Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton 1757 ~ 1854

 

 


Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

In the family Bible of young Philip Schuyler, when a captain under General Bradstreet, the Quartermaster of the English army, appears this entry: "Elizabeth, born August 9, 1757. Do according to Thy will with her." Thus entered into the world Elizabeth Schuyler, afterwards the wife of Alexander Hamilton.

When she was only two months old the frightful massacre of the German Flats occurred and the refugees fled to Albany. In the big barn on the Schuyler estate they found shelter and the little Schuyler babies, Elizabeth and Angelica, had to be set aside while their young mother, Catharine Schuyler, with the other women of the house, helped administer to the needs of the poor destitute people. At this time, too, the town of Albany was filled with rapacious army troops. A detachment of red-coats, under General Charles Lee, lay in the "Indian Field" adjoining the ground of the Schuyler mansion, and they did not hesitate to lay hands on whatever suited their purpose. Abercrombie, Lee, and kindly, courteous Lord Howe, were all visitors there during this period.

Later, when the defeat of Ticonderoga came, the Schuyler bam again opened its hospitable doors. This time it was converted into a hospital and the wounded British and provincial soldiers lay beneath the rafters, fed by the Negro slaves and nursed by the women of the Schuyler homestead. So, in the midst of war scenes, Elizabeth Schuyler passed her early child-hood. As the daughter of so worthy and distinguished a man as General Schuyler, she received an education superior to that of most Colonial girls, she with her sisters being sent to New York to school. Afterwards returning to the Schuyler house at Albany, on a memorable afternoon, in October, 1777, she met young Alexander Hamilton, the brilliant aid-de-camp on her father's staff. The friendship so formed between "Betsy" Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton during his short stay in Albany was not destined to end there, although it was a period of almost two years before they met again.

When news of the battle of Lexington came "Betsy" was at Saratoga with the rest of the family. War had begun and in the days that followed she lived in the midst of army talk and army doings, for generals, officers and aids-de-camp were coming and going continually at the Schuyler mansion. But later on, John Schuyler was appointed to Congress and went to live at Philadelphia with his family. The headquarters of the army during the campaign of 1779-80, were at Morristown, some fifty miles from the Schuyler's Philadelphia home, and to Morristown Betsy Schuyler very shortly journeyed to visit her aunt. Headquarters were gay at that time, Washington's household being composed of a brilliant company. Washington and his wife sat opposite each other in the center of the board, and on both sides of them almost continually, were ranged many distinguished visitors. Impetuous young Aaron Burr was of the party, the elegant Baron Steuben and the splendid Duke Lauzun. In this illustrious group of men Alexander Hamilton shone as the bright particular star, and naturally the one of whom Betsy Schuyler saw the most during her visit to Morristown was Alexander Hamilton. As it happened, her stay at Morristown was happily prolonged, her father being invited by the commander-in-chief to come to headquarters as his military adviser. The Schuyler family were soon established at Morristown, and their home became one of the centers of social life, and Hamilton spent most of his evenings there.

On December 14, 1780, Elizabeth Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton were married in the ample and handsome drawing-room of the Schuyler mansion at Albany, where three years before, if reports be true, they had met and loved. Elizabeth Schuyler's story of Colonial days ends with her marriage. The merry, light-hearted Betsy Schuyler became Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, one of the most prominent leaders of official society. She was eminently fitted for her high position. In her father's home she had been accustomed to entertaining great people of the day, and from her mother she had learned the ways of a large and ever-ready hospitality, while her natural grace and ability assured her own success. We may judge how great a lady Betsy Schuyler had become when we read that at the Inaugural Ball the President distinguished Mrs. Hamilton, and one other woman, by dancing with them. She and her husband were included constantly in Washington's dinner and theatre parties.

The Hamiltons were not rich. "I have seen," writes Talleyrand, "one of the marvels of the world. I have seen the man who made the fortune of a Nation laboring all night to support his family." Hamilton, however, was not merely the most brilliant statesman of his day, and his wife was not only a charming society woman. There are glimpses of a beautiful home life set apart from official duties and social obligations. Hamilton's reason for resigning his seat in the Cabinet has become historic. In it we see a proof of his love for his wife and children. In this life of "domestic happiness," for which Hamilton resigned his career as a statesman, Elizabeth Hamilton was a bright and cheerful influence. She entered warmly into her husband's plans and sympathies and heartily into the interests of her children. The sweetness of disposition and kindness of heart which, in her girlhood, had so endeared her to her friends made her relations as wife and mother very beautiful.

The peace and gladness of the Hamilton home were cruelly ended on that fatal July morning, in 1804, when Hamilton lost his life. At his untimely death all America mourned and the terrible sorrow of his family cannot be described. His wife, the "dear Betsy'' of his boyhood, survived her husband for fifty, long, lonesome years. When she died, at ninety-seven, a pleasant, sweet-faced old lady, praised for her sunny nature and her quiet humor, a pocketbook was found in her possession. Within it lay a yellow, time-worn letter. It was written on the morning of the duel, and was Hamilton's farewell to his "Beloved Wife."

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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