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Hamilton, Alexander (1757-1804)  
 
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A hero of the American Revolutionary War and a prominent statesman in the government of the newly formed United States, Alexander Hamilton was held in high public esteem for his knowledge of military operations, economics, and politics, and for his fervent patriotism. In his private life he had affectionate relationships with both men and women, but perhaps his most intense romantic bond was with a young man, John Laurens, who was killed in 1782.

Early Life

Hamilton was born January 11, 1757 on Nevis, a British colony in the Leeward Islands. His father was a prosperous merchant but lost his fortune. When Hamilton was six, his father abandoned the family, and his mother found refuge for her two sons and herself with relatives on St. Croix. Following his mother's death in 1768, Hamilton, at age twelve, went to work for a local merchant. His obvious intelligence so impressed his employer and his relatives that they arranged to send him to the mainland to pursue his education.

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Hamilton arrived in New York in 1772, spent a year at grammar school, and then enrolled at King's College (now Columbia University). He interrupted his studies, however, to join the colonial army, receiving his commission as an officer in March 1776.

Two years earlier Hamilton had written anonymous political pamphlets so sophisticated that they were at first attributed to John Jay, who was more than a decade his senior. Because of Hamilton's intelligence and evident abilities, General George Washington chose him as his secretary and aide-de-camp in 1777, promoting him to lieutenant colonel. Through his initiative and ambition, Hamilton soon became a valued adviser to the general.

Relationship with John Laurens

While in Washington's service Hamilton befriended a group of other young officers, with one of whom, John Laurens of South Carolina, he had a particularly close relationship. When the two were apart on separate assignments, they exchanged affectionate letters. In September 1779, gently chiding Laurens for not corresponding as often as he would have liked, Hamilton wrote, "like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued."

Despite the prestige of his appointment on Washington's staff, Hamilton wished to serve in combat like--and perhaps with--his friend Laurens. Using the pretext of a minor disagreement with the general, Hamilton requested and received a transfer in February 1781. The incident left no hard feelings on either side.

Hamilton and Laurens participated in several military campaigns together later that year but were again separated on August 15, 1782, when Hamilton wrote to his friend, addressing him as "My Dear Laurens." Looking beyond the successful conclusion of the war, Hamilton suggested that both of them should be members of the congress of the new country. "We have fought side by side to make America free, let us hand in hand struggle to make her happy," he wrote in a letter ending, "Yours forever."

It is doubtful that Laurens ever read this letter, for he was killed in a skirmish on August 27. Upon hearing of his friend's death from Major General Nathanael Greene, Hamilton wrote back that he felt "the deepest affliction at the news," adding, "I feel the loss of a friend I truly and most tenderly loved."

In an earlier letter to Laurens (April 1779), Hamilton had proclaimed his affection: "I wish, my dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by actions rather than words, to convince you that I love you." He went on playfully to admonish Laurens because "You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent," but assured him that "you will always continue to merit the partiality which you have so artfully instilled into me."

In the same letter Hamilton "empower[ed] and command[ed]" Laurens to find him a wife in South Carolina. He provided an amusing description of the appearance and personality of the ideal candidate, then added "as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better." Hamilton then withdrew the "command," writing, "Do I want a wife? No--I have plagues enough without desiring to add to the number that greatest of all."

He did, however, marry late the following year. His wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, did indeed possess a large stock of fortune: she was the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in New York. Alliance with the prominent family undoubtedly increased Hamilton's prestige, but the match seems to have been based on genuine fondness as well. Hamilton clearly delighted in his eight children, often referring to himself in letters as a paterfamilias.

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A portrait of Alexander Hamilton created by John Trumbull in 1792.
  
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