screen via Disney+. I had heard some of the music when the show was on Broadway, but that doesn’t do the actors enough justice. The shots that were captured of the actor’s facial expressions and body language are priceless. 

Finding the truth behind such critical American figures’ history was eye-opening for me, especially realizing how young many of them were. Having them portrayed relatively and humanly was a new experience, and I am in awe that Hamilton’s cast could take something as stoic as the founding fathers and turn it into the most talked-about Broadway event. I don’t know how many more times I will watch Hamilton in the future, but these historical facts make it more enjoyable. I can’t wait to learn the next new piece of information!

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