Best of Wives and Best of Women- On the Road

The day was May 14th, and there I was at the archives of the New York State Library. It was my first day embarking on my research, and I felt like I was Nick Cage in National Treasure. A whole box of 18th century letters was sitting in front of me, I opened it up to grab a folder, dramatic music played in my mind…and the fire alarm went off.

Thankfully, my fire alarm experience (and the walk down eleven flights of stairs that followed) has not been a negative sign reflecting on the rest of my research. A couple of weeks, two archives, and three historic sites later, I have learned much about the remarkable Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton.

Though not many of Eliza’s letters survive, I have been lucky enough to be able to read many of her writings and get a sense of who she really was. Much of what I’ve read so far has been addressed to her family, especially her sisters Catherine and Angelica, and I’ve been struck by how close the Schuyler family was. Eliza often wrote to her sisters entreating them to come visit her, or write her more often. Her father, Philip Schuyler, would write inviting Eliza, Alexander, and their children to visit him in Albany. Despite her sometimes illegible handwriting and mistaken spelling, her devotion to her family and conviction bleed through in her letters. Even facing difficulties in her own life, Eliza never failed to offer a kind word to her siblings or insist upon her husband’s accomplishments, even to the United States government; which at that point was full of many men eager to downplay Alexander’s role. From a research standpoint, it’s been fascinating not only to read Eliza’s words, but to actually handle 18thcentury documents.

Visiting the sites where Eliza lived and breathed has also been incredibly informative. At the Schuyler Mansion, in Albany, NY, I was able to walk into the bedroom that Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy likely shared, as well as the parlor where Eliza and Alexander were married. Morristown, NJ showed me where Alexander and Eliza courted; she lived in the Schuyler-Hamilton House at the time, while he was with the rest of Washington’s staff at the Ford Mansion. I also toured the Grange, the Hamilton family home, for the first time, and was able to see the parlor where Eliza, Alexander, and their eight children would’ve spent many happy evenings playing the pianoforte and enjoying each other’s company before Alexander’s death in 1804. While the house is set up to represent the family’s 1802-1804 occupation, I found it interesting to imagine the house after the famous duel, when Eliza lived with her youngest children; while not hosting parties for dignitaries, perhaps Eliza used this time to invite over the ladies of the Orphan Asylum Society. Besides physically walking into these spaces, I have been able to gather information through accessing their research files and speaking to the dedicated interpretive staff.

I have a lot to look forward to in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be visiting Philadelphia and Washington DC to see more sites of Eliza’s life and hopefully access materials. I’ll be doing a lot of online searching as well, using digital databases to read Alexander and Angelica Church’s letters for signs of their beloved Eliza. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in NYC, where I’ll be spending the next two days at archives reading Eliza’s letters and some papers regarding her charitable works. I look forward to learning more about this fascinating woman and eventually putting it all on paper!

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