Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton was born on August 9, 1757 in Albany, New York and died on November 9, 1854 in Washington, D.C. at the advanced age of 97. She was the spouse of Alexander Hamilton, famous in the early American government following the Declaration of Independence and considered one of the founders of our American republic. She had eight children with Hamilton during their rather short marriage of 24 years. She married Hamilton in 1780 and he died in a duel in 1804.
Her eight children were:
James Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton Jr.
John Church Hamilton
William S. Hamilton
Elizabeth Hamilton Holly
Philip Hamilton II
Elizabeth Hamilton’s parents were the noted American Revolutionary war general, Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer of the Manor of Van Renselaerswyck. Both were descendant from third generation Dutch immigrants. The two families were two of the wealthiest families of that time and it is safe to say that Dutch was probably still their main language in everyday life. Her two famous sisters were Angelica Schuyler Church and Margarita Schuyler Van Rensselaer.
Elizabeth, Angelica and Margarita Schuyler are the three famous sisters portrayed in the Broadway Play “Hamilton”. The three sisters were three of seven siblings who lived to adulthood. There were 14 siblings in total. These figures indicate the enormously high death rate among young children. Not even wealth could lower that very high death rate.
Elizabeth stayed with her aunt in Morristown, New Jersey in early 1780, and there she met Alexander Hamilton, one of George Washington’s aides-de-camp. He was stationed along with Washington in Morristown for the winter. During that winter Elizabeth also became friends with Martha Washington, a friendship that would remain throughout their husbands’ political careers.
Her relationship with Hamilton grew quickly, even after he left Morristown, only a month after Elizabeth, 22 years old, arrived there. They became officially engaged in early April with her father’s blessing. Her father’s blessing was surprising because two of her sisters, Angelica and Margarita, would end up eloping because their father refused their desire to marry the men of their respective choices. Within less than a year of the beginning of their courtship Elizabeth and Hamilton became a married couple, on December 14, 1780. The marriage took place at the Schuyler mansion in Albany, New York.
Because of Hamilton’s army service, the family moved around quite a bit during their early married life but eventually they settled in New York City in late 1783. Life in New York City was obviously more exciting than in Morristown, New Jersey or Albany, New York. The Hamiltons had an active social life, and became well known among the members of New York Society. After Hamilton became treasury secretary in 1789 her social duties increased.
In 1797, Hamilton had an affair with Maria Reynolds. Elizabeth did not believe the rumors at first, but eventually Hamilton lived up to it. The affair put a big strain on their relationship, but they eventually reconciled.
Only two years later Hamilton became involved in an “affair with honor” which led to his duel with Aaron Burr and his untimely death. Hamilton died from wounds received during the duel in July 12, 1804. Elizabeth was then only 47 years old. She would live another 50 years.
Elizabeth at the age of 94, three years before her death
Two years before the duel, Elizabeth’s mother, Catherine had died, and only a few months after Hamilton’s death, her father also died. By that time two of her siblings, Margarita and John had also passed away. So of the original 14 siblings only five survived.
In 1806, two years after Hamilton’s death, Elizabeth became the co-founder of the Society for the relief of poor widows with small children. A few years later she became the co-founder of the Orphan Asylum Society. Elizabeth was appointed second directress. In 1821 Elizabeth was appointed first directress of the Society and served for 27 years in that position until she left New York in 1848. At that time she had been with the Society for 42 years. The Society continues to exist until today under the name Graham Windham, a social service agency for children.
After Hamilton’s death in 1804, Elizabeth was required to pay his debts which were substantial. She had to sell her 35 acre estate in upper Manhattan. Later she was able to buy it back because executors decided that she could not be publicly dispossessed of her home.
She then sold it and moved into a townhouse owned by her son, now known as the Hamilton-Holly House, where she lived for nine years with two of her grown children, Alexander Hamilton Jr. and Eliza Hamilton Holly and their respective spouses. In 1848, she left New York for Washington, D.C., where she lived with her widowed daughter Eliza until 1854.
Elizabeth remained dedicated to preserving her husband’s legacy. She re-organized all of Hamilton’s letters, papers and writings with the help of her son, John Church Hamilton. She also ensured that Hamilton’s biography was published. While she was in her nineties she helped Dolly Madison to raise money for the Washington Monument.
Elizabeth outlived two of her children. Her oldest son Philip died in a duel, just as his father would three years later. He was born on January 22, 1782 and died on November 23, 1801 at the age of 19. She also outlived her fifth child, her son William Stephen who was born on August 4, 1797 and died on October 9, 1850.
Elizabeth died in Washington, D.C. on November 9, 1854, at the advanced age of 97. She had outlived all of her siblings except one who was 24 years her junior. She was interred next to her husband in the graveyard of Trinity Church in New York City.
Elizabeth was portrayed by Doris Kenyon in the 1931 film, Alexander Hamilton. Elizabeth also appeared in the 1986 TV series, George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation. She was portrayed by Eve Gordon and was referred to as Betsy. She also appears in the 2015 Broadway Musical “Hamilton”, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Elizabeth’s depiction in the musical emphasizes both her importance in Hamilton’s life and her work in propagating his legacy.
Chernow, Ron, “Alexander Hamilton”, Penguin Press, 2004
Randall, William Sterne, “Alexander Hamilton: A Life”, Harpers-Collins, 2003
Roberts, Warren, “A Place in History: Albany in the Age of Revolution, 1775-1825”, Albany: NY State University Press, 2010
Wikipedia, especially for main picture (portrait by Ralph Earl)