Childhood & Early Life
Elizabeth Schuyler was born on August 9, 1757, in Albany, Province of New York, British America. Her father, Philip Schuyler, served as the Continental Army General in the ‘American Revolutionary War.’ Her mother, Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler, belonged to one of the most politically influential and richest families in New York. Elizabeth had 14 siblings, but only seven survived childhood.
Both her parents belonged to wealthy, powerful, and illustrious families. Like many other landowners of the 18th century, her father owned many slaves. Her family followed the ‘Reformed Dutch Church of Albany.’ A strong and unwavering faith, which was instilled in her during her childhood, would continue to play a major role for the rest of her life.
As a young girl, Elizabeth would often accompany her father to important meetings. She once had the opportunity to meet Benjamin Franklin when he stayed with her family for a brief period.
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Marriage & Life with Alexander Hamilton
In 1780, she went to Morristown, New Jersey, to stay with her aunt Gertrude. During her stay in Morristown, she met her future husband, Alexander Hamilton, who was camping in the town along with George Washington and his men. Hamilton at the time was one of the aides-de-camp of General George Washington.
Elizabeth and Hamilton got engaged in April 1780, with the blessing of her father, who was in Morristown as a representative of the ‘Continental Congress.’ In June 1780, Hamilton left the town along with the Army. Elizabeth, who stayed in Morristown, communicated with her fiancé through letters.
On December 14, 1780, Elizabeth and Alexander Hamilton tied the knot at the ‘Schuyler Mansion’ in Albany. After a brief period of honeymoon, Hamilton returned back to join Washington’s army. Subsequently, Elizabeth joined her husband in New Windsor. She started helping her husband in his political writings, including a portion of his 31-page letter to Robert Morris, who would later become one of the founding fathers of the United States.
In January 1782, she gave birth to her first child, Philip Hamilton, who was named after her father. After the end of the ‘American War of Independence’ in 1783, Elizabeth and her husband moved to New York City where Alexander Hamilton started practicing law. On September 25, 1784, she gave birth to her second child, Angelica, who was named after her older sister.
On May 16, 1786, she gave birth to her third child, Alexander. In 1787, Elizabeth and her husband started raising two-year-old Frances Antill, the daughter of Hamilton’s friend Col. Edward Antill. Frances lived with the Hamilton family until the age of 12, before leaving the family to live with her older sister. During her stay with the Hamilton family, she was treated like a daughter of Elizabeth and Hamilton.
In 1787, Elizabeth sat for a portrait executed by Ralph Earl who was held in debtors’ prison. Hamilton had asked Elizabeth if she would be interested in sitting for the painter which would allow him to make some money which, in turn, would help him buy his way out of prison. Elizabeth was more than happy to help Earl and he eventually bought his way out of prison. On April 14, 1788, she gave birth to her fourth child, James Alexander.
In 1789, Alexander Hamilton was appointed as the Treasury Secretary of the United States by the first president, George Washington. She aided her husband in his political career and helped him in his most important writings, including the farewell address of George Washington. In August 1792, she gave birth to her fifth child, John Church Hamilton.
In 1791, Alexander Hamilton had a brief affair with a young woman named Maria Reynolds. His affair with Reynolds was divulged in 1797 as part of his rivals’ plan to defame him. When Hamilton admitted to his one-year adulterous affair, Elizabeth left New York and returned to her parents’ home in Albany. During her stay in Albany, she gave birth to her sixth child, William Stephen, on August 4, 1797. She returned to New York to stay with her husband in September 1797, and later reconciled with him.
She gave birth to her seventh child, a daughter, Eliza, on November 20, 1799. On November 24, 1801, she lost her son Philip, who died fighting a duel with a political opponent of his father. Her eighth and last child, Philip (Little Phil), was born on June 1, 1802.
On July 12, 1804, her husband died as a result of gunshot injuries sustained during a duel with the then-sitting Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr. Elizabeth and her children were present at his bedside at the time of his death.
Family, Later Life & Death
After Hamilton’s death, his estate was auctioned to pay his debts. The estate was bought by the executors of her husband’s will and was later resold to her at half the price.
In 1833, she sold the estate and bought a house in New York City. She lived in that house with two of her children, Eliza Hamilton Holly and Alexander Hamilton Jr., and their respective spouses for the next nine years.
She preserved the legacy of her husband in the form of his writings, letters, and papers. She continued to defend her husband against his critics. She was so devoted to her husband that she chose to wear a small amulet containing a sonnet, which her husband had written for her during the early days of their courtship.
In 1806, she founded the ‘Orphan Asylum Society’ along with several other women and became its first vice president. In 1821, she became the president of the society and continued to serve the society until 1848, when she left New York. The society continues to function as a social service agency for children.
In 1848, she moved to Washington, D.C. She continued working for charitable causes and helped to raise funds for the ‘Washington Monument.’ She passed away at the age of 97, on November 9, 1854, in Washington, D.C. Her mortal remains were buried near her husband’s grave in New York City.
Many popular actresses have portrayed Elizabeth in movies, television series, and plays. She is often portrayed as the devoted wife of Alexander Hamilton and assertively supported him during his lifetime and preserved his memory after his death.