A Report and Reflection on This Year’s Events on the Occasion of His Death
By Nancy Spannaus
July 12, 2022—The traditional yearly celebration of the life of Alexander Hamilton, sponsored primarily by the Alexander Hamilton Awareness (AHA) Society, resumed after a two-year hiatus this year, with a flurry of lectures, tours, and the traditional grave-site ceremony at Trinity Church. The celebration stretched from the evening of July 8 through July 11, the date of the fatal duel. I was fortunate to be able to attend all but the last day’s events, and believe a report is in order.
In my view, the highlights occurred on Sunday, July 10, when the National Park site at the Hamilton Grange opened for small tours and hosted a presentation by one of New York’s Hamilton re-enactors, Scott MacScott, followed by remarks by an Eliza Hamilton re-enactor. Then the festivities moved to Trinity Church, and subsequently to Fraunces Tavern, the location well-known for General Washington’s tearful good-bye to his officers in early December 1783, where a docent provided a lively talk on several significant Revolutionary era events.
It should be noted that the major celebratory event being sponsored by the AHA Society this July is still to come: a week-long series of discussions, parties, and presentations culminating in the unveiling of a statue of Alexander Hamilton on the island of Nevis, Hamilton’s birthplace. The unveiling of the statue “Hamilton as a Young Man” will occur on July 22 outside the Museum of Nevis History in Charlestown.
While surely more reports on the New York events will eventually become available from the AHA Society, at present my summary will have to suffice.
Hamilton at the Grange
Hamilton’s country home, which he named the Grange, sits right below City College in St. Nicholas Park. It was a delightful location this Sunday, as the city enjoyed unseasonably cool, sunny weather. Two members of the Hearts of Oak Independent Militia Company, a group of re-enactors portraying the first militia Hamilton joined while at King’s College in 1775, provided stirring music with fife and drum intermittently. This created a festive atmosphere which succeeded in engaging a large group of tourists who were simply walking by the Grange.
After a couple of 15-minute tours of the Grange’s first floor had been given, the main event commenced, with a presentation by Alexander Hamilton himself. The re-enactor, Scott MacScott, clearly lives his part, hardly ever falling out of character, even in private conversation. In my informal discussion with him, he brought up the importance of Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures before I did, emphasizing its centrality in his character’s thinking.
In his presentation to AHA members and other visitors, Scott took up the idea of how Hamilton created America’s financial system, a system where you can have faith that your money will be accepted everywhere, and circulate to build the economy of the country and contribute to realizing a more perfect Union. Creating this situation cost a great deal, including to me personally, “Hamilton” said.
Scott (as Hamilton) then described the situation of national bankruptcy and chaos during the 1780s, and the fight waged by Hamilton to establish a framework of a united society, which required a national government and a centrally created currency. He met failure after failure, but as Scott (aka Hamilton) put it, he could thank New York State for refusing to adopt the half-measure of the Confederation Congress for an export tax. The failure of that effort left the door open for the initiative he took with Madison at the Annapolis Convention of states, from which he (Hamilton) wrote the call for the Constitutional Convention itself.
As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton faced the problem of creating a new financial system. The British had taken all the gold and silver with them, and debts were coming due. Hamilton helped craft the first tariff, passed in the summer of 1789, and then he set to laying out his plan for consolidating the country’s debts, and using them as assets to build the nation, unleashing the human potential of the population.
Of particular importance was his Report on Manufactures. Scott (aka Hamilton) described the restraints which the British had placed on the American economy, pointing to the tree behind him. Under British rule, every tree with a bore of 18 inches or more, belonged to the King! Thus trees could not be used to build in the colonies but had to be sent to England to be turned into furniture, ship masts, etc. and then have the finished product sold back to the Americans! This now had to change. American manufacturing had to be built up.
The final section of Scott’s monologue described how he (Hamilton) had thwarted the first major threat to his credit system, the speculative binge of 1792.
Scott (aka Hamilton) concluded as he had begun, with the sacrifice which he had made to preserve this system. When a note of his to one James Reynolds appeared, Hamilton risked being accused of financial wrongdoing at the Treasury, and thus seeing his whole system shaken to the core. As Scott put it, Hamilton had to choose whether to save his own honor, or the honor of the United States (his credit system). He chose the latter; hence, the Reynolds affair pamphlet confessing his infidelity to Eliza.
The Eliza re-enactor then took over, expressing in an exceedingly demure manner her relationship with Alexander as the genius he was. Perhaps a bit too demure, as she was a strong woman, a hands-on founder of the city orphanage, a frequent partner in producing Hamilton’s state papers, and a tireless fighter to publish and defend her husband’s work after his assassination.
The Gravesite Remembrance
From the Grange, the AHA contingent, re-enactors included, travelled to the Trinity Church cemetery in lower Manhattan for a short ceremony honoring Alexander Hamilton. Nicole Scholet, president of the AHA Society, presided, and introduced each participant. Remarks were brief and made by two co-sponsors of the event: Richard Porter, 104th president of the Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, and BMCM Robert Riemer, Command Master Chief of the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector New York.
Alexander Hamilton was a member of the St. Andrew’s Society, which was founded in the mid-18th century to help indigent Scots who emigrated to this country, of which there were many. The Society’s motto reads “Charity, Fellowship, Scholarship.” Hamilton is known to have contributed funds and attended meetings of the Society. The Society still raises funds for its founding purposes today.
The remarks by Commander Riemer highlighted the important role of the Coast Guard, which Hamilton founded as the Revenue Cutter Service, in various significant functions of the nation. These included interdicting the illegal slave trade and firing the first naval shot in the Civil War while attempting the relieve Federal forces at Fort Sumter.
Following the laying of wreaths, the ceremony concluded with the playing of taps for Alexander Hamilton, a soldier-patriot fallen in the battle for the defense and advancement of his nation.
I cannot do justice to the wealth of information provided by docent Michael at the Fraunces Tavern, which describes itself as “New York City’s oldest standing structure.” The Tavern was the center of Revolutionary activity in the City from 1762 on, and is most known for being the location of Washington’s farewell to his generals.
But Fraunces Tavern, and its founder Samuel Fraunces, played other important roles in the early history of our nation. Fraunces, who bought the tavern (then a residence) from Stephen Delancey in 1762, was a patriot who was eventually arrested by the British (who, of course, occupied New York City from 1776 until their evacuation in November 1783). They put him to work cooking for the British officer corps.
Fraunces reputedly was able to use his position to aid the Revolutionary cause, as he overheard the unguarded discussions of the British brass. Undoubtedly, he found more congenial his assignment at the conclusion of the war, when he became the cook for President Washington.
As for the Tavern, its function as a meeting house is only part of the story. During the period of the Confederation, the government leased rooms in the Tavern to serve as headquarters for the limited functions of the federal establishment. In one room, set up in the Museum portion of the Tavern, the individuals responsible for the departments of foreign affairs (John Jay), war (Henry Knox), and the Treasury had their desks. The detailed signage in the room is entitled “Governing the Nation.” This was, in fact, the “room where it happened” from 1785 to 1789.
Of course, for many, the highlight of their visit to the Tavern is the “Long Room” where General Washington met his comrades-in-arms for the last time on December 4, 1783. The normally reserved Washington “embraced each of them and said: ‘With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you: I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy, as your former ones have been glorious and honourable.’|”
Washington then went to Annapolis to hand in his commission, and onward to Mount Vernon, from which he had been absent all but three days during his command of the Revolutionary Army. It took him until Christmas eve to arrive home, due to the warm reception he encountered on the carriage ride along the way.
As for Hamilton’s presence at the Tavern, he was not at the Farewell lunch. However, he had a notable presence at a July 4, 1804 Independence Day celebration at the Tavern, a mere seven days before his fateful encounter with Aaron Burr. The occasion was a gathering of the Society of the Cincinnati, the group of American and French officers founded at the conclusion of the war. The Society had been founded “to perpetuate the memory of the War for Independence, maintain the fraternal bonds between the officers, promote the ideals of the Revolution, support members and their families in need, distinguish its members as men of honor, and advocate for the compensation promised to the officers by Congress.” Its members had played a significant role in establishing the Constitution, and Hamilton himself had become its head upon Washington’s death in 1799.
Hamilton is reported to have been in an exceptionally ebullient mood during this July 4 event, while Burr was sullen and unusually withdrawn. Little did the participants know that the duel date had already been set.
I can’t take the time to chronicle all the other events of the weekend. Just to recount the ones I attended:
- The first was a lively lecture July 8 by author Lewis Ben Smith at the Snyder Academy of Elizabeth, New Jersey, the site of the Academy which Alexander Hamilton attended for college prep upon his arrival on the mainland. Smith’s book, President Hamilton, puts forward an optimistic scenario of Hamilton surviving the duel with the mission of abolishing slavery. His presentation was very well-received by the audience.
- Day two featured at lecture at the St. Paul Church historical site in Mount Vernon, New York by noted Revolutionary War historian Dr. Robert Selig. Selig spoke on the history of the pre-conceptions about the Hessians and the French, which Americans held coming into the War for Independence, and how they played out during the war. His enlightening talk was entitled Hessian Savages, Frog-eating Frenchmen, and Virtuous Americans, 1776-1783: How Personal Experiences Change Time-honored Perceptions.” Intriguing, right?
- The lecture attendees were then treated to a Park Service presentation on the history of the church during the Revolutionary War.
- The next stop was the Morris-Jumel Mansion, which is billed as the “oldest remaining house in Manhattan.” It was built in 1765 for the Roger Morris family and is located at the strategically significant high point of its upper Manhattan area, near 157th The house briefly served as a headquarters for General Washington in September of 1776; Hamilton is known to have visited him there. In 1833, Burr also lived there – as the husband of the widowed Eliza Morris-Jumel.
Of interest to many today is that Lin-Manuel Miranda, author of the Hamilton musical, spent two weeks at this house in his preparation for finalizing his play. One of the house’s prized possessions is a British cannon ball.
Clearly, and in my view, most unfortunately, there are not many Americans who revel in spending a weekend immersing themselves in the history of the building of our nation. As a country, we have turned to sound bites and cartoons, memes, and synopses, all of which are easily adapted to, and reinforce, our prejudices and short attention spans.
I would argue that this reality is potentially deadly for our nation. Without understanding our history in depth, in all its messy, imperfect, but yet inspiring details, we have little hope of fulfilling the promise of perfecting our Union. In addition, studying Hamilton’s economic vision and work in depth is essential to our getting back on the track of economic progress at home and abroad, as I outline in my book Hamilton Versus Wall Street.
Hopefully my description here will help goad more people into delving further into the study of the Founding Era, where they will take seriously the ideals and struggles, as well as the flaws and mistakes, of those who established the United States. As we approach the 250th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, in the midst of culture wars that threaten to tear us apart, I believe it is desperately urgent that we do so.
 The AHA Society is an official partner of this site, where the home that Hamilton built a few years before his death is located. The house, which has been moved a few blocks, sits on East 141 St.
 I apologize for not having the name of this lady, who did an admirable job.
 The Museum has been identified as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton.
 See https://americansystemnow.com/hamilton-fathered-our-economic-independence/
 The Coast Guard at that time was called the Revenue Cutter Service.
 Taken from the website of the Society of the Cincinnati.
 See my review at https://americansystemnow.com/president-hamilton-tackles-slavery/
 Eliza sued for divorce four months later!
Tags: Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, Fraunces Tavern, Hamilton Grange, Lewis Ben Smith, Nancy Spannaus, Robert Selig, Scott Mac Scott