8 Epic Alexander Hamilton Facts They Don’t Mention in the Musical
The smash hit musical about "The ten dollar, the Founding Father without a father" has a month's-long waiting list for tickets—but that hasn't stopped us from blasting the original cast recording 1,776 times on repeat. Here, Alexander Hamilton facts that the Broadway musical barely touches on.
Hamilton had issues with birthers
Hamilton was born out of wedlock on January 11, 1755 (or maybe 1757—more on that below) to a Scottish father and British mother on the island of Nevis in the former British West Indies. By 1768, Dad Hamilton abandoned his family, Mom Hamilton died of fever, and young Alexander was a Caribbean orphan. Maybe the first institution to kick Hamilton for his heritage was the Church of England, who forbid him membership and education because his parents weren’t legally married. Years later, political rivals were quick to drag Hamilton’s immigrant lineage through the muck, with John Adams calling him a “bastard brat of a Scottish peddler,” and James Monroe deeming him a “scoundrel.” None of this stopped his rise to power.
He was a duel magnet
If you know nothing else about the upstart orphan-turned founding father, you know that Alexander Hamilton was shot dead in a duel with Aaron Burr. But this showdown was neither Hamilton’s first, nor Burr’s. Dueling back then was seen as a gentleman’s way of restoring honor after a slight or disagreement. Throughout his contentious career, Hamilton was a challenger in no fewer than 10 duels with fellow politicos, including President John Adams, and future President James Monroe. All duels but the Burr one were settled without shots fired (a common practice, as the musical’s “10 Duel Commandments” reminds us); only egos were maimed.
His brother-in-law could have saved his life
Five years before Hamilton’s fatal duel, his brother-in-law faced off against the exact same opponent, on the exact same grounds, and possibly using the exact same guns. John Church, a British supporter of the American Revolution and wealthy husband of Hamilton’s sister-in-law, called out Aaron Burr for taking bribes (along with his father-in-law’s Senate seat) in 1799. As challenger, Church picked the dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey, and the weapons—a set of fine British pistols custom-made for dueling. While neither man was injured that day, Church put a round through Burr’s coat, coming within inches of changing history. Five years later, Hamilton would fall at the same Weehawken battleground, with the same gun in his hand.
He was a diva about his age
Nobody knows whether Hamilton was born in 1755 or 1757—but historians agree, the boy wonder probably lied about his age at some point. Following his mother’s death in St. Croix, Hamilton alleged in probate documents that he was born in 1755; later, when he was applying to Princeton and throughout his years in the Colonies, Hamilton insisted he was born in 1757. Why this discrepancy? “While applying to Princeton, Hamilton may have decided to ‘correct’ his real age and shed a couple of years,” says historian Ron Chernow, whose biography inspired the Broadway musical. “Prodigies aren’t supposed to be overaged freshman.”
He led what is now the oldest army unit in the country
Hamilton fans shouldn’t be surprised that Alexander basically taught himself to be a military badass. In 1775, Hamilton and several other King’s College students joined a New York militia later named The Hearts of Oak. He drilled in a nearby graveyard before class, studied military history on his own time, and led a raid on a British Battery where he stole enough cannons to turn the Hearts of Oak into a full-blown artillery unit. In March 1776, Hamilton was elected captain of the Hearts of Oak, where his leadership caught the attention of General George Washington. Hamilton soon became a Lieutenant Colonel at Washington’s side, and The Hearts of Oak would form to foundation of today’s Battery D, 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized)—the oldest-serving unit in the regular Army.
He passed the bar in six months
When Hamilton decided to become a lawyer after the Revolutionary War, that’s exactly what he did—decided. He never went to law school, but had studied on his own since he was a boy in Nevis. With a little help from old comrades John Jay and William Paterson (two future Supreme Court Justices), Hamilton passed a legal examination within six months in 1782.
He wrote so well, he didn’t need to lift a hand
Fans of the musical will know that Hamilton wrote a lot. He wrote an essay that got him off the island of St. Croix, he wrote much of George Washington’s famous Farewell Address, and he wrote 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers defending the new U.S. Constitution—in less than six months. But when Hamilton was sick of writing, he got other people to write for him. In 1801, Hamilton founded the New York Evening Post (today, we just call it The New York Post), and for a while, all he had to do was recite the articles he wanted to see. According to editor William Coleman, “[Hamilton] appoints a time when I may see him… as soon as I see him, he begins in a deliberate manner to dictate and I to note down in shorthand; when he stops, my article is completed.”
He received George Washington’s final letter
Hamilton served as General George Washington’s right-hand man through much of the Revolutionary War, and joined the President Washington’s cabinet as America’s first Secretary of Treasury a few months after George took office. But the men were also friends, and Washington ultimately showed that in a powerful way. Two days before Washington died in 1799, the former President sent a letter to Hamilton praising his protege’s plan to establish a national Military Academy. The letter would be George’s very last.