His Name Was Alexander Hamilton

February 8, 2021

Lesser-known Founding Father Alexander Hamilton finally got his shot at legendary status thanks to Hamilton, a hip-hop Broadway musical about his life and impact. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s project is a cultural phenomenon, and a movie adaptation has arrived. Hamilton is also the subject of one of our Show Me History! books. Here are some little-known facts about the man who’s just like his country, young, scrappy, and hungry.

• Alexander Hamilton was able to attend college as a teenager at King’s College (later renamed Columbia University) in New York thanks to a fund organized by readers of The Royal Danish American Gazette. In 1772, a hurricane hit the island of St. Croix, where Hamilton was living, and he wrote a beautiful, visceral account of the devastation. People who read the letter donated money to ensure Hamilton received a formal education. (Before attending college, he had never been to school, and was primarily self-taught.)

 • Hamilton helped establish many elements of the early U.S. government… and also had some of his ideas rejected. For while he wanted constitutional language providing for lifetime appointments of the president and senators, he also created the Revenue Cutter Service, a military-like organization to protect the Eastern Seaboard from smugglers and pirates. It later became the U.S. Coast Guard.

 • The first murder trial ever held in the U.S.: People v. Levi Weeks in 1800. A boarding house resident named Gilielma Sands disappeared, and her boarding house-mate, Weeks, was tried. The lawyer who proved his innocence: Alexander Hamilton.

• Nearly 500,000 people read the New York Post every day, the fourth most-circulated paper in the United States. It’s a bit of a sensationalist tabloid, but it began life in 1801 as the New York Evening Post, a dense political periodical full of essays in support of the Federalists, a party founded by Alexander Hamilton, much like the Post. He regularly wrote long editorials for the paper, and also secured the $10,000 for start-up costs.

 • Alexander Hamilton famously died in a duel in July 1804 at the hand of fellow early American statesman Aaron Burr. Three years earlier, Hamilton’s son, Philip also died in a duel fought against lawyer George Eacker, who gave a speech critical of Philip’s father. He died of a mortal bullet wound that entered near his hip. Historians say the death of his 19-year-old son crushed the elder Hamilton, and when he dueled Burr, he used Philip’s pistol.

 • That wasn’t even Hamilton’s first duel with a Founding Father. He also challenged James Madison and John Adams (but nobody died in those).

 • As of 1928, Alexander Hamilton’s face graces the $10 bill — fitting for the first Secretary of the Treasury. In the early 2010s, there was discussion of replacing him with a notable woman from American history, but the popularity of the musical Hamilton led officials to instead debate replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20.

Show Me History is Portable Press’s series of graphic novels that make history and historical figures come alive. Check out the whole line, including one on Hamilton, right here.

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