The name Eliza Hamilton may be familiar to many people, especially if you’re a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Broadway hit has brought Alexander Hamilton back into the minds of Americans and though the show does not neglect his dutiful wife and all of her accomplishments it really doesn’t do her justice. What we know (and perhaps love?) about Alexander Hamilton’s extravagant legacy we know in a great part because of his wife.
Eliza was born as Elizabeth Schuyler in Albany, Province of New York British America on August 9, 1757. Her father was Philip Schuyler, a general in the American Revolution and Senator and her mother was Catherine Van Rennselaer, one of the wealthiest and most politically influential families of New York. Being from a wealthy, important family meant a young Elizabeth was privy travel with her father, on one such occasion she even met Benjamin Franklin. Eliza had a strong, willful personality, James McHenry (an aide to George Washington) said of her "…was a strong character with its depth and warmth, whether of feeling or temper controlled, but glowing underneath, bursting through at times in some emphatic expression.”
Eliza first met Alexander Hamilton at her family estate when he dined with them 1778, they met again in early 1780, the same year she met and formed a lifelong friendship with Martha Washington. Alexander and Eliza’s relationship grew quickly, and they were engaged by spring and then married on December 14, 1780. Hamilton was one of the aides-de-camp for George Washington and he soon returned to his political obligations and the war, but Eliza joined him. She helped with his political writings – including a portion of his letter to Robert Morris (a future Founding Father). Eliza and Alexander had 8 children together and raised an orphan for ten years as well all while helping to found a new nation. Alexander Hamilton famously had an affair that would be made very public (by himself of all people) in 1797 while Eliza was pregnant with their child. She reconciled with him in September of that year and stood by his side until his death in 1804.
Ever faithful to her husband she continued to support him and his legacy after his death. She organized all of his writings and letters and pushed against his critics and pushed to get his biography published. She was so devoted to her husband and his legacy she even wore a small clip of a sonnet he had written her while they were courting in a locket around her neck. Eliza was a giver, she gave life to her children, she helped give life to a new nation, she gave her husband a life after death, she helped raise money for the Washington Monument and she founded the Orphan Asylum Society, the first private orphanage in New York City. She gave love and hope to countless families and children until her death in Washington D.C. on November 9, 1854 at the age of 97.
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton is a Founding Mother we should remember, without her empathy and love our history would not be as complete, it would not be as deep nor as human. Countless families would have been forgotten or simply wouldn’t have been able to exist. Memories would have been lost and perhaps our young nation would have been colder without her.
Written by: Alicia Whitcome