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June 7, 2024 9 mins

Hamilton the musical tells us the story of Alexander Hamilton, a brilliant guy who had a fiery temperament and a cheating heart. Imagine being his wife and raising eight fatherless kids, resurrecting her dead husband’s reputation, and being a tireless champion of widows and orphans. Plus, before her death at 97, Eliza Hamilton also became the toast of NYC and Washington. What a life!

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
All right. Imagine a famous spouse with a big personality
who hooks up with your sister, then cheats on you
really publicly with somebody else, spends a huge amount of
time away from home, and finally gets shot and killed
by arrival Alexander Hamilton. Right, but what about his wife?
I'm Patti Steele. Eliza's life after the most famous duel.

(00:22):
That's next on the backstory. The backstory is back. Can
you imagine being married to a really famous person with
like this fiery, impulsive but very witty personality, while your
gentle calm always putting other people first. It sounds like

(00:43):
a recipe for a tough relationship, right at least for
the quieter spouse. That was the marriage of Alexander and
Eliza Hamilton, and life with him during their twenty four
year marriage was I don't know anything but relaxed. In
those twenty four years when he wasn't constantly away. There
were eight children, many political battles, Hamilton's affairs, including one

(01:05):
with her sister, another with a woman who blackmailed and
publicly humiliated him, the death in a duel of their
oldest son, who was just defending his dad's honor. The
mental illness of their oldest daughter, and finally the infamous
death of Alexander Hamilton and yet another duel in eighteen
oh four. Whew, what a life. But here's what's great

(01:27):
about Eliza. Some people managed to make the challenges in
life into opportunities to blossom, and she defined that approach
to life. Eliza was born in seventeen fifty seven to
a really prominent family. Her dad, Philip Schuyler, was a politician,
a general in the Continental Army, and a wealthy businessman.

(01:48):
Her mother, Catherine, a socialite. They had fifteen children, eight
of whom survived into adulthood. Now, on the other hand,
Eliza fell in love with Alexander Hamilton, who was born
out of wedlock in seventeen fifty five to a poor
mother and a father who abandoned the family on an
island in the British West Indies. When he was thirteen,

(02:10):
his mother died, leaving him and his brother orphaned. But
he was a smart and ambitious guy. Made his way
to America, where he went to college. Eventually, Hamilton became
an aide to George Washington, becoming like a son to him,
and that is how he met Eliza while Washington was
meeting with her father. Hamilton knew as she was a

(02:31):
catch for him with a wealthy, powerful father, and he
went after her intensely, writing to her, I meet you
in every dream, and when I wake, I cannot close
my eyes for ruminating on your sweetness. But he also
wrote about her to a pal, sounding a little less passionate, saying,
though not a genius, she has good sense enough to

(02:53):
be agreeable, and though not a beauty, she has fine
black eyes, is rather handsome, and has every other requie
of the exterior to make a lover happy way more practical.
In seventeen eighty, Eliza married Hamilton at her family's mansion,
but she had an older sister, Angelica, who was beautiful

(03:13):
and charming and smart, and despite being married to a
powerful guy herself, she had a whole bunch of flirtations
and maybe more with other powerful men, including Thomas Jefferson,
the Marquis de Lafayette, and her brother in law Alexander Hamilton.
In one letter, Angelica even told Elizabeth that she loved

(03:34):
Alexander very much, and if you were as generous as
the old Romans, you would lend him to me for
a little while. Wow. I wonder how Eliza felt about that.
Most historians do agree that the pair had an affair,
but Hamilton had other affairs as well, and one of
them was humiliating, both personally and publicly. In seventeen ninety seven,

(03:56):
Hamilton became the first major American politician publicly involved in
a sex scandal. Six years before, Hamilton had had an
affair with twenty three year old Maria Reynolds while he
was living alone in Philadelphia as Secretary of the Treasury.
She came to his house claiming her husband was abusive
and had abandoned her, and she wanted to go home

(04:19):
to her family in New York, but she didn't have
any money. Hamilton delivered thirty dollars to her boarding house,
and while he was there, she took him into her bedroom, and,
as he put it, some conversation ensued, from which it
was quickly apparent that other than financial consolation would be acceptable.
I'll bet turns out Maria's husband, who had not abandoned her,

