They lived, they died, but 'Hamilton' didn't tell their story

The smash hit musical made Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton household names, but history also had its eyes on these characters who didn't make it onstage.

By Amy Briggs
Published 8 Jul 2020, 11:23 BST
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of “Hamilton,” stands center with the original ensemble cast on Broadway ...

Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of “Hamilton,” stands center with the original ensemble cast on Broadway in 2015. Miranda wrote the play after reading an 818-page biography on the Founding Father and featured only a handful of characters in the two hour and 55 minute show.

Photograph by Sara Krulwich, T​he New York Times, Redux

In 2016, the unlikely musical Hamilton took the United States by storm, packaging a whirlwind history lesson about the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury with rousing beats, moving melodies, and a compelling story. Aaron Burr, friend and nemesis of Alexander Hamilton, narrates the tale, taking the audience from Hamilton’s humble origins, through his meteoric rise, to his tragic fall.

In order to keep the action moving and the story tight, author Lin-Manuel Miranda had to make some tough choices and leave certain characters off stage, even though they had major impacts on the real-life story. Some of them are still name-dropped in the show, while others don’t appear at all. The lyrics allude to their presence, but history shows the bigger roles they played in the lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman. . .”

Rachel Faucette is never referred to by name in the musical, but her spirit looms large from the show’s opening lines. Alexander was born to Rachel on the Caribbean island of Nevis around 1757, the second of her two sons with Scottish immigrant James Hamilton. Before meeting Hamilton, Rachel was unhappily married to an older man, Johann Michael Lavien, with whom she had one son. She left the marriage, and Lavien had her thrown in jail for several months. After her release, she fled to St. Kitts without taking her son and obtaining a legal separation.

The decision would come to haunt her. Years later, Lavien sought an official divorce, and in his petition, he painted Rachel in the worst possible terms: She had left her family and “given herself up to whoring with everyone” and that if he died, she would take his estate and “give it to her whore-children.” The divorce settlement decreed that he could remarry but that Rachel could not, meaning that her sons with James Hamilton would be illegitimate in the eyes of society. Both Alexander and Rachel fell ill in 1768 with a fever. Alexander recovered, but his mother died.

“The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father. . ."

James Hamilton abandoned his sons, James Jr., 12, and Alexander, 10, around 1765 after the family had relocated to St. Croix. The fourth son of 11 children, Hamilton Sr. was born in Scotland around 1718. Because he was not first or even the second in line to inherit his family’s estate, he sought his fortune elsewhere, which ultimately led him to the Caribbean in the 1740s. Historian Ron Chernow in his book Alexander Hamilton (on which the musical is based) characterised Hamilton Sr. as a ne’er-do-well bouncing from enterprise to enterprise, losing money at every turn, and no longer able to support his family. Perhaps because his sons “had attained an age where they could assist Rachel [he] may have believed that he could wash his hands of paternal duties without undue pangs of guilt,” writes Chernow. Alexander remained estranged from his father for the rest of his life.

“The Schuyler sisters! Angelica! Peggy! Eliza! Work!”

The three Schuyler sisters featured in the musical—Eliza, Angelica, and Peggy respectively played left to right by Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, and Jasmine Cephas—had five other siblings, including three brothers who were purposefully omitted from the show.

Photograph by Sara Krulwich, T​he New York Times, Redux

Revolutionary war hero and New York aristocrat Philip Schuyler fathered three daughters who play a big part in the musical: eldest daughter Angelica, Eliza (Hamilton’s future wife), and Peggy. The Schuyler parents had 15 children together, 8 of whom survived childhood. Five were girls (Cornelia and Catherine are the two omitted Schuyler sisters), and three were boys. The Schuyler brothers—John, Phillip, and Rensselaer—were written out of the show to add dramatic tension to Angelica’s storyline.

On stage, Angelica sings how she must marry strategically rather than for love: “I’m a girl in a world in which / my only job is to marry rich. My father has no sons so I’m the one / Who has to social climb for one.” Lin-Manuel Miranda explains this choice in Hamilton: The Revolution: “Okay, so Philip Schuyler had loads of sons. I conveniently forgot that while I was writing this in service of a larger point: Angelica is a world-class intellect in a world that does not allow her to flex it.”

“She’s married. She’s married to a British officer.”

The young revolutionary soldier Aaron Burr married Theodosia Prevost even though she was a widow and 10 years his senior. In 2018, the Aaron Burr Association confirmed that Burr fathered a second family with Mary Emmons, his servant from Kolkata, India.

