From Nevis to a Hero of Yorktown

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Early view of the Harbor of Christiansted,

St. Croix

Hamilton’s Early Years

Although he was one of the people most responsible for America’s political and economic independence from Great Britain, Alexander Hamilton sprang from humble origins. He was born circa January 11, 1755, on the small Caribbean island of Nevis. Hamilton’s father was James Hamilton, an unsuccessful Scottish merchant. His mother, Rachel Faucett Lavien, was of English and French Huguenot background. In 1765, James Hamilton moved to St. Croix (pictured here), and shortly thereafter sent for the rest of the family, which included Alexander, his mother, and his brother James. Soon after that James Hamilton abandoned the family; Rachel died of fever; and Alexander started clerking in the mercantile firm of Beekman and Cruger. According to his son, John Church, Hamilton referred to this work experience as “the most useful part of his education.”

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Portrait of George Washington

by Charles Willson Peale, 1780

Education and Military Service

With the generous support of his cousin, Anne Lytton, the talented young Hamilton traveled to the mainland for a proper formal education, which he received at the Academy at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and at King’s College (now Columbia University) just as the imperial crisis between the mainland colonies and Mother England culminated in war. A staunch patriot from the start, Hamilton served in the Revolutionary War with distinction in three separate roles: first as the captain of a New York company of artillery; then as an aide-de-camp to George Washington, the commander in chief (pictured here); and finally, as a battalion commander during the Franco-American siege of the British army at Yorktown, Virginia.

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Alexander Hamilton in Uniform of the New York Artillery by Alonzo Chappel

Hamilton in Uniform

Although he was one of Washington’s most valuable and trusted advisors at headquarters, Hamilton by the late 1770s pined to lead a combat unit again as he had at important early battles like Trenton and Princeton. He is pictured here as an artillery captain leaning against newly constructed fortifications. In 1781, he was finally awarded a new, larger combat command and played an important role in the siege of Yorktown. More dramatically, Hamilton also led a successful nighttime bayonet charge against Redoubt Number 10, an important British fortification. This action led directly to the British surrender.

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Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown by John Trumbull, 1819


The British surrender at Yorktown, pictured here (with Hamilton standing to the immediate left of the white horse in the foreground), marked the final major land battle of the Revolution. Peace did not officially come until the Treaty of Paris was signed in September 1783 but, his military reputation secured by his battlefield heroics, Hamilton left military service and in 1782 was appointed Receiver of Continental Taxes for the state of New York. In the same year, he passed the New York bar exam and served New York, his adopted state, in Congress.

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Portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

by Ralph Earl, 1787

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

In December 1780, Hamilton married Elizabeth “Betsey” Schuyler, the daughter of wealthy New York general Philip Schuyler, at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany. His “nut brown maid,” pictured here in 1787, bore him 8 children and vigorously defended his legacy until her death at age 97 in 1854.

From Nevis to a Hero of Yorktown