In the very beginning of the Broadway musical, Hamilton, Hamilton’s childhood is summarized in a song simply called “Alexander Hamilton”. Alexander Hamilton arrived in New Jersey in 1772 when he was only 15 years old. He studied for a time at the Elizabethtown Academy, in Elizabethtown, a city that today is called Elizabeth. He tried to enter the College of New Jersey, which was founded by Aaron Burr Sr., but was not admitted. Aaron Burr Jr. was to play a big part in Hamilton’s life, but at that time Hamilton simply went to New York City and began studying at King’s College (which later became Columbia University). The year was 1774. He never returned to the Caribbean and did not like to talk about his childhood, his brothers or his illegitimacy. His brother, James Jr., didn’t fare so well. He was apprenticed to a carpenter and stayed on the island. It is said that he had several children with a black woman, but it is not clear if she was a slave or not. It is also said that he turned into the best carpenter on the island of St. Croix. Alexander Hamilton’s other older brother, Peter Lavien, the one his mother abandoned, ended up immigrating to South Carolina where he co-owned a plantation. His partner had business dealings with Alexander Hamilton, but Hamilton and Peter probably never met. However, when he died in 1781, he left one hundred and fifty pounds sterling to each of his half-brothers. And as for New Jersey, although it didn’t become a state until 1787, it would return to play a part in Hamilton’s life again and again.
When Alexander Hamilton arrived in New York, America was made up of 13 colonies that were in the midst of protesting British taxes and commercial regulations. He got right into the radical politics of the time and began to write pamphlets promoting the cause for independence. When the Revolutionary War, aka the War of Independence, actually began in 1765, the British managed to occupy New York City the very next year. Alexander Hamilton was forced to leave school at that time, his education incomplete. The Broadway musical opens at about this period.
In the musical, Hamilton, overly enthusiastic about the upcoming revolution, meets Aaron Burr at this time. Actually, he made a point to meet Burr, who finished college in only 2 years, something Hamilton wanted to do also. It was Aaron Burr’s father who had founded the New Jersey college that had rejected Hamilton. Burr, who was possibly an overly cautious man, advises him to “talk less; smile more” in the musical. The character Aaron Burr sings a song called, “Aaron Burr, Sir”, which introduces his character. Burr, a lawyer, was a Jerseyite and almost 20 years older than Hamilton, but Hamilton just couldn’t understand how Burr could be so prudent. Hamilton makes friends with three fellow revolutionaries who share his enthusiasm, one of them being Marquis de Lafayette, a flamboyant Frenchman. He manages to make them even more excited about dying for the cause and they sing “The Story of Tonight” which is about their meeting, their loyalty, and their commitment to the cause of the revolution and freedom from Great Britain.
This was around the same time that Hamilton met three wealthy sisters, two of whom would later fall in love with him. In the musical, they are shown wandering the streets of New York City, excited by the talk of revolution in the air. There is a rap song in the musical around this point called “The Schuyler Sisters”.
Those colonists who did not support the revolution were called British Loyalists, or just Loyalists, and one of them is seen at this time in the musical preaching against the revolution. Hamilton, always impatient, contradicts his statements and sings a song called “Farmer Refuted”. Soon afterwards, King George III appears on stage and reminds everybody that he is willing and able to fight for the love of maintaining all the British colonies. He sings “You’ll Be Back,” which is playful and basically says that he thinks the colonists will come crawling back to him after his troops quash the senseless rebellion. King George III is always depicted as a comic relief in the musical. He really had a lot on his royal plate: conquering parts of Africa, Asia, a lot of Europe, holding on to the Americas, and that pesky Napoleon, just to name some of the things that went on during his lengthy reign. He eventually died in Windsor Castle, insane and alone, but that wasn’t until 1820.
Alexander Hamilton joined a volunteer militia company as soon as the war began, and studied military history and tactics on his own. He saw battle, and led successful raids, and historians say that his bravery and success on the battlefield were all part of a plan to improve his station in life. One of the perks of living in a country that is almost constantly at war is that wars can serve as social equalizers. Alexander Hamilton simply dazzled everyone with his writing and oratory skills and he was soon brought to the attention of General George Washington.
