« ZurückWeiter »
mother by his wealth, received her hand against her inclination.
The marriage proving unhappy, she obtained a divorce, and subsequently married the father of Alexander, to whom she gave birth on the eleventh of January, seventeen hundred and fifty-seven.
His mother died during his childhood, a woman of superior intellect, elevated sentiment, and unusual grace of person and manner. To her he was indebted for his genius.
After her decease, the misfortunes of her husband threw their only surviving child upon the bounty of his mother's relations who resided at Santa Cruz, where he received the rudiments of his education, commencing at a tender age. As an instance of which, rarely as he alluded to his personal history, he mentioned with a smile, his having been taught to repeat the decalogue in Hebrew, at the school of a Jewess, when so small that he was placed standing by her side upon a table.
There is reason to believe, from the low state of education in the West Indies, that the circle of his youthful studies was very limited, probably embracing little more than the English and French languages, which he wrote and spoke with fluency. With a strong propensity to literature, he early became a lover of books; and the time that other youths devote to classical learning, was by him employed in miscellaneous reading, happily directed by the advice of Doctor Knox, a respectable Presbyterian divine, who, delighted with the precocity of his mind, took a deep interest in its development.
The fervent piety of this gentleman gave a strong religious bias to his feelings, the topics of their conversation opening to him a glimpse of those polemical controversies which have called forth the highest efforts of intellect.
In the autumn of seventeen hundred sixty-nine, he was placed in the counting-house of Nicholas Cruger, an opulent and worthy merchant then residing at Santa Cruz. Foreign as such an avocation was to his inclinations, he nevertheless gave to it his characteristic assiduity. But his inward promptings looked far beyond the desk. He thought of immortality; and fondly contemplated from his island home those fields of glory and summits of honor which opened themselves to his imagination from beyond the deep
A letter written at this time to his schoolfellow, Edward Stevens, then in New York, shows his aspirations.
St. Croix, Nov. 11th, 1769. DEAR EDWARD,
This serves to acknowledge the receipt of yours per Capt. Lowndes, which was delivered me yesterday. The truth of Capt. Lightbowen and Lowndes' information is now verified by the presence of your father and sister, for whose safe arrival I pray, and that they may convey that satisfaction to your soul, that must naturally flow from the sight of absent friends in health ; and shall for news this way, refer you to them.
As to what you say, respecting your soon having the happiness of seeing us all, I wish for an accomplishment of your hopes, provided they are concomitant with your welfare, otherwise not; though doubt whether I shall be present or not, for to confess my weakness, Ned, my ambition is prevalent, so that I contemn the grovelling condition of a clerk, or the like, to which my fortune condemns me, and would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station. I am confident, Ned, that my youth excludes me from any hopes of immediate preferment, nor do I desire it; but I mean to prepare the
way for futurity. I'm no philosopher, you see, and may be justly said to build castles in the air; my folly makes me ashamed, and beg you'll conceal it; yet, Neddy, we have seen such schemes successful, when the projector is constant. I shall conclude by saying, I wish there was a war.
ALEX. HAMILTON. P. S. I this moment received yours by William Smith, and pleased to see you give such close application to study.
Such was his aptitude for business and his advance in the confidence of his principal, that in his thirteenth year he was left by Mr. Cruger, who made a visit to New York, at the head of his establishment. His letters of this period, preserved in the books of his employer, written to various persons, evince a capacity and prudence which show that this unusual trust was not misplaced.*
This occupation proved a great and lasting benefit to him. Amid his various engagements in later years he adverted to it as the most useful part of his education. The little leisure his mercantile duties left him was well employed. His knowledge of mathematics was increased ; he became fond of chemistry, and in after life urged its study.
Occasionally he read works upon ethics, but his favorite authors were Pope and Plutarch, on the latter of which there remain some curious observations from his youthful pen.
He frequently, also, exercised himself in composition,
* Hamilton's Works, I., 2, 3.
chiefly on moral topics, to which, at a later period, he resorted as a relaxation.
This talent decided his fortunes. In August seventeen hundred seventy-two, soon after he had returned from a commercial errand to St. Eustatia, the Leeward Islands were visited by a terrific hurricane. Before its terrors had worn off, and while its desolating effects were still visible, a description of it which appeared in the neighboring island of St. Christophers,* attracted general attention at St. Croix. Curiosity was awakened, and it was traced to Hamilton. His wishes being consulted, it was determined to send him to New York to complete his education. It is related that on his voyage the vessel took fire, which was with difficulty extinguished. He arrived at Boston in October seventy-two, and proceeded to New York, where, through the kindness of his friend, Dr. Knox, he was introduced to Doctors Rogers, Mason, and other gentlemen of distinction.
Funds were provided by his relations, and he joined a grammar school at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, established under the patronage of Governor Livingston and Mr. Boudinot, of whose families he became a frequent inmate.
The principal of it was Francis Barber, an estimable man, who, full of Greek and Roman lore, fired by the prospect of distinction, broke up his school at the beginning of the Revolution, and entered the army. Rising to the rank of colonel, he was often and much distinguished. Among Hamilton's schoolfellows were Jonathan Dayton, afterwards speaker of the House of Representatives; Brockholst Livingston, subsequently a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, and others who became of note.
In Tiebout's paper, as stated. Five hundred houses were blown down in Santa Cruz
Here his industry kept pace with his wider prospects. During the winter, while at the house of the governor, he frequently, wrapt in a blanket, labored until midnight, and in summer would resort at dawn to the quiet of a near cemetery, where he was often seen preparing his lessons for the day.
His habits of composition were continued. An elegy by him on the death of a young lady in whose family he was intimate, was remembered as possessing merit. He also composed a prologue and epilogue for a play which was performed by the officers of a body of British soldiers stationed in the vicinity. His friend, Mr. Boudinot, having lost an infant, he sat up to watch the corpse the night prior to its interment, and, during this gloomy office of friendship, wrote consolatory verses which were presented to its mother as a tribute of regard, and were long preserved with interest.
Before the end of the year he was deemed fit to enter upon his collegiate course, and after returning to New York, proceeded with Mr. Mulligan,* in whose house he lodged, on a visit to Dr. Witherspoon, the distinguished
* Hercules Mulligan, from whose written narrative many of the incidents of Hamilton's early life are derived, was a brother of Mr. Mulligan, of the firm of Kortwright and Company, to whom West India produce was consigned, to be sold and appropriated to the support of Hamilton. He had been very active in the earlier scenes of the Revolution, and outlived most of the Revolutionary
He was chosen one of the Committce of One Hundred, and after the battle of Long Island, he, with many other whigs, left the city. A party of tories, it is related, seized him at midnight, threw a blanket over him, and carried him to New York, where he was detained. After Hamilton entered the family of Washington, Mulligan became the confidential correspondent of the commander-in-chief, furnished most important intelligence, and apprised him of a plot to seize him. When Arnold reached New York, Mulligan was seized and thrown into the Provost, in hopes of fixing on him the evidence of his having given information ; but his skill was such that he was not detected. Upon the evacuation of that city, Washington complimented him by taking his first breakfast with this zealous patriot.