Historic Houses from Hamilton
With sixteen tony nominations and center orchestra seats commanding over sixteen hundred dollars apiece on stubhub, New York is still firmly in the grip of “Hamilton Mania”. I was lucky enough to see the play not so long ago, and can see why. As someone who despaired that history could ever again be presented as compellingly as in the days of Schoolhouse Rock I was completely caught up in the words, movement and music. Still, my inner history geek was left wondering afterwards about the real life characters so adroitly played by the actors onstage. Did physical remnants of the world in which they lived still exist (aside from the obvious public government buildings)? Specifically, how many of the homes in which many these dramas played out still? The answer is surprisingly many, and even more happily a good number of them are open to the public. To follow is a cursory armchair tour of some of the "real life" historic houses from Hamilton (with links aplenty for more in-depth information).
The Schuyler Sisters (and one brother)
Born into one of the colony’s leading families, the captivating and independent minded (of the five sisters, only one, Eliza married with her parents full blessing and didn’t elope) Schuyler sisters grew up in the Pastures, their father’s Albany mansion.
The impressive brick Georgian home is now a New York Historic Site, open to the public for tours. Although the grounds of the once 80-acre estate have been reduced to one square block over time as the City grew around it, it still conveys an accurate sense of how the Colonial aristocracy lived. Added bonus – on can see the parlor where the marriage of Eliza and Alexander Hamilton took place in 1780! http://www.schuylerfriends.org
Eldest sister Angelica, known for her wit, intelligence and flirtatious behavior, eloped in 1777 at the age of twenty-one with John Barker Church. Though her father was initially outraged, he eventually warmed to his son in-law (a huge fortune Church made supplying French and American troops during the Revolution probably helped). In the thick of fashionable society wherever they went, the couple lived for periods in Paris and London before returning to New York in 1797 (their return delayed until Alexander Hamilton, charged with finding their new home, could locate a suitably luxurious mansion for them. The Federal government gave the Church’s 100,000 acres in western New York to partially repay the debt it owed to John. Ever the entrepreneur he planned a modern community named Angelica on it, with broad streets radiating from a star shaped center, conceived partially as a refuge for French émigrés, many of them friends of the John and Angelica, who were fleeing the upheaval in their home Country. Although the lofty ambitions for the frontier community never came to fruition, in 1804 they began construction on an elegant brick and stone country seat attributed to the designs of Benjamin Latrobe.
The home, named Belvidere Villa is still extant and well maintained as a private residence.
In early 1780 Eliza went to Morristown, New Jersey, where General Washington’s winter headquarters were, to stay with her aunt and uncle who were renting Jabez Campfield’s home there.
Being a Schuyler sister, and no doubt wanting to be where the action was, (at least from a social perspective) she came accompanied by letters of introduction to the Washington’s and Baron Steuben. Although they had met two years earlier at her father’s Albany home, it was in Morristown that the romance between Hamilton and Eliza began, blossomed, and culminated with his proposal to her a month later. The white clapboard home in which she was courted was eventually bought by the New Jersey chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and is open to the public http://www.njdar.org/schuyler-hamilton.html
Margarita (Peggy), the least focused-on sister in the play, was renowned in her day as the most beautiful of the sisters, no mean feat. She also made the most spectacular marriage, eloping with one Stephen Van Rennselaer in June of 1783. In addition to being six years her junior, he also happened to be the heir to the great Patroonship of Rennselaerwyck, making him one of, if not the richest man in the colonies. They settled in the elaborate van Rennselaer Manor house just north of Albany.
Though the house is no longer standing, the woodwork and wallpaper from its great hall was installed in the American Wing of Metropolitan Museum of Art, which gives a hint of the lavish magnificence in which she lived.
And a Brother…
Through Hamilton’s creative license, one might believe there were only sisters in the Schuyler family. In reality there were brothers as well. One, named Philip Schuyler after his father built the Grove, a countryseat located a few miles outside of Rhinebeck.
Located halfway between Albany and New York, I can only imagine it was a popular and frequent stop for various family members to visit when traveling between the two cities. The mansion, substantially enlarged and remodeled over time, currently serves as an apartment building.