Although still in his 20s, Hamilton became an aide-de-camp to General George Washington. The musical has a song that refers to this phase of his life called “Right Hand Man”. Both George Washington and Alexander Hamilton were headquartered in the Arnold Tavern in Morristown, New Jersey during most of this time. Hamilton served for four years in the Continental Army as Washington’s chief of staff and was involved in every aspect of high-level issues. During that time, Aaron Burr, who had tried to work closely with George Washington, developed a great deal of resentment towards Alexander Hamilton. But he couldn’t compete; Hamilton managed to steal British cannons and became even more of a favorite with Washington. However, there is also a story that says when Hamilton’s artillery surprised the British at Princeton (New Jersey again) in 1777, Hamilton deliberately fired a fired from a cannon’]cannonball[/simple_tooltip] into the college’s main building, Nassau Hall. Remember the college that Aaron Burr’s father founded and that had rejected Hamilton? If this story is true, nobody noticed much in the heat of war, and Hamilton was soon given permission to issue orders under his own name. He rose to become a lieutenant colonel and George Washington always seemed to keep Hamilton under his wing.
In 1780, while the war was well under way, a wealthy New York girl named Eliza, along with her two sisters, went to visit their aunt in New Jersey, the same girls Hamilton had met in New York just before the war. Hamilton was still stationed there along with General George Washington. A ball was held and the girls met Alexander Hamilton again. Of course there is a song at this point called “A Winter’s Ball”. This time, there were sparks and both Eliza and her older sister were attracted to Hamilton. Angelica, the older sister, kind of stepped aside when she saw how her younger sister, Eliza, was smitten, and Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married that same year. War speeds up romances as well as deleting one’s low station in life. But Hamilton and Angelica, the older sister, were always attracted to each other intellectually.
Surprisingly, near the end of the war, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton had a falling out because Hamilton wanted to return to the battlefield and Washington refused to release him. Hamilton went home to his wife, Eliza, (in New Jersey) around this time and she tells him that she is pregnant with their first baby and also tells him that they don’t need fame and fortune to be happy. At this point in the musical, she sings a beautiful song “That Would Be Enough”.
In the middle of 1781, Washington relented and Hamilton became a commander of three battalions. He successfully led the assault on Yorktown, Virginia, along with French allies. This victory was decisive and it is credited with forcing the British surrender and to negotiate the end of the war, which resulted in America’s independence. The character that plays George Washington sings an invigorating song during this part of the musical called “History Has Its Eyes on You.” In the musical, George Washington is played by a tall, dignified, actor/singer/rapper who has a commanding presence.
The war ended in 1783 and the colonists gained their freedom. King George, the humorous addition to the musical, sings an interesting song at this time called “What Comes Next?” referring to how the rebels are supposed to govern themselves now that they have won their independence.
Alexander Hamilton resigned his commission immediately after the Battle of Yorktown. His first son, Phillip, was born, and Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia, was also born. A song, Theodosia” is sung by the character Aaron Burr, along with Hamilton, and both men proclaim that they will make the world a better place for their children. In 1776, as soon as the war was over, both Burr and Hamilton returned to New York. Burr resumed his career as a lawyer, and Hamilton began some months of self-study. He passed the bar exam in 1782 to become a licensed lawyer. Hamilton was chosen to be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and after Burr refused to join in and help them revise the existing system of government and craft the constitution, Hamilton enlisted James Madison and John Jay. They wrote The Federalist Papers, which were instrumental in the ratification of the Constitution. The men wrote 85 essays under the title of The Federalist Papers, and Alexander Hamilton was the author of 51 of them! Burr had been both envious and in awe of Hamilton’s work for some time, and this feat was the last straw.
Eliza’s older sister, Angelica, announces that she has found a husband is moving to London. And the newly elected president, George Washington, names Alexander Hamilton as Treasury Secretary. Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, protests his going off again and sings a song called “Non-Stop”.
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