A History of our time?

The forgotten founding father?



Legacy, what is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see[1]


I honestly could not resist writing a piece about Hamilton. Hamilton is the 2015 musical phenomenon written by Lin Manuel Miranda and inspired by R. Chernow’s 2004 biography titled Alexander Hamilton that has since reached London’s West End as of December 2017.

I have been extremely lucky to have watched the performance twice! Now I feel it would be appropriate to examine the historical significance of the musical about the man who is on the $10 bill and how it resonates to a present-day audience on both sides of the Atlantic. I will focus more on social and political matters as opposed to the economic and military. If you wish to see the musical in the future, please note I will make mention to some elements in the plot.


The Backstory


Alexander Hamilton’s Early Years

My name is Alexander Hamilton and there’s a million things I haven’t done just you wait, just you wait…[2]

Let’s start with the backstory. Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman who fought numerous battles in the Revolutionary War against Britain and became the first United States Secretary of the Treasury. The story narrates the life of Alexander Hamilton, an unlikely founding father who was born on the British island of Nevis (now St Kitts and Nevis) in January 1757/1755 as there is some debate amongst historians regarding this, although it is widely considered to be 1757. Born outside of wedlock, his father abandoning the family and his mother dying when he was still a child, his prospects on the face of it appeared dire.

Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Fawcett was married to Johann Michael Lavien before she met James Hamilton, the father of Alexander Hamilton. Lavien seized Fawcett’s estate in St Croix (now United States Virgin Islands) in probate court upon her death and sold off a sizeable portion of Fawcett’s items.

Hamilton later became a clerk at Beekman and Crugar, an import and export firm. The firm traded with the colonies of New England and New York. At 14/16, Hamilton was placed in charge of the firm when his employer was away at sea for five months. Hamilton’s cousin, Peter Lytton briefly looked after him and his brother, James Jr Hamilton before he committed suicide. From this point henceforth, the brothers were separated though remained on Nevis.

Hamilton (Alexander) was taken in the custody of Thomas Stevens, a local merchant and the older Hamilton (James Jr) became a Carpenter’s Apprentice. By this point Alexander Hamilton was well read and enjoyed writing in his spare time. In 1772 a devasting Hurricane hit St Croix, in response Hamilton (Alexander) wrote a letter to his father pertaining to the Hurricane in enormous detail and his thoughts on the destruction. The letter gained popularity after it was published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette by Journalist, Hugh Knox. This popularity garnished the attention of community leaders. This was a real turning point for Hamilton, as the news of his letter impressed the leaders so much they collected funds to send Hamilton to study in New York. This proved to be an invaluable opportunity for Hamilton, which no doubt paved the way to his military and to a higher extent, his political pursuits.  Much of these accounts from Hamilton’s early life are touched upon during the musical’s opening number, Alexander Hamilton.[3]


The musical synopsis


The story develops and looks at how he overcame these difficulties in early life looking at how he established himself in New York City; at King’s College (now Columbia University), his personal life, military /political exploits, his relationships with other founding fathers; John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and not forgetting his relationship with political rival, Aaron Burr, which ended in Hamilton’s death on 12th July 1804 as a result of the famous Burr-Hamilton duel on the day before.

This is all set at a time of revolution and increased animosity towards the British in the colonies, chiefly regarding taxation. This animosity occurred since 1765 and arguably more so after the Boston Massacre of 1770 when a group of American colonists were shot by soldiers who were stationed in Boston to control heighted colonial unrest, the capital of the Provence of Massachusetts Bay.

What Hamilton (the musical) does so well is create a visually stunning performance, amalgamating the history of a nation with the contemporary, a retelling of history, predominately in the form of hip-hop and casting actors from ethnic minority backgrounds in major roles within the production. This invariably is told as a history of our time, in other words to reflect the society of the US and the UK today.