Photograph by GL Archive, Alamy

At Hamilton’s wedding, Aaron Burr confides that he is in love with a married woman. The owner of his heart? Theodosia Prevost, an educated woman more than 10 years his senior and mother of five. While her absent husband was assigned to the southern colonies in the 1770s, Theodosia protected her family and holdings by hosting officers from the Continental Army, including George Washington, at her New Jersey estate.

Historian Nancy Isenberg, in her book Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, called Theodosia a “closet patriot” whose quick wit and educated mind charmed those who found respite at her home, especially 22-year-old Aaron Burr. The two became friends and then lovers, writing letters that sparkle with affection alongside discussions of politics, literature, and philosophy. They wed in 1782, after her husband’s death. During their 12-year marriage, Theodosia was Burr’s trusted political ally. Her death in 1794, from what is believed to be uterine cancer, Burr recalled, “dealt me more pain than all sorrows combined.”

Dear Theodosia, what to say to you. . .”

Theodosia was the only child between Burr and his wife to survive childhood. This painting, identified as her, was beleived to have been salvaged from a shipwreck near Nag's Head, North Carolina.

Photograph by The Picture Art Collection, Alamy

Burr’s tender song to his newborn child, named after her mother, reveals the beginning of his lifelong devotion to his daughter. Young Theodosia’s parents, passionate about educating girls no differently than boys, began her schooling at an early age. Able to read and write by age 3, Theodosia had daily lessons in mathematics, Latin, Greek, French, Italian, history, and literature, as well as time set aside for exercise. After his wife’s death, Burr focused his love and attention on his daughter, writing her letters full of advice and affection: “The happiness of my life depends on your exertions, for what else, for whom else do I live?”

The night before his duel with Hamilton in 1804, Burr wrote a farewell letter to Theodosia, in case he perished the next day, that read: “I am indebted to you, my dearest Theodosia, for a very great portion of the happiness which I have enjoyed in this life. You have completely satisfied all that my heart and affections had hoped for or even wished.” In 1801 Theodosia wed and, a year later, had a son, whom she named after her father. Burr adored his family, and suffered a devastating loss when his namesake died of malaria in 1812 at age 11. A grieving Theodosia, on her way to visit her father in New York, was lost at sea off the coast of the Carolinas in January 1813.

“I have found a wealthy husband who will keep me in comfort for all my days . . .”

Hamilton’s sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler sings of sailing to London with her unnamed husband, a rich man whom she does not love. His name was John Barker Church, a wealthy Englishman who had come to New York from England in 1774 (some say to escape gambling debts, while others speculate to escape revenge for a duel). To avoid detection, he employed the pseudonym John B. Carter around the same time he began building a new fortune and wooing Angelica. Her parents were suspicious of the suitor and were dismayed when the pair eloped in June 1777.

In the show, Angelica is single when she first encounters Hamilton at a winter’s ball in 1780; in real life, she had been married for three years and was a mother of two by then. Church and Burr were also acquainted in real life; they were business partners, but their relationship turned sour in 1799 over allegations that Burr had taken a bribe. They fought a duel that ended without incident, and Church apologised to Burr.

“My name is Philip. I am a poet. I wrote this poem just to show it.”

When Alexander’s firstborn son, Philip, shows off his rhyming skills for his father, he mentions his younger sister and the desire for a little brother. Philip is the only named child in the show; the younger sister is Angelica Hamilton, who doesn’t make an appearance. The musical doesn’t mention the rest of the brood, which included five more sons and one more daughter. So why did audiences only see one child? Lin-Manuel Miranda explains: “[I]f you want to see a musical with eight kids, go watch The Sound of Music.”

Philip died in a duel in 1801 (at the same duelling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey, where his father would be fatally shot in 1804); sister Angelica had a nervous breakdown after her brother’s death from which she never recovered. But the Hamiltons were resilient: Eliza and Alexander had one more son in June 1802, whom they named Philip in memory of his older brother. After Alexander’s death, Eliza played a key role in maintaining his legacy and papers. Her partner in that effort was Alexander’s fourth son, John, who edited and published his father’s papers, as well as a seven-volume biography in the 1850s—preserving his father’s legacy and the foundation of future works about him, including the Tony and Pulitzer Awards-winning musical.

Amy Briggs is executive editor of National Geographic History magazine and cohost of the podcast Overheard at National Geographic.

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