If you know anything about Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s that he’s a fairly obsessive reader. He did his homework when it came to Alexander Hamilton’s story, combing through Ron Chernow’s biography of the Founding Father while he was on vacation in Mexico. But even the most beloved works of historical fiction are still fiction, and not everything you’ll see in the Broadway musical (now on Disney+) will ring true.
For instance, you love the Schuyler sisters from their eponymous song, but how much of what Angelica narrates actually happened? This was hundreds of years ago; was Eliza’s love for Alexander as nuanced as we see on the stage? And Peggy? Whatever happened to her?
Here’s a look at the liberties Hamilton takes with the sisters—and why the show is nevertheless such a testament to their tale.
Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy weren’t the only Schuyler children.
In “Satisfied,” Angelica sings, “My father has no sons, so I’m the one who has to social climb for one,” thus justifying her need to marry rich (and therefore not marry penniless Alexander).
But this line is, in fact, totally untrue and likely included for narrative convenience. Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy were three of five sisters who lived to adulthood, along with Cornelia and Catharine Schuyler. Their parents, Catharine Van Rensselaer Schuyler and Philip Schuyler, also had three sons who lived to adulthood: John Bradstreet Schuyler, Philip Jeremiah Schuyler, and Rensselaer Schuyler. The couple had 15 children in total, though only the eight above survived childhood.
Nevertheless, it stands that Angelica would perhaps want a spouse with more influence and worldly experience than Alexander. Describes a contributor to the Hudson River Maritime Museum blog, “An adult woman’s power came from the influence she had over her spouse, and the influence she had over the next generation through the training of her sons. As such, at the start of the 1700s, 93% of women in the Northeast were married.”
The Schuyler family was not as progressive as Hamilton might make them seem.
Philip J. Schuyler, father to Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy, was a Revolutionary War general, U.S. senator, and businessman, much beloved and respected by his community. But he was also a prominent slave owner who believed abolition to be too large an inconvenience for slave owners.
As Ian Mumpton wrote for the official blog of the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, “Philip Schuyler had little interest in abolition outside of the political capital to be gained as more and more politicians embraced the idea (in theory if not in their daily lives) … Even at the time of his death in November of 1804, at least seven people, including three children, still labored in slavery at his estate in Albany.”
In recent weeks, this controversy has led Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan to order the removal of a statue of the general from in front of Albany City Hall, according to the Times Union.
Angelica was not the only Schuyler child who eloped.
In fact, it would seem hopeless romanticism (and rebelliousness) ran in the Schuylers’ DNA. Yes, Angelica eloped and moved overseas with her husband, as Hamilton depicts, but according to the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, a total of four Schuyler children chose to elope.
Catherine, Philip Jeremiah, and Cornelia also eloped—with Cornelia’s husband writing, “She leapt from a Two Story Window into my arms and abandoning every thing [sic] for me gave the most convincing proof of what a husband most Desire [sic] to Know that his wife Loves him.”
Eliza and Alexander actually met two years before the “Helpless” ball.
Although Hamilton describes Eliza and Alexander’s love as nearly instantaneous, that wasn’t quite the case. The famous evening party when Alexander and Eliza meet, as depicted in “Helpless,” did in fact take place in reality. But it was not the first time the duo met.
According to Biography, they had first met two years prior at the Schuyler home in Albany, possibly due to Philip Schuyler and Alexander’s mutual political connections. It was at the party in 1780 when Eliza and Alexander reconnected, sparked a courtship, and married soon after.
There was definitely real chemistry between Alexander and Angelica, though Angelica’s true feelings remain unknown.
On that same fateful evening in the Broadway musical, Angelica is shown introducing Alexander to Eliza, later regretting she didn’t take him for herself. But in reality, she didn’t introduce the two, nor could she have married Alexander anyway. By the night of that party, she was already married to John Church, whom she shared two young children with.
Still, that didn’t keep her from striking up some flirtatious correspondence with her brother-in-law. The two matched wits regularly, with biographer Chernow noting, “It is hard to escape the impression that Hamilton’s life was sometimes a curious ménage à trois with two sisters who were only a year apart.” He added, “The attraction between Hamilton and Angelica was so potent and obvious that many people assumed they were lovers.”
Although there is no concrete evidence the two ever conducted an affair, they remained close well into his marriage and career. Chernow wrote, “Where Eliza bowed reluctantly to the social demands of Hamilton’s career, Angelica applauded his ambitions and was always famished for news of his latest political exploits.”
But Alexander and Peggy were also close.
Perhaps the most neglected relationship in Hamilton is that between Peggy and Alexander. Although she gets the least screen/stage time of the three main sisters (apart from their absent other sisters, of course), in real life, she was a prominent ally of the politician’s. They were so close, in fact, that Alexander was at Peggy’s deathbed when she died at the age of 42. She was just as wickedly brilliant as