The historical legacy

Ethnicity & Immigration in the United States

Let’s start with the casting. A conscious decision was made regarding the casting. The story is told by a diverse group of actors from different backgrounds. This is true in both the US and UK productions. Notably, the roles of the founding fathers; Hamilton, Burr, Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Mulligan/Madison, Lafayette/Jefferson and Washington were played by actors from an ethnic minority. This is also true of the Schuyler sister roles in the musical; Angelica, Elizabeth “Eliza” and Margarita “Peggy”. For reference, the Schuyler family were influential Dutch landowners that held much prominence in New York, Elizabeth Schuyler was a fourth generation American and the wife of Alexander Hamilton. They married in December 1780 and their courtship was acknowledged during the song Helpless.[4]


Immigrants we get the job done[5]


Essentially what the musical does is it tells the story about an immigrant trying to establish a place for themselves through hard work, grit and determination. These are traits not so different in people today. What Hamilton was doing back in the 1700s, hundreds if not thousands of immigrants since then have aspired to work hard for their livelihoods and prosper in their endeavours. Looking at the United States today many people can trace their ancestry back to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This applies to the original Broadway cast. For instance; the Musical’s creator, Miranda who played Hamilton has Hispanic heritage from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Not to dissimilar from the character he was playing in that respect that they both had a personal connection to the Caribbean as Hamilton was born there. However, he was of Scottish and French Huguenot descent, although there is speculation that Hamilton’s mother was of mixed racial descent there is no substantial evidence to support these claims. Philippa Soo who originated the role of Hamilton’s wife, Eliza is of White European and Chinese descent and lastly another example would be Daveed Diggs who originated the role of Lafayette/ Jefferson whose mother was Jewish and his father, African-American.

These examples really do highlight and bring to prominence what America looks like today, by casting actors from an ethnic minority it really does bring life to the storytelling and above all accessibility. Yes, in real life the founding fathers were of White English, Scottish and Irish descent, yet despite that, the casting of Hamilton brings forth the idea of inclusiveness and allows for a more cathartic experience for audiences that resonate with them. This is a great way to promote history to more people that might otherwise feel alienated from this episode of history.

Looking beyond what race these characters were back then, now in the present day the United States is a melting pot of cultures from across the globe. In a traditional sense it is the primary and secondary source material found in archives, manuscripts and books to name but a few that provide us with the know-how. It is the power of theatre that allows us to look beyond the traditional historiography for a moment and build a bridge taking elements of the past and mixing it with the present to generate interest and come away thinking; it does not matter who you are or where you come from, we all have an opportunity to make a difference.

Consequently, looking at it in this sense, the story of Alexander Hamilton’s journey from orphan, to immigrant, to statesman serves as a timeless inspiration that immigrants past, present and future strive to better themselves and as a result shape society in enterprise, business, education, government, science, healthcare and as the musical reflects, the arts.

Much like analysing the first line in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” as being true to a society where it was acceptable in some states; particularly the south to keep Black African slaves. Looking at this declaration by todays standards, there would be a consensus refuting that declaration. It is how a particular place in time within society can interpret events.


But how is this argument historically significant for the UK?

Very much so. The UK very much like the US has been a magnet for settlement throughout history, going further back in time before the formation of the UK some of the earliest setters came from the Roman Empire, Germanic speaking tribes; the Angles, Saxons and Jutes known collectively as the Anglo Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans and French Huguenots.

In more recent history since the 19th century immigration from outside of Europe started to take shape chiefly from British colonies. In the 20th century immigration started to become more pronounced after the decline of the British Empire and many people settled from former colonies and countries making up the Commonwealth from the East, Africa and the West Indes. The imagery used once more in the UK casting reflects the society of the UK today and at the same mirrors Hamilton’s own backstory. Strikingly, Jamael Westman who currently plays the title role of Alexander Hamilton has Irish roots from his maternal side of the family and Afro-Caribbean roots from Jamaica on the paternal side.

