Monday, March 27, 2023

Will the real James Hamilton please stand up?

As many of my dear readers know, I am currently working on a biography of James Alexander Hamilton, son of America's first Treasury Secretary and pretty interesting guy in his own right.

James Alexander Hamilton

Since he lived from 1788-1878, James observed a chaotic and important segment of US history - the entire Early Republic era, and, being the son of a Founding Father, he had loads of important people with whom he corresponded on all the vital issues of the day. One of these people was Martin Van Buren, and one of these issues was the scandal of Peggy Eaton, also known as the Petticoat Affair.

I was reading John Marszalek's book about this incident when I noticed a quote from James that did not ring true to me.

"For God knows we did not make him president to work the miracle of making Mrs E an honest woman." (The Petticoat Affair by Marszalek, p85)

Excerpt of letter including quote about Mrs E
LOC: Image 328 of Martin Van Buren Papers: Series 2, General Correspondence, 1787-1868; 1829; 1829, Apr. 16 - Aug. 14 | Library of Congress (

While plenty of people made comments similar to this about Margaret Timberlake Eaton, who was married to Andrew Jackson's Secretary of War, John Eaton, I wasn't sure that James A Hamilton had. I have read dozens of letters written by James, and this just didn't fit. He tended to be one who didn't record a lot of negativity, though he admittedly did refer to ‘great distrust of the fitness of the two Secretaries to manage the affairs of this great Country; - a distrust which, with all my regard for the President, I cannot help indulging.’ (Reminiscences of James A Hamilton, p135)

So, I started searching for the letter to which Mr Marszalek referred in his notes as the source of this quote. 'James A Hamilton to MVB, July 16, 1829' at the Library of Congress. This took me to a 435 page file of random correspondence of Martin Van Buren dated April 16 - August 14 of 1829, so I started slowly flipping through, watching for the correct date and the handwriting that had become familiar to me as belonging to James.

This is where I encountered the first bit of evidence that my doubts were well founded. The letter dated July 16 did not look like the ones I had been painstakingly combing through for months. I looked at the end for the familiar "JAH" that James often signed off with when writing to friends.

No, this letter appeared to say "J Hamilton" with some extra letters I couldn't immediately identify. 

Final page of letter with Mrs E quote

James always signed with the "A" of his middle name, whether writing out his signature or using initials. This "A" stood for "Alexander" - his father's name, and a father James was very proud to claim. I had never seen him write his name without it.

Signature of James A Hamilton

This is when I began trying to discern what other name it could be, and I remembered that another James Hamilton had sometimes come up when I was searching for "mine." I looked for letters written by South Carolina governor James Hamilton - and there it was. A matching signature with "Jr" at the end. Those were the letters I had been trying to identify, and this was the author of the letter to Martin Van Buren on July 16, 1829. I have included them both, so you can compare for yourself.

Letter signed by James Hamilton Jr of South Carolina

In case any of you have wondered how a historical writer spends their time, now you know! I have not been able to find a way to contact historian John Marszalek, and, I suppose, to most readers of his book the difference is not material, but I felt that I had solved a great mystery!

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Mercy Otis Warren: Historian of the American Revolution

 As a wife and mother, Mercy Otis Warren serves as an example of what women were forced to sacrifice during the American Revolution. Since she was also an accomplished writer and historian, she provides us with a unique view of the era. At a time when women were not expected to understand, let alone comment on politics, Mercy wrote poems, plays, commentaries, and eventually a three volume history of the United States. Besides her well-known brother, James Otis, Mercy corresponded with many great names of the day and collected newspapers, diaries, and anything she could get her hands on to document the birth of a nation.

From Women of the American Revolution:

However, Mercy could not entirely devote herself to patriotic politics the way men like John Adams did. She was a wife with a household to maintain. More importantly, she was the mother to five sons. Much as she supported independence from an early point in the Revolution, Mercy was afraid of what might become of her boys if called upon to fight. She wrote to Abigail Adams, ‘not to mention my fears for him with whom I am most tenderly Connected: Methinks I see no Less than five sons who must Buckle on the Harness And perhaps fall a sacrifice to the Manes of Liberty Ere she again revives and spreads her Chearful Banner over this part of the Globe.’

Her fears were not assuaged when General Thomas Gage replaced Hutchinson as the governor of Massachusetts, placing the colony under martial law. His authority under the Coercive Acts, which had been passed in response to the destruction of the tea, left colonists feeling vulnerable and without a voice. Boston Harbor lay empty, relieving many of their livelihood, and tensions rose as many, including Mercy, wondered what would come next.

What came next was armed conflict. The Warrens were forced to flee their home.

James rushed home, and the Warrens set out for Rhode Island. Mercy later wrote in her History that ‘A scene like this had never before been exhibited on her peaceful plains; and the manner in which it was executed, will leave an indelible stain on a nation, long famed for their courage, humanity and honor.’

James and Mercy encountered many other travelers, some witnesses of the fighting at Lexington and Concord. One told them of a story so harrowing that Mercy included a retelling of it in a letter to a friend. ‘I saw yesterday a gentleman who conversed with the brother of a woman cut in pieces in her bed with her new born infant by her side.’ Accounts such as this must have caused internal struggle in the patriotic but fearful Mercy.

Mercy coped with fear and anxiety throughout the war, but she found refuge in her faith and her writing. In 1805, she published her History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution: Interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations. She was seventy-seven at the time. Mercy lived long enough to see war come again to the United States in a conflict known by many names, but she died before the conclusion of the War of 1812, never knowing if the young nation was victorious in its Second War of Independence.

If you would like to learn more about Mercy Otis Warren and other amazing 18th century ladies, please consider my newest book, Women of the American Revolution. It is available at Pen & SwordAmazonBook DepositoryBarnes & Noble, or your favorite book retailer. 

Also available now at Audible and!

You can also find more articles here.

Join me on your preferred social media for daily fun facts, on this day in history posts, and lots of pictures!