Who was Philip Hamilton?
Philip Hamilton was the eldest of eight children of Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton. His father was one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, and was also the first US Secretary of the Treasury. Philip was sent to Trenton Boarding School in New Jersey at the age of nine, and later joined Columbia College, the same college where his father too had graduated. After graduation, he went on to study law. He was a bright student and the favourite of his father, who groomed him to carry the name of the family forward. Unfortunately, his father’s hopes came to an abrupt end when Philip died as a result of a duel with George Eacker, who had made derogatory remarks about his father. His father too was mortally wounded in a duel against a political rival at the same place as his son three years later using the same pistol.
Childhood & Early Life
Philip Hamilton was born on January 22, 1782 in Albany, New York, British America, to Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton. He was the eldest of eight siblings and a favourite of his father. His father was one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, and was the first US Secretary of the Treasury. He headed the financial affairs of the newly born country from September 1789 to January 1795. His mother was the co-founder of the first private orphanage in New York City. He was named Philip after his maternal grandfather, Philip Schuyler, who was a general in the American Revolution, and also a Senator from New York.
Philip Hamilton was sent to Trenton Boarding School in New Jersey at the age of nine where he was joined three years later by his younger brother, Alexander. His father kept in close touch with him while he was in boarding school by writing frequent letters.
In 1797, Philip suffered from a serious illness, and his father got the best of doctors and medicines to treat him. He was a close friend of William Frazer who later became the rector of Saint Michael’s Church.
He later joined Columbia College, from where his father too had graduated. He was a bright student and his instructors had great hopes of him doing as well as his father. He graduated with honours in 1800 and decided to study law thereafter. His father was his mentor and guide who helped him cope with the rigorous studies for a degree in law by setting up a tight schedule of work for him. His father always considered him the brightest of his children and had great hopes from him as he believed that Philip would take the name of the family forward after his degree in law.
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Philip was 19 years old when he confronted George Eacker, a 27 year old lawyer, for making derogatory remarks about his father while giving a speech in Columbia University. Eacker was a strong supporter of the Republican movement and President Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton was his opponent. He also was a strong supporter of Vice President Aaron Burr, who later shot Alexander in a duel. In his speech, Eacker accused Alexander of wanting to overthrow the president to impose monarchy.
Philip came to know about the speech through the newspapers and felt insulted by the comments made about his family. Four months after the speech, he got into an argument with Eacker at a theatre. During the course of the argument, George called Philip and his friend, Richard Price, ‘Rascals’ which was considered highly derogatory in those days. Ultimately, Philip and his friend challenged George Eacker to a duel.
The duel took place at Weehawken, New Jersey. Eacker first faced Richard Price in a duel in which both parties came out unhurt after exchange of two shots each. He then faced Philip on the next day - November 23, 1801.
Philip’s father advised him to adopt the option of delope, which is a practice of throwing away the first shot at a pistol duel so as to abort the duel. Philip followed his father’s advice and did not lift his pistol after taking the prescribed steps and turning around. Eacker too did not lift his pistol for a while, but after a minute, he raised his pistol and fired at Philip, hitting hm above his right hip. The bullet got lodged in his left arm and Philip fell on the ground.
Philip released a shot before he hit the ground which did not hit Eacker. He lay bleeding on the ground but did not display any feelings, except that of satisfaction at being able to live up to his dignity. He was taken to his aunt’s home in Manhattan, where he was treated by Doctor Hosack, but nothing could be done to stop the bleeding, and Philip succumb to his injuries on November 24, 1801, almost 14 hours after being shot.
Though Philip did not show any signs of pain or grief, his patents were overwhelmed by the loss of their son. His father was most devastated and had to be physically assisted. Ironically, his father was mortally wounded three years later in a duel against his political rival, Aaron Burr, at the same place. Burr was never tried for the illegal duel, but it put an end to his political career.
Philip Hamilton was one of the brightest students in his college, and also among the top students in his law class. His teachers and his father saw a great future for him. However, his career came to an abrupt end before it could even begin due to his sudden death in the duel with George Eacker to safeguard the honour of his family.
Philip was often described to be good looking and intelligent like his father. He was also a good orator and carried a sense of pride and honour just as his father did.
The early death of Philip Hamilton had an adverse effect on his family. His younger sister, Angelica Hamilton, had a mental breakdown from which she never recovered. She failed to recognise other members of her family and behaved as if her brother was still alive.
Her parents also never recovered from the shock of losing their eldest son. His mother gave birth to her youngest child after his death and named him Philip after him.
Philip Hamilton was portrayed by Anthony Ramos in the Tony nominated musical, ‘Hamilton’, which is about the life of his father. The musical made its Off-Broadway debut at ‘The Public Theatre’ in February 2015.
Philip is buried in the graveyard of Trinity Church, New York City, next to his parents’ graves.