Who was Angelica Hamilton?
Angelica Hamilton was the oldest daughter of Alexander Hamilton, one of the ‘Founding Fathers of the United States.’ A beautiful, sensitive, and lively girl, Angelica was also a skilled dancer and piano player. She was close to her father during her early days. Her father enjoyed singing popular songs, while Angelica played the piano or the harp for him. Angelica was also very close to her elder brother Philip who was fatally shot in a duel with George Eacker. The incident had a great impact on the 17-year-old Angelica, so much so that she suffered a mental breakdown leading to a lifelong state of insanity. Although her parents tried their best to revive her mental state, Angelica’s condition only worsened. After Alexander Hamilton’s demise in 1804, Angelica was looked after by her aging mother Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. Angelica was eventually placed under the care of Dr. MacDonald. During her final few years, Angelica constantly referred to her brother Philip as if he was alive. She continued playing the same old-fashioned songs on her piano until the very end.
Childhood & Early Life
Angelica Hamilton was born on September 25, 1784, as the second child and eldest daughter of Alexander Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton was one of the ‘Founding Fathers of the United States’ who also served as the first Secretary of the Treasury of America. Angelica’s mother Elizabeth was the second daughter of ‘Revolutionary War’ General Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer. The Van Rensselaers of the ‘Manor of Rensselaerswyck’ were considered among the richest and most politically influential families of New York. Elizabeth co-founded and served as the deputy director of New York City’s first private orphanage.
Angelica had seven siblings; elder brother Philip; younger brothers Alexander, Jr., James Alexander, John Church, William Stephen, and Philip (also called Little Phil); and younger sister Eliza.
Angelica was known to be a sensitive, charming, and talented girl. She was named after her maternal aunt Angelica Church as she resembled her aunt in beauty. Angelica shared a healthy relationship with her father. When she was staying with her grandparents in Albany, Alexander Hamilton wrote an endearing letter to his nine-year-old daughter in November 1793 after he learned that Angelica was going to study the French language.
She developed an interest in music and dance. When Alexander Hamilton was serving as Secretary of the Treasury, George Washington’s wife Martha would take Angelica along with her children to dance classes.
Her aunt Angelica Church bought her a piano which was sent to her from London. Angelica loved playing the piano. According to a grandson of Alexander Hamilton, Alexander possessed a ‘rich voice’ and loved singing popular songs of the late 1700s. More often than not, Angelica would accompany her father on the piano or harp.
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Mental Breakdown, Insanity & Life Thereafter
Angelica was very close to her elder brother Philip. In November 1801, Philip got into a duel with a New York lawyer named George Eacker. The duel, which took place in Weehawken, New Jersey, proved fatal to Philip who succumbed to gunshot wounds. After hearing the news of her elder brother’s death, a 17-year-old Angelica endured a great shock that resulted in a mental breakdown. Eventually, she went into a state of mind which was described as ‘eternal childhood.’ Her condition was so severe that she had difficulties in recognizing her family members.
Angelica’s parents tried their best to revive her mental health. However, all their efforts went in vain as her condition only worsened with time. Angelica was fond of birds. Hence, Alexander Hamilton once wrote to his friend and an early American statesman named Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to send three parakeets and watermelons to Angelica. American jurist and legal scholar James Kent once visited Alexander Hamilton’s house. According to him, Angelica had ‘a very uncommon simplicity.’
The Hamilton family went through another crisis when Angelica’s father got into a duel with the third Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804. The duel resulted in Burr shooting and mortally wounding Hamilton and thus ending a long and harsh rivalry between the two. Hamilton was taken to William Bayard Jr.’s house where he breathed his last with his wife and children including Angelica present at his bedside. Angelica was not part of her father’s funeral procession as she stayed back with her mother and younger siblings, Eliza and Little Phil.
American psychiatrist Allan McLane Hamilton was Angelica’s nephew through her younger brother Little Phil. Talking about his aunt, Allan described her as ‘invalid’ and called her condition as a type of ‘insanity.’ According to him, the shock of her brother’s death had permanently impaired Angelica’s mind. He also wrote that there was no sign of improvement in her condition despite being taken care for a long time by her devoted mother.
Years later, when Elizabeth became too old to look after her daughter, Angelica was placed under the care of Dr. MacDonald of Flushing, Queens. She remained under the supervision of Dr. MacDonald for the rest of her life. Her nephew wrote that during her final few days, Angelica regularly spoke about her dear brother and referred to him as if he was alive. She would also engross herself in music, something which she loved doing when her father was alive. The piano that was given to her by her aunt remained with her until the end. She never stopped playing the same old-fashioned songs on the piano which at present is on display at the ‘Hamilton Grange National Memorial.’
By 1846, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton had started suffering from short-term memory loss. After placing Angelica under the care of Dr. MacDonald, she had started living with her younger daughter Eliza Hamilton Holly. In 1848, Eliza relocated with her mother to a house on ‘H Street’ in Washington, D.C. Elizabeth died on November 9, 1854, in Washington, D.C. at the age of 97. In her will, Elizabeth requested all her children to be ‘kind, affectionate, and attentive’ to Angelica.
On February 6, 1857, Angelica died in New York at the age of 72. She was interred in the ‘Sleepy Hollow Cemetery’ in Sleepy Hollow, New York, where her younger siblings, Eliza and James Alexander Hamilton were interred later in 1859 and 1878 respectively.
Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian, writer, biographer, and journalist Ron Chernow wrote a biography on Alexander Hamilton which was published in the year 2004. Chernow also mentioned that the sudden and severe deterioration of Angelica’s mental health was a result of the shock that she received upon hearing her brother’s death. Many modern authors have mentioned her lifelong insanity. However, they have not discussed the reason for her condition.
Angelica finds mention in the songs ‘Take a Break’ and ‘We Know.’ The songs were part of a 2015 musical titled ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ The sung and rapped-through musical was presented by the Grammy and Emmy Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography ‘Alexander Hamilton.’