Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hamilton's Youth

Of all the US founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton's youth is the most fascinating. It reads like a Dickens or a Hardy novel. He was born on the island of Nevis in British West Indies to parents who were not married. His family moved to St. Croix when he was around the age of 10, his father left the family a few years later and then his mother died of a severe fever before he was a teen. He and his older half brother, James, were left as orphans. Because James was the son of a man that his mother was once married to, he received most of their mother's belongings in probate. Alexander did receive a library of 34 books ( Greek and Roman classics) that were bought at auction by a family friend who then gave them to young Alexander as a gift ... an act of kindness that might have changed the world. He could not attend the Church of England's school because his parents were not married, so these books went a long way. Both boys were adopted by their cousin, Peter Lytton, who committed suicide shortly thereafter. The boys were split up when Alexander was adopted by a merchant Thomas Stevens. As a teenager, a letter of his describing a hurricane that devastated the island was published in a local paper. His community was so impressed with him they created a fund for his enducation on the main land. He arrived in the New Jersey/New York area in early 1770's where he eventually attended King's College which is now called Columbia University (this makes me happy).

Hamilton knew nothing about artillery before the war so picked up a book and taught himself. George Washington noticed him during the war while Hamilton was a captain of the New York Provincial Company of Aritllery. He noticed his wit and ability to learn quickly. He ended up serving for four years as Washington's Chief of Staff and eventually was the first US Secretary of Treasury in Washington's cabinet. Other than George Washington, none of the other founding fathers liked him much. He was a know-it-all with brash social skills and he did not dress well.

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