Weehawken Dueling Grounds
The Hamilton Musical opens with a simple question:
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and aHamilton: The Musical
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
In this video I’m going to find an answer to that question by exploring Alexander Hamilton’s New York. The places in this city that never sleeps which formed his life, his career, and ultimately his demise.
As a fellow Puerto Rican like Lin-Manuel Miranda–the composer lyricist and star of the hit musical Hamiltion–I can relate to Hamilton’s life story of being born in the Caribbean and growing up in New York to make a name for myself. Thus I consumed all of the Hamilton history I could to take you on this journey.
But… let’s start at the end.
Across the Hudson River at Weehawken, New Jersey.
The morning of July 11th 1804
Alexander Hamilton rowed across the Hudson River to these grounds to meet with Aaron Burr. His colleague both in the early years of forming this nation and as a New York City lawyers. And also bitter rivals.
The last straw was when Burr found out that Hamilton defamed him during Burr’s race for governor of New York State, leading to his defeat. This was the last time Burr would allow himself to be impeded by Hamiltion and thus challenged him to a duel. Here in Weehawken, New Jersey.
Dueling was illegal across the 13 colonies, but unlike in New York, the state of New Jersey didn’t tend to enforce the laws against dueling. Thus this was a popular spot for many so-called “affairs of honor”.
But this wasn’t the first time Hamiltion was familiar with these dueling grounds.
November 23rd 1801
His son Philip Hamilton faced New York Lawyer George Eacker here in a duel to defend his father’s honor. Alexander advised his son to throw away his shot in order to abort the duel. And he did. But Eacker shot him anyway. The next day Phillip died by his father’s side.
History was repeating itself.
Burr stood face-to-face with Hamilton. 20 paces away from each other. Burr facing the woods. Hamilton facing the New York skyline. He always loved this city. For this city gave him a fresh start. There couldn’t have been a better view to face his bitter rival.
But… according to Hamiltion’s private writings to his closest confidants he intended to throw away his shot. The two men raised their pistols. Burr fired! Hamilton fired! Hamilton’s bullet went towards the tree behind Burr, far above his head. But Burr’s bullet hit Hamilton right in the abdomen, piercing his liver and spleen.
He was rushed back to the city, four oarsmen rowing as fast as they could, with Hamiltion’s doctor David Hosack by his side trying to stop the bleeding.
Rushing back to the city that would turn a Caribbean-born orphan into this nation’s Founding Father.
Let’s venture across Manhattan to retrace his steps.
414 W 141st St, New York, NY 10031
After the death of his son, a friend of Hamilton’s wrote: “Never did I see a man so completely overwhelmed with grief as Hamilton had been.”
The vibrancy that Hamilton had in his early years was flushed away overnight. In order to escape the memories that haunted him in downtown Manhattan, he moved uptown to the modern-day neighborhood of Hamilton Heights.
The musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda captured this moment in his life perfectly with the song It’s Quiet Uptown which says:
There are moments that the words don’t reachHamilton: The Musical
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down
The Hamiltons move uptown
And learn to live with the unimaginable
The two-story frame Federal style house was completed in 1802 by architect John McComb Jr.
Apparently Hamilton was fussy with the landscape which included a circle of 13 sweet gum trees representing the original 13 colonies. Probably because they weren’t aligned too well. Hamilton was one to never half-ass anything.
The estate was named “The Grange” after Hamilton’s grandfather’s own home in Scotland. Ultimately this would be the only home he would ever own.
Many years later his home had to be demolished in order to make way for the new grid of streets and avenues. Luckily it was moved to 287 Convent Avenue by St. Luke’s Epsiscopal Church, where it stood for nearly a century as the city rapidly grew. In 1960 it was designated a National Landmark.
However since the home of a founding father without a father was squished between the church and an apartment building, it was moved in 2008 to its current location around the corner behind City College of New York.
You can still visit the inside of the grange, which includes a museum and a wonderful tour of his living spaces.
But wait for it, there was another reason Hamilton chose this then-remote area of Manhattan Island. It was his close socialite friend who lived at Gracie Mansion.
E 88th St &, East End Ave, New York, NY 10028
Hamilton loved to be in the room where it happens. That happening place was the grand parties of shipping magnate Archibald Gracie! Here Hamilton raised funds to found the New York Evening Post, which is still surviving today as just the New York Post. It’s the oldest continuously daily newspaper in the United States of America!
However inside, if you get a chance to take a tour of this now official Mayor’s mansion, you can see a fireplace mantle installed in 1966 inside the Susan B. Wagner Room, it being the final remains of a mansion that resided in modern day Meatpacking District…
82 Jane Street
The Bayard Mansion. At 82 Jane Street you can find a plaque that reads:
Site of William Bayard House where Alexander Hamilton, First Secretary of the Treasury, died after his duel with Aaron Burr July 12th 1804.Plaque at 82 Jane Street New York, New York
The exact location of the house is still debated, with most historians thinking it was located one block over at Horatio Street. However this block was still within Bayard’s estate.
After being rowed across the Hudson, Hamilton was rushed over here to his friend William Bayard’s home. It was the closest place they could get to.
Word immediately got around that Hamilton was bleeding to death. Many of the finest doctors in the city came to see what they could do. A vigil was forming around the home. Hamilton’s wife Eliza and their children rushed by stagecoach from their uptown home.
Hamilton, surrounded by his loved ones and many of his loyal colleagues, in front of the warmth of Bayard’s fireplace, at 49 years old, drew his final breath. He was the only founding father that didn’t survive until old age.
How did an immigrant become a founding father?
So how did an orphan dropped in a forgotten spot in the Caribbean become a hero and a scholar?
The answer lies in every single immigrant story. The story of people from all parts of the world who come to the city that never sleeps seeking a fresh start.
Hamilton was driven in every phase of his life. He never relented. He never stood complacent. And while he had many faults… and made many enemies. He also made more friends and built institutions that have stood the test of time.
I’ve said this many times before in other videos: history is complicated. And that’s because people are complicated.
The final song in the Hamilton musical “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” answers a question that has been lingering in my mind as I’ve studied history from around the world.
Why do we remember the stories of some people but not of others?
It’s simple. Your story survives only if the people who survived you decide to tell your story.
Who is going to tell your story?
It’s a question I keep asking myself. Serving as a reminder to always make more friends than enemies.
Watch the full video:
Locations visited in the video:
- Weehawken Dueling Grounds: 24-96 Hamilton Avenue Weehawken, New Jersey
- Hamilton Grange: 414 W 141st St, New York, NY
- Gracie Mansion: E 88th St &, East End Ave, New York, NY
- Plaque of the Bayard Mansion: 82 Jane St, New York, NY
- Fraunces Tavern: 54 Pearl St, New York, NY
- Site of the Tontine Coffee House: 82 Wall St, New York, NY
- Bank of New York Building: 48 Wall St, New York, NY
- Federal Hall: 26 Wall St, New York, NY
- Trinity Church: 75 Broadway, New York, NY
Here’s a Google Maps of the locations: http://bit.ly/alexanderhamiltonnyc
Hamilton Book Recommendations
- Theodosia Burr by Karen Quinones: https://amzn.to/2AoKTwf
- Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: https://amzn.to/2VIEmE9
- Hamilton: The Revolution by Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda : https://amzn.to/3eYGjnq
The above are Amazon affiliate links.