Other examples include; Rachel John who currently plays Angelica Schuyler, her mother immigrated to the UK from Trinidad, Michael Jibson who currently plays King George III hails from Yorkshire, Leslie Garcia Bowman who currently plays Charles Lee/Ensemble comes from New Zealand and Rachelle Ann Go who currently plays Eliza Hamilton was born in the Philippines to name but a few. In all essence the full cast does reflect modern British society, just as the Broadway cast does in the US. The subject content is largely on American history and that this episode in history is not as well known in the UK, the idea nonetheless remains the same. By bringing forth historical content to the stage it serves as a virtual source to appeal to those that would not necessarily read about the content. What’s more the diversity of the cast has more of an impact resonating with members of society that are not always included in retellings of history, much like the argument that was put forth previously under Ethnicity & Immigration in the United States.

Knowing Brixton is a short distance from Victoria, the London home for Hamilton, just shy of 37 years the Brixton Riot occurred in April 1981. This was at a time when recession hit, those of Afro-Caribbean descent living in the area were particularly affected by lower job prospects and public services. Hamilton justly serves as a history of our time told by society as it is today, all backgrounds coming together to tell the story of a struggling immigrant intent to shape the future and leave a legacy, two things that are not to dissimilar to the actual narrative.


The “forgotten” Hamilton

A wife’s tale

I put myself back in the narrative… I’ll live another fifty years, it’s not enough[6]


There is much mention about the roles of women in Hamilton. However, for the purposes of this piece I will examine the role of Eliza Hamilton nee Schuyler, Hamilton’s wife of 21 years before his death. A fundamental conclusion to the musical details a wonderous segment, regarding Eliza Hamilton’s role in preserving the legacy of her husband, Alexander Hamilton. After Hamilton’s death Eliza along with the help of her son John Church Hamilton organised and arranged his political writings in view of publication. This was to ensure his legacy in American politics was not forgotten by the people. What the musical does so well is it attributes Chernow’s school of thought, that Eliza Hamilton’s role was significant in preserving Hamilton’s memory and conveys this with such vigour. This is considering she was left widowed, having to settle Hamilton’s debts and knowing that he had an affair with Maria Reynolds (this was publicly declared by Hamilton himself in the self-published, “The Reynolds Pamphlet” in 1797). The musical suggests Eliza Hamilton, upon hearing the news of Hamilton’s affair burns her correspondence with her husband in the song titled Burn.[7] Although it is not certain Eliza Hamilton burnt her letters, the musical nevertheless supports Chernow’s school of thought that she did destroy her letters but there was no evidence to suggest how.

Her passion and devotion to keeping Hamilton’s memory alive really hits home when her contribution to Hamilton’s legacy is explored in Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story[8], knowing that Eliza Hamilton lived in a male dominated society in commerce, politics and education, she was able to rise above her station and truly make a difference by getting Hamilton’s “story” out there for all to see and hear.

Eliza Hamilton did not stop there, not only did she ensure Hamilton’s writings were preserved, she also ensured to help orphans in New York city. Hamilton himself was an orphan, this in part must have played a large role in Eliza Hamilton’s efforts to help orphaned children. Together Alexander and Eliza Hamilton had eight children and one known foster daughter, having been caring for eight children and bringing in a foster daughter into the Hamilton household, it was apparent Eliza Hamilton cared deeply about children.

Eliza Hamilton helped to establish the first private orphanage in New York city in 1806 along with her friend Joanne Bethune. Eliza Hamilton was the Vice-President of the organisation and continued her support well into her nineties. It was called the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York, this organisation still exists to this very day by helping to care for children ensuring access to education, health care and support. Today it is named Graham Windham. This is where the whole idea of legacy intertwines, by preserving Hamilton’s legacy and crafting a legacy of her own.

Hamilton’s death must have been a horrible prospect for Eliza Hamilton to have dealt with but reviewing her contribution after his death, some goodness has come out of it by helping the next generation of orphans in a city where as a child orphan himself, Alexander Hamilton thrived. Though Hamilton could not live to see his legacy, Eliza Hamilton lived for another 50 years after her husband’s death in that time ensured others could see it.


My personal thoughts on Eliza Hamilton’s significance

Writing as a 21st century woman it is incredible to think that Eliza Hamilton achieved a great deal in her own right at a time, considering women’s suffrage was not on the agenda at the time of the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York’s creation and when she was organising Hamilton’s writings for preservation. As with the section on Ethnicity & Immigration, we see many women in professions doing what Eliza Hamilton did; women historians, women social workers and women carers to name but a few. That is another great legacy to add to mix, we see her character in many of the women of today, very much a living history of our time.

To end on, the musical really does highlight Eliza Hamilton’s prominence regarding Hamilton’s legacy. The staging was beautifully crafted, whereby during the first Act Hamilton was centre stage in the story. Eliza Hamilton, on the other hand was not standing on the main stage, she was staged with the characters; Maria Reynolds and Angelica Schuyler, seemingly fighting to declare their love for Hamilton during the musical’s opening number but for it to be bellowed by them at the same time, “I loved him”.[9] However, at the end of the second Act, Hamilton casts himself aside from the spotlight but close to his wife to reveal much of his legacy is owed to Eliza Hamilton, where she is the one standing in front of the legacy she preserved. Alexander Hamilton is often credited as America’s “forgotten” founding father, the end piece almost appears as if there was a forgotten behind the forgotten in the form of Eliza Hamilton.




[1] L. Manuel Miranda, “The World Was Wide Enough” as performed by L. Manuel Miranda & L. Odom Jr. in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[2] L. Manuel Miranda, “Alexander Hamilton” as performed by The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[3] Ibid; “Alexander Hamilton”

[4] L. Manuel Miranda, “Helpless” as performed The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[5] L. Manuel Miranda, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” as quoted by D Diggs and L. Manuel Miranda in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[6] L. Manuel Miranda, “Burn” as performed by P Soo in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[7] Ibid; “Burn”

[8] L. Manuel Miranda, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” as performed by The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[9] Ibid; “Alexander Hamilton”


Gnadenhutten massacre

This post will be about a massacre that occurred during the American Revolutionary war, the Gnadenhutten massacre. The Gnadenhutten massacre is also known as the Moravian massacre and occurred in the village of Gnadenhutten. Gnadenhutten was a Moravian missionary village. The term Moravian means it is a Protestant denomination of Christianity from Moravia, currently in the Czech Republic today.

The actual massacre itself was perpetrated by the colonial American militia on 8th March 1782. This militia was from Pennsylvania. The victims were the Lenape tribe. The Lenape tribe traditionally come from the Delaware region of the United States and along the Atlantic coast. However by the eighteenth century many were displaced by the expansion of the Europeans heading westwards. This occurred increasingly at the time of the American revolutionary war and many settled in Ohio. However it should also be acknowledged that they also headed further west not only from this reason but also because of the threat of the neighbouring tribe the Iroquois. The Lenape and Iroquois did have frequent tensions.

Some of the Lenape converted to Christianity, the Moravian branch and some of them sided with the American colonials whilst others were against them. After a while some of the tribe returned to their original areas as they were hungry in order for harvest. However a raid party of frontiersmen from Pennsylvania under Colonial David Williamson wanted to raid this areas after they were left abandoned and to prevent them being used by war parties for the ongoing revolutionary war. Interestingly there was no official course of action that was ever authorised for this.

Eventually the frontiersmen reached Gnadenhutten on the 7th March. At first their arrival seemed innocent in the sense that they wished to protect the Christian Lenape tribe and remove them to safety to nearby Fort Pitt, a fort built by British Colonialists in Pennsylvania. However they were later found to be accused of taking part in raids in Pennsylvania. The Christian Lenape tribe were very passive and denied all charges held against them. In spite of this Williamson and his men attended a council in order to discuss the matter about whether or not the Christian Lenape tribe had been involved in raids. The penalty was death and the majority voted for it as punishment. The Lenape upon hearing this prayed to God and that they knew they would be with God the following day.

The following morning the militia brought and concentrated the Christian Lenape to a ‘killing house’. The women and men were slaughtered in different buildings whereas the infants and elderly were massacred. Their bodies were thrown into the abandoned mission buildings.

It is said that two Christian Lenape boys who were involved in this massacre, miraculously survived it and lived to tell the tale. Many Americans disapproved of this act, whereas some hailed the Pennsylvanian frontiersmen who did this as heroes at the time.

Today a 11m monument stands tall at the site where this brutal act occurred, commemorating all that had died next to a reconstructed mission house similar to the ones that were used in the Moravian villages. The monument was erected on 5th June 1872, one hundred years after stating:

“Here triumphed in death ninety Christian Indians, March 8, 1782”

The Boston Tea Party of 1773

In this week’s blog post I thought that I would go into a period that I myself have yet to explore; the eighteenth century. A century filled with events such as the American War of Independence and the beginning of the French Revolution and key figures such as Jane Austin, Benjamin Franklin and Edward Teach aka the pirate Blackbeard. Whilst my first thoughts were to look at Blackbeard the pirate, I have chosen to write on the topic of the Boston Tea Party in 1773 because of its historical importance in both American and British history.

The Boston Tea Party took place on the 16th December 1773 when 200 men, some dressed as native Indians, boarded three ships owned by the East India Company in Boston port and dumped the cargos of tea into the harbour. The cause of this unrest can be traced back earlier to the 1760s and 1770s with various laws coming into place from England concerning American trade and taxation.  The Townsend Acts of 1767 brought into accord laws of taxation on various luxuries such as glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. The American colonists responded that they would not pay them because they had no representation in English politics. The English parliament retracted the Acts, though the tax duties on tea remained as they were.  In May 1773 parliament, seeing the falling influence and power on the East India Company, gave them the rights to import tea into America.  As one of the most popular non-alcoholic drinks available to the British colonies, tea was shipped across the world and it was therefore believed that the colonists would gladly pay for tea than not have it.  The colonists would also pay a cheaper price for the tea as the duty tax placed on tea was also reduced.  On the other hand if the colonists paid the duty tax on the imported tea then they would be recognising Parliaments right to tax them.

The turning point came with the arrival of tea laden ships into the colonies ports. The shipments to New York and Philadelphia were turned away, whilst the three ships sent to Boston were accepted with utter resentment. The tea ships presence in Boston rallied 7000 local men to call for the removal of the tea ships and the duty not to be paid. However the customs collector said that the tea ships would not leave without the duty tax thus the ships remained where they were.  Rounding things together, on the evening of 16th December the tea supplies on the three ships was dumped in the port and the spark of revolution had been ignited. This almost small event created a chain of events that would led to the signing on the American Independence; the Battle of Lexington in 1775 and the retreat of a British force after an engagement with patriot troop and the capture of Fort Ticonderoga also in 1775 and the surrender of the British garrison without bloodshed. The Battle of Princeton, New Jersey in 1776 was the turning point in the campaign for freedom as the future first President of America George Washington defeated a British army on 3rd May. Finally the surrender of a large British army at Yorktown in 1781, six years later to a joint American and French force culminated in peace signing and the eventual creation of American Independence in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris.

This landmark event in history is therefore very important because it created or at least pushed forward a movement that would help found a nation. Whilst the Boston Tea Party was aimed at removing British taxes, it achieved some much more and helped encourage ideas of freedom and independence for the American colonists. Thanks for reading and apologies for this rather short blog entry.





The last site on this list has been suggested by Mitch and is a link to the Boston Tea Party Ship Museum in Boston. Take a look =)

The Boston Massacre?

The Webster dictionary defines a massacre as “ the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty”. So, historically, that is what happened on March 5, 1770, in Boston, thus triggering a chain of consequences that sparked the American Revolution. But, what really happened?

First of all, what happened was that there was a Government, a colonial one in this case but it could have been any kind of uncompromising Government, anxious to get a firm control of what it saw as a bunch of not specially law-abiding citizens…particularly in what was related to taxes. So it created the Townshend Acts to enforce its taxing powers over the Colonies, which in turn was seen as an act of utmost aggression by the politically aware citizens of those Thirteen Colonies which were to achieve eternal fame.

Then you have to put some soldiers in the equation. You cannot possibly enforce anything without some good ol’ redcoats. So from 1768 on, Boston was in fact an occupied city with a force mounting from two to four regiments and a fifty cannon vessel to control it and its apparently seditious population. As it has been happening, to no surprise except to those in power, throughout History, these measures lead to a constant growing of petty incidents, tension and animosity between civilians and the military. And the spark, eventually, started a fire somewhere…

Apparently, all was just a bad prank or joke, maybe just a cocky young man playing the braggart a bit too far. A wigmaker’s apprentice by the name of Edward Gerrish accused loudly and publicly some Captain Goldfinch of not being able to pay his bills, which, not being true, the officer let drop without a comment. It seems that, not getting the attention he was seeking, the young agitator kept complaining and insulting the officer in front of a sentry private, in the company of some sidekicks. A couple of hours later, patience gone, the sentry, Private White, gave the boy a wallop. This means war, man, or something of the kind was said, and with all the crying out, soon the street was crowded with angry Bostonians looking for a good brawl.

Finally, the Officer of the Day, Captain Preston, dispatched a relief column, an outstanding red coat tradition, to help White and Goldfinch control the demonstration, now numbering some three to four hundred people. This was the moment, so familiar now through CNN and BBCWORLD, for stones, snowballs, and some other debris launched against the soldiers. One of them was hit with a club by a tavern keeper in a very Scorsesian way, and that was it. He recovered, got on his feet and repelled the aggression firing his musket. No order was given by the officers, but surrounded, outnumbered and under pressure, some other soldiers opened fire, with the result of eleven hits. Three of the rioters were shot dead: Samuel Gray, James Caldwell and Crispus Attucks. Sam Maverick and Patrick Carr died in the aftermath. No soldier gave his life for king and country, though. Obviously, outrage ensued.

But now, let’s go back to the dictionary. According to it, a massacre involves the killing of unresisting or helpless people. Was that a massacre, then? Or an act of self-defense? Most probably the facts are that a somewhat, even rudimentary, armed mob surrounded, threatened and finally began to assault a much minor armed military force in the grounds of a lesser offence sparkled for what we can surely consider an act of provocation. The result of it, as the soldiers saw their lives at risk, was a non purposeful firing, aiming more to stop the assault than to exterminate an enemy.which, at the moment, looked wild and dangerous.

Then, as we are always told, History is always written by the victors. And this incident was turned into a Massacre of civilians by a bloodthirsty army. Which probably was not. Anyway, that is the way reality is made, and the way History is presented sometimes and struck definitely the imagination of people, and the hidden revolutionary forces had now their first martyrs and a just cause to fight their cruel oppressors. Even in the case, as it was, that the soldiers had to stand trial and were mostly acquitted, with the exception of two who were found guilty of manslaughter in the event of having shot directly at the crowd.

Interestingly enough, what today would be tantamount to a declaration of war, as we can see in the news while the Governments in Europe and EEUU cry for the breaking up of the Gadaffi Government after its armed forces killed a still unknown number of civilians amidst the fighting against the uprising forces, was then just another nail for the coffin. No International Community was in the position to ask for responsibilities to His Gratious Majesty’s Government; no oil supply was at risk, no cruel dictator was abusing his own people with the weapons we have sold…That was then, the Revolutionary elites were not comfortable with this behaviour, even if it was obviously beneficial for the cause; they were a bunch of educated leaders not willing to take the risk of being overwhelmed by the rabble. So that was it. A crying out, a provocation…and three more years of piling up resentment till Boston Tea Party. To those non familiar to historical affairs and their political treatment it could look as if American elites were far more worried about taxes than human lives, specially, if the mentioned human lives were, as John Adams, later a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the second President of the United States, put it during the trial as defender of the English soldiers: “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes, and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs”.

But that is sometimes the problem with History: it is not always a black and white subject. The repercussions of a simple act could, on the long run, alter our perspective or notion of that same act till finally distorting it utterly. Hence the necessity of careful research, reading and the use of different points of view, lest we forget what happened…