Aaron Burr was born in 1756, in Newark, New Jersey, where his father, Reverend Aaron Burr, Sr. served as a minister and President of the College of New Jersey. When the college moved to Princeton (later to be renamed Princeton University, the Burrs relocated there, settling into the newly built Presidents house.
Though their time there was short (Burr Sr. died in 1757, his wife soon after), the home where Aaron Burr lived during the first year of his life is still standing on the campus today.
Orphaned, Burr and his sister were initially placed in the Philadelphia home of William Shippen.
A prominent doctor and later member of the Continental Congress, Shippen’s brick mansion was a center for Philadelphia society, its visitors reading like a Who’s Who of colonial notables. It was recently combined with the neighboring Cadwalader mansion and put on the market in 2015 for $4.4 million dollars.
After finishing his studies at Princeton at the age of 19, Burr went to Litchfield Connecticut, where he studied law with Tapping Reeve, who was married to his sister Sally husband.
He was living in the Reeve’s home when he learned of the Battle of Lexington and joined the revolutionary cause, returning there after the war to finish his studies. Today the house and law school are owned and operated by the Litchfield Historical Society, open to the public seasonally
On July 2, 1782 Burr, then 25, married Theodosia Prevost, a 35 year old widow with four children, known for her intelligence and razor sharp wit. The wedding took place at the Hermitage, her family home in Ho-ho-kus, New Jersey. Remodeled in the gothic revival style during the mid-nineteenth century, it is now a house museum.
In New York City, the Burrs lived at 3 Wall St before moving in 1794 to Richmond Hill, an elaborate 26-acre country estate north of the city and south of Greenwich Village (roughly where Charlton and Varick streets are today).
It was from there that Burr set off on his fateful duel. Later he was forced to sell of land and eventually the house (demolished in the 1840s) to pay off debts before moving to Europe to escape his creditors. After his return to the States, Burr married Eliza Jumel, a wealthy socialite and moved into her country villa in northern Manhattan in 1832. It is interesting to note that Madame Jumel’s five bay, porticoed mansion with corner quoins bore more than a passing resemblance to his beloved Richmond Hill.
An independent woman, Eliza had no tolerance for Burr’s designs on her money. The couple separated after four months and divorce proceedings were finalized on the day he died in 1836! Today the Morris Jumel Mansion, Manhattan’s oldest surviving house, is operated as a house museum. http://www.morrisjumel.org
Before their ill-fated duel in New Jersey, Burr and Hamilton fought and sometimes even worked together as lawyers in the safer confines of courtrooms across the State. One of them, is located on Route 23B in the hamlet of Claverack. Now a private home, it also served as Columbia County’s first courthouse.
Alexander Hamilton’s storied life began in the West Indies, where several homes associated with his early years still stand. In Charlestown, on the island of Nevis, The Museum of Nevis History, also known as the Hamilton house, was built on the ruins of the actual house (destroyed by an earthquake in 1840) in which he spent the early years of his life.
Moving to St Croix with his mother, Hamilton also spent periods with his aunt Ann and her husband James Lytton at the Grange, their plantation home there, still privately owned and recently restored.
While serving on General Washington’s staff during the winter of 1779-1780 in Morristown New Jersey, Hamilton resided with George and Martha Washington at their winter headquarters in the Ford Mansion (along with four other aides-de camp, eighteen servants and the Ford family, their hosts).
With such a crowd, it is no wonder that most his wooing of Eliza probably took place at the Campfield house! Today the site is operated by the National Park Service.
Settling in New York City after the British occupation ended, the Hamiltons initially rented a home at 57 Wall Street. Later Hamilton purchased 32 acres in upper Manhattan and commissioned architect John McComb Jr to design a house for him. They moved into the new federal style villa, named the grange in 1802.
Although Hamilton’s aunt and uncle’s home on St Croix was also known as the Grange, Hamilton actually named it after his Hamilton grandfather’s home in Scotland. The only house Hamilton actually owned, he was only able to enjoy the bucolic surroundings of his new estate for two years before his death in 1804. His widow Eliza however, remained there for another 30 years. At times it future seemed uncertain, but after being moved twice in its history,
the landmark to this founding father has been fully restored, now operated as a National Historic Site called the Hamilton Grange in St Nicholas Park.
And with that our tour comes to an end today. Please note: There many more homes associated with Hamilton out there that I haven't covered, and worth digging for!