Posted in Miscellaneous

Some Notable Historical Inaccuracies in “Hamilton”

Hamilton: An American Musical reignited interest in American founding father Alexander Hamilton, and has gotten a lot of attention from historians for somewhat inaccurate portrayals of historical events. Most interesting to some viewers, however, are the simplifications, and what has been left out of the personal narrative of the story of Alexander Hamilton. Here are a few notable changes the play made to history’s record.

Hamilton’s Early Life

While the play continually refers to Alexander as “an orphan, bastard, son of a whore and a Scotsman,” most of that isn’t strictly true. While Hamilton’s mother died when he was a teen, his father merely abandoned the family. Alexander and his father communicated at various times in his life, which does not support the play’s insinuation that Hamilton was entirely fatherless. Additionally, rather than being alone in the world after his mother and cousin’s deaths, Hamilton was taken in by a local merchant.

There are some additional details omitted from the musical- one of the larger ones being the existence of Hamilton’s older brother, James. Rachael Fawcett, the mother of both boys, was also not a sex worker. She was married off at sixteen, and left her husband and their son before beginning an extramarital relationship with James Hamilton, Sr. Rachael was a shopkeeper, and while her children were illegitimate, born of a man not her husband, she was a married woman and it is speculated that the reason for Hamilton Sr. deserting the family was to evade charges of bigamy.

The Schuyler Sisters

Three of the Schuylers take center stage in Hamilton, Angelica, Eliza and Peggy, but there are some notable omissions. At the time of Alexander and Eliza’s meeting, Angelica was already married, meaning she wouldn’t have been able to pursue Hamilton even if she had been interested. It’s also questionable as to whether Angelica actually had a romantic tendre for her brother-in-law. While it was rumored even at the time, Hamilton and Angelica spent the majority of their lives on different shores, so a physical affair is unlikely. There appears to have been a joke between Angelica and Eliza about sharing Hamilton as a husband, but it’s unlikely to have been more than that.

In the musical, Angelica says that she is the oldest Schuyler child, which is true, but the Schuylers were a lot more prolific than one might think given their portrayal in the show. The Schuylers were the parents of fifteen children, some multiple births. As was common to the time, only eight of those fifteen survived through childhood. There were five Schuyler sisters, with Angelica, Eliza and Peggy as the oldest. There were three sons who survived infancy, while in the musical Angelica claims to have no brothers. It is noteworthy that the Schuyler girls were devoted to each other, as depicted in Hamilton, and Eliza was incredibly dedicated to preserving her husband’s legacy and his works after his death, and to charitable works for widows, orphans and small children.

The Hamilton-Schuyler Children

Philip Hamilton, Eliza and Alexander’s firstborn, is the only child who we see in the musical, but the couple had many others. They had eight kids, the last being born after Philip’s death, and named for him. None of the couple’s children died before reaching adulthood, Philip was the only one to predecease his father. Additionally, after the revelation of Hamilton’s affair, Eliza left him and gave birth to their sixth child in Albany at her parents’ home. She only returned because Philip had become ill with typhus, and the two reconciled and had two more children. This reconciliation took place before Philip’s death, rather than in the aftermath and grief of his loss.

These alterations made to historical fact were likely implemented to smooth the story and remove extraneous details. As long as you don’t rely too much on the musical for historical fact, these changes don’t make too much of a difference, though they are interesting.

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