Alexander Hamilton, Enslaver? New Analysis Says Sure

The question has come to the forefront of Alexander Hamilton’s pop-up culture: Was the founding father of $ 10, who celebrated in the song “Hamilton” as a “reformer of power,” his slaves?

Historians have commented on this subject for years, often in footnotes or in other reference works. But a new research paper published by the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, NY, presents the best case so far.

In the newspaper, entitled “‘Odious and Immoral of the Thing’: The Secret History of Alexander Hamilton as Enslaver,” Jessie Serfilippi, a former translator in the house, examines letters, account books and other documents. His ideas – about Hamilton, and what he seems to be the aspirations of many of his current fans – are absurd.

“Not only did Alexander Hamilton enslave the people, but participation in the slave trade was necessary for recognition, both personally and professionally,” he writes.

“It is important,” he adds, “that Hamilton’s myth of ‘Abolitionist Fathers’ will end.’

The evidence presented in the paper, which was secretly published online last month, is not new at all. But Ms. Serfilippi’s powerful story has attracted the attention of historians, especially those who doubted her view of her anti-slavery history.

Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of law and law at Harvard and author of the book “The Hemingses of Monticello,” also described the newspaper as “interesting” and its arguments as logical. “It simply shows that the founders were almost all involved in slavery in some way,” he said.

Joanne Freeman, professor of history at Yale and editor of the American Library of Hamilton, said enough evidence was still available. But he said the paper was part of a review of what he called the “Hero Hamilton story”.

“It is only fitting that we think of Hamilton as a slave on the way home is an important requirement for white Americans to consider – seriously – and the history of slavery in America,” he wrote in an email.

The Serfilippi Women’s Survey “incorporates its story, and in doing so, it clearly demonstrates the middle ground of slavery in America’s Founding,” she said. “It also shows Hamilton better.”

But Ron Chernow, who in 2004 described Hamilton as “a staunch democrat,” said the newspaper.

The newspaper, he said in an email, “appears to be the most important research project that supports our understanding that Hamilton is involved in slavery in a number of ways.” But he said he was disappointed he didn’t care what Hamilton did. And he doubted what he sometimes called “nonsense,” since slavery “was important to him.”

“I do not blame Jessie Serfilippi for her courageous investigation of Hamilton and slavery,” he said. “Famous people in our history are victims of this kind of abuse. But they have abandoned everything that contradicts what they think. ”

Hamilton married the powerful Schuyler family in 1780. Slavery was common among New York State elites, and the Schuylers were among the greatest slaves in their area, while more than 40 people were slaves in the Albany capital and elsewhere over the years. .

In recent years, the House has conducted a number of surveys of “workers” (as family slaves are called), which were included in his travels. The fact that Schuyler was not a slave does not surprise visitors, Serfilippi said. But the extent of Hamilton’s connection to slavery is another matter.

“There are some people who come here knowing they haven’t really removed it,” he said. “But I’m surprised when I talk about this research.”

Travis Bowman, chief of staff at the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites, which oversees the internal review of Ms. Serfilippi’s paper, says the lack of research on slavery in Hamilton’s home shows a lack of education for northern slavery. And the difficulties of gradual abolition (the New York law of abolition of slavery for many years) make it possible for people to be enslaved, and to make them more aware of their status, especially difficult ones.

“It’s a very strange weather,” said Mr. Bowman. “Most people were giving half-freedom. If the slaves left, they would not follow them.”

The idea that Hamilton withdrew from the council dates back to his first story, written by his son John Church Hamilton, who stated in 1841 that his father “had no slave”.

This was disputed by Hamilton’s grandson Allan McLane Hamilton. In his old 1910 book, he called himself a “liar,” noting that Hamilton’s books contained references to him buying his slaves and others.

But the idea of ​​anti-slavery Hamilton still exists, and it has become very popular in the last few decades. It is a picture that attracts the attention of modern readers who are looking for a father of unknown origin and slavery.

In his letter, Mrs. Serfilippi refuted his claims by speculation, stating repeatedly that he had been a child in slavery in St. Petersburg. Croix gave him what Mr. Chernow, in its history, calls it “the abolition of anti-slavery hatred.”

“To date,” he writes, “no other source of evidence has been found to suggest that Hamilton was a child prodigal son.

Hamilton opposed slavery at various points in his life, and in comparison with many whites he had a critical view of the potential of black people. He was also the first member of the New-York Manumission Society, founded in 1785 to promote the gradual abolition of slavery and to promote the liberation of slaves. (Several members, including Philip Schuyler, his father-in-law, had slaves.)

But Mrs. Serfilippi also referred to the cases that Hamilton discussed with his clients about slavery. Hamilton would not have been hired, “he says,” had he been known by his peers to have plans to dissolve the regime. “

Hamilton’s efforts to help legitimate clients, including his mother-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church, to buy and sell slaves, have been widely documented by historians. But whether Hamilton made slaves in his house is a difficult question.

According to historian Serfilippi, the answer to that question is a resounding yes! In his autobiography, Chernow writes that Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth, “may have had one or two slaves,” citing “three points written in their papers.” But reading it clearly, he says that several early inscriptions “prove Hamilton that he bought himself into slavery.”

His case relies heavily on notes in his financial records and in his family letters. For example, in May 1781, six months after he married Elizabeth, Hamilton wrote to George Clinton, telling him to wait for the money “to pay Mrs. H.[amilton] of Mrs. Clinton. ”

Some historians, writers, have read this as paying the price for his work. But Mr. Hamilton, Mrs. Serfilippi says, was “exchanging the woman’s money alone.”

He also cites several similar notes in other letters, confirming, he says, with information in the financial books. For example, in an August 1795 letter to Hamilton, Philip Schuyler refers to a “young Negro boy who has dated.” In March 1796, Hamilton’s financial records recorded a $ 250 fine for Schuyler for “two Negro employees who bought from him.”

Serfilippi’s wives also cite several of Philip Schuyler’s letters about “girls” accompanying Elizabeth and Hamilton’s children, at the time of Hamilton’s publication, showing no record of pay for girls – a sign, he says, that they were slaves.

In another financial book, beginning June 1798, Hamilton recorded $ 100 for the “time” of a “black child.” That Hamilton could be loaned out to someone else – which is a common occurrence – “clearly shows that Hamilton was a slave to the young man,” Serfilippi writes.

And the Hamiltons, Mrs. Serfilippi’s contention, seem to have been enslaved to the people until the death of Hamilton.

He points to a piece of paper attached to the end of the money book, and presents a list of Hamilton’s belongings that appeared after he died in a duel with Aaron Burr in July 1804. The inscription lists his house (valued at £ 2,200) and his chairs and books (300 pounds). There are also “workers,” about 400 pounds.

What Hamilton wrote, which he did shortly before the argument, does not refer to employees. But Mrs. Serfilippi believes that the list of those who died later, designed to end their tragedy, must be accurate.

“Mr. Hamilton was in debt,” he said. It would make sense to combine all that they have. ”

It remains to be seen whether Ms Serfilippi’s strong opinions can be accepted by experts. For him, what is at stake is more than just how we view Hamilton.

“If we say Hamilton did not enslave people, we are taking them away from this issue,” he said. “The most important thing is that he came. We need to recognize them. ”

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