This Day in History: Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton
POSTED November 8, 2019
On November 9th, 1854, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton died at age 97. This woman outlived her husband, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, by 50 years. She also outlived all but one of her siblings, her youngest sister Catherine. This is a great feat as the average lifespan during the late 1700s and early 1800s was only 37. Although this woman accomplished this feat, she did much more during her lifetime.
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton was the daughter of American Revolutionary war general Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer. They were one of the wealthiest families in early America. In 1780, Elizabeth met George Washington’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton. In less than a year, they were married on December 14th of 1780.
During the Revolutionary War, Elizabeth assisted Hamilton in his work. She followed him to the places he was stations. Elizabeth also helped write a 31-page letter to Robert Morris about finances. Most of the financial knowledge in that letter was done in her handwriting.
After the war, they settled in New York City. There, the Hamilton’s became active socialites in New York. When Hamilton became treasury secretary in 1789 for Washington’s cabinet, Elizabeth’s duties for her husband increased. She assisted in writing many documents with Hamilton including Washington’s farewell address.
In 1798, Elizabeth joined the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows which provided around 200 widows and 600 children with food, clothing, a place to live, and education. The Society also provided employment for women.
Elizabeth was a skillful house-wife and had total eight children, 2 girls and 6 boys. Unfortunately in 1801, tragedy struck and the Hamilton’s eldest son, Philip, died in a duel of honor against George Eacker. The previous year, Elizabeth’s mother, Catherine, died. In the next few years Elizabeth’s sister, Peggy, and her father both died.
In 1804, her husband, Alexander Hamilton died in a duel against vice president Aaron Burr; Elizabeth was 47 at that time. She would live another 50 after her husband’s death. With 7 children and now the debt left by Hamilton, Elizabeth sold her house, the Grange, to make ends meet.
Now outside of her husband’s shadow, she put herself into charity work, more than before. She became the co-founder of the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and in 1806 she and a few other women founded the Orphan Asylum Society. The New York Orphan Asylum Society continues as a social service agency for children, now called Graham Windham. She cared for at least 765 children there.
Elizabeth also worked to keep her husband’s legacy alive until her death. She re-organized all of Hamilton’s letters, papers, and other works with the help of her son, John Church Hamilton. John Church also worked to write his father’s biography. Despite many setbacks, it became published.
Elizabeth often traveled to visit her daughter, Eliza in Washington DC, where she received invitations from people such as Presidents Tyler, Polk, and Pierce. She assisted Dolly Madison with raising money for the Washington Monument. On July 4, 1848, Elizabeth rode alongside future presidents James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson during the debut of the monument.
On November 9th, 1854, in Washington DC, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton died. She was buried beside her husband and sister, Angelica, in the graveyard of Trinity Church in New York City. Her son, Philip, also had an unmarked grave in the church.
Elizabeth was a mother, wife, daughter, teacher, and a philanthropist. She helped so many people in her lifetime throughout her 97 years. She locked in her husband’s legacy, created one of the first private orphanages, and collected funds for the Washington Monument. Despite all the tragedy in her lifetime, she thrived and decided to make the world a better place.