(04:42):
knew about the affair and actually was probably orchestrating it
from the beginning. At first, he threatened to tell Eliza
Hamilton what was going on, unless Alexander gave him a
thousand bucks, which Hamilton then handed over. But he also
told Hamilton he could keep seeing his wife, which he did,
and soon there were demands for more money, which Hamilton

(05:04):
gave them. Well. The affair ended after a year or so,
but six years later Reynolds was caught in an illegal
scheme to make money from the government. He claimed Hamilton
was part of that scheme. So Hamilton decides the best
way out is to write a tell all about the
sexual affair and also make it clear he has nothing

(05:24):
to do with the illegal money making affair. In the
pamphlet he put out, he wrote, the bare perusal of
the letters from Reynolds and his wife is sufficient to
convince my greatest enemy that there's nothing worse than the
affair than my irregular and indelicate amour. Wow, smooth talker,
and guess what. It worked. But the affair did put

(05:46):
an end to any further political dreams for Hamilton. Obviously
no criminal charges, and it humiliated Eliza. The press attacked
her as well, saying, art thou a wife see him
whom thou hast chown for the partner of this life?
Lolling in the lap of a Harlot. Wow, not too
painful for her, right, You'd think this was enough upset

(06:09):
for one lifetime. But then in eighteen oh one, the
Hamilton's oldest son, Philip, then only nineteen, heard a speech
by a guy who claimed his dad, Alexander Hamilton, would
try to overthrow President Thomas Jefferson. So he felt the
need to defend his dad's honor and challenge the guy
to a duel. Fair to say, it didn't end well.

(06:30):
Young Philip was shot and killed. Then Philip's death caused
his seventeen year old sister to have a mental breakdown,
from which she never recovered. Finally, we get to Hamilton's
duel with then Vice President Aaron Burr. The political enemies
met on the shores of the Hudson River and Weehawk
in New Jersey on July eleventh, eighteen oh four. Shots

(06:51):
were fired, Hamilton fell and was taken to a friend's
home in Greenwich Village, where he died the next day.
He was forty eight years old. So at forty six,
Eliza was a widow with seven surviving children, and in
the previous three years she had lost her husband, her son,
her mother, and father and her sister. But here's the thing.

(07:12):
She truly blossomed into her own being after Alexander's death.
She was a fabulous woman for another fifty years. First,
and foremost, she spent those years totally resurrecting her husband's reputation,
finding a biographer to tell his story, organizing his papers,
speaking about him, virtually assigning him a place as a

(07:33):
Founding father. She also helped found New York's first private
orphanage in eighteen oh six and worked there for almost
forty years, taking care of more than seven hundred children.
She raised her own children and maintained the family home
in Upper Manhattan, which is now an historic site, and
she did it with very little money. Her husband left

(07:54):
her in debt and she wasn't left much money by
her father. Finally, she moved to Washington, d C. In
eighteen forty eight and worked to raise money to build
the Washington Monument, and she was in demand as a
dinner guest at the White House and all over DC.
Because of her ties to Colonial America, the Founding Fathers,
and her vivid storytelling. Eliza Hamilton led a strong, fascinating

(08:18):
life that allowed her to continue to blossom until She
finally died in eighteen fifty four at the age of
ninety seven. I hope you like the Backstory with Patty Steele.
I would love it if you'd subscribe or follow for

(08:40):
free to get new episodes delivered to you automatically, and
feel free to DM me too if you have a
story you'd like me to cover. On Facebook, It's Patty
Steele and on Instagram Real Patty Steele. I'm Patty Steele.
The Backstory is a production of iHeartMedia, Premier Networks, the
Elvis Duran Group, and Steel Trap Productions. Our producer is

(09:02):
Doug Fraser. Our writer Jake Kushner. We have new episodes
every Tuesday and Friday. Feel free to reach out to
me with comments and even story suggestions on Instagram at
Real Patty Steele and on Facebook at Patty Steele. Thanks
for listening to the Backstory with Patty Steele. The pieces
of history you didn't know you needed to know.
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