Monday, October 5, 2015

Did Alexander Hamilton Sleep Here?

Alexander Hamilton

          With all of the hype surrounding Alexander Hamilton recently with the debut of Hamilton on Broadway it is time to examine Crailo’s supposed connection to Alexander Hamilton. According to legend he was quarantined at Crailo in 1793 during Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever epidemic.
Dr. Benjamin Rush
In August of 1793 people in Philadelphia began to suffer headaches, muscle pain, vomiting and high fevers. People began to die. Dr. Benjamin Rush soon identified the culprit, Yellow Fever. The illness had most likely been brought to the city by French refugees from the slave revolt at Saint-Domingue or from the British vessel Hanley which had come to Philadelphia from Africa via the Caribbean.[i] The biggest city in America, its capital, was soon in a panic. Before the epidemic ended in October 1793, about 20,000 of Philadelphia’s 50,000 residents fled the city for healthier environments. 5,000 people died.
            On September 5, 1793 Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton felt the first symptoms of the fever and soon took to his bed. On September 6 President George Washington, who would abandon the city on September 10, wrote Hamilton a note of encouragement:
“With extreme concern I receive the expression of your apprehensions, that you are in the first stages of the prevailing fever. I hope they are groundless, notwithstanding the malignancy of the disorder is so much abated, as with proper & timely applications not much is to be dreaded.” [ii]
Hamilton was soon in the throes of full on Yellow Fever but was perhaps not the best patient, as Thomas Jefferson noted in a letter to James Madison:
Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
“Hamilton is ill of the fever, as is said. He had two physicians out at his house the night before last. His family think him in danger, & he puts himself so by his excessive alarm. He had been miserable several days before from a firm persuasion he should catch it. A man as timid as his is on the water, as timid on horseback, as timid in sickness, would be a phenomenon if his courage of which he has the reputation in military occasions were genuine.”[iii]
Soon Hamilton’s wife, Eliza was ill as well. Miraculously, both survived the fever, in large part due to the administrations of Dr. Edward Stevens, a child hood friend of Hamilton’s who preferred cool baths to break the fever rather than purges and bleedings preferred by Dr. Benjamin Rush.
            On September 15 both Hamilton and his wife were well enough to leave Philadelphia and head for her parent’s home in Albany. The trip was arduous, made even more so by the fact that many towns were turning away refugees from Philadelphia. New York City had armed guards on the roads to ensure that no one slipped through. Even Albany was reluctant to let anyone from Philadelphia in, meaning that when Alexander Hamilton and his wife arrived at Greenbush, they were not allowed to cross the river to the city.
            When the Hamilton’s arrived in Greenbush on September 23, 1793 a team of doctor’s was sent across the river from Albany to assess their health. Finding them in perfect health they issued a certificate that said:
“This is to certify that we have visited Col. Hamilton and his lady at Greenbush, this evening, and that they are apparently in perfect health; and from every circumstance we do not conceive there can be the least danger of their conveying the infection of the pestilential fever, at present prevalent in Philadelphia, to any of their fellow citizens.
            Samuel Stringer, W. Mancius, H. Woodruff, W. McClallen, Cornelius Roosa”[iv]
In light of this certificate and some pressure applied on Mayor Abraham Yates Jr. by General Philip Schuyler, Hamilton and his wife were allowed to move to Schuyler Mansion on the 24 of September.
Philip Schuyler
            This begs the question; where did the Hamilton’s spend their night in Greenbush? Crailo is the most obvious place as it was the home of Eliza’s maternal grandparents and was then owned by her cousin John Jeremias Van Rensselaer who having come into possession of the house in 1783 conducted extensive renovations on the house. It was also close to the ferry landing where they would cross the river, which was also owned by John Jeremias.  Hamilton’s only comments about the night shed little light on where they stayed, saying only they were “ill enough accommodated” and the night was “certainly not of a restorative nature.”[v]
            Once ensconced at Schuyler Mansion they were not free to move about. Yates had, unknown to Hamilton, made a deal with Schuyler that made their entry into the city conditional on them not leaving Schuyler’s land nor any one visiting them. When Hamilton found this out on the details of this deal on the 25th he was incensed and the next day fired off a scathing letter to Yates.
Abraham Yates Jr.
“General Schuyler shewed me yesterday a letter which he had received from you. It was then for the first time, I understood, that I had come to this place upon conditions; which General Schuylers paternal anxiety led him to submit to, but which are of a nature too derogatory to my rights, as a citizen of this State, to be permitted by me to continue in force. I feel that by doing it I should betray those rights, and none of the principles which have hitherto governed my Conduct will allow me to be accessory, by my acquiescence, to so improper a sacrifice… I hope I shall never be wanting in due consideration for the feelings of any community. I am sure that my regard for the citizens of Albany predisposes me to every reasonable accommodation to their wishes; and when at my own command I trust they will have no cause to think that I have slighted the indications of their present state of mind. But there are bounds to everything. I can make no concessions inconsistent with due attention to my own delicacy or to my rights as a Citizen…I am therefore Sir to declare to you that after the present day all stipulations which are said to have been made by General Schuyler will be considered as at an end. And we shall think ourselves free from any other restraint than our own decisions and prudence shall dictate. If I hear nothing from you in the course of the day I shall take it for granted that this declaration is not unsatisfactory…The result will determine whether from causeless apprehensions, in violation of law & right, of that protection which is the primary object of Society-citizens are to be excluded from an asylum in the bosom of their family; in other words whether a Citizen has rights or not; and whether a public Officer who persevering in a faithful discharge of his duty, undeterred by considerations of personal hazard has happened to contract a contagious disease is, in return, when perfectly recovered to be deprived by arbitrary and tyrannical means of the essential rights of a member of Society-merely because it has been his lot to have had a dangerous disease.”[vi]
            Yates initially did not respond to this overwhelming and more than slightly threatening letter from Hamilton, instead laying it before the Common Council of Albany who passed it off to the Committee of the Citizens Respecting Infectious Diseases. This committee quickly gave exemptions to anyone who had “been at least fourteen days from the city  or any other infectious place, and who shall give satisfactory proof, that in the meantime they have enjoyed good health…”[vii]
            On September 27 Yates finally responded to Hamilton, saying
“You must have misapprehended facts and circumstances for otherwise it is impossible to account for the complexion of your letter… Had you, sir, at first pointed out to us your peculiar circumstances and solicited the cooperation for an act in your favor, there is no doubt that the altercation which has taken place, and which cannot be more disagreeable to you than it is to us, would have been avoided, for the common council are always disposed to act with reason and moderation.”[viii]
In short, Yates was saying it was all a misunderstanding and trying to smooth things over without actually apologizing for detaining Hamilton illegally.
            So to bring this around to our original question; did Hamilton sleep here? The short answer is maybe. He and his wife were certainly not quarantined here as legend has held. On this trip they were only in Greenbush for one night, waiting for permission to cross the river, so the opportunity existed for them to stay with Eliza’s family. Unfortunately, no evidence that conclusively places Hamilton and Eliza at Crailo that night has come to light yet.

[i] French refugees have long been blamed for the epidemic but in the book The Ship of Death: The Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World (Yale University Press, 2013) Billy G. Smith makes a compelling argument for the Hanley being the source.
[ii] George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, 6 September 1793 Founders online
[iii] See notes of the above letter.
[iv] The Annals of Albany Albany, 1871 Volume III p 101-102.
[v] Alexander Hamilton to Abraham Yates Junior, 26 September 1793 Founders Online.
[vi] Alexander Hamilton to Abraham Yates Junior, 26 September 1793 Founders Online.
[vii] The Annals of Albany Albany, 1871 Volume III p 110-111.
[viii] The Annals of Albany Albany, 1871 Volume III p113-114.

1 comment:

  1. Very professionally researched blog article. Thank you for the scholarly perspective that was brought to our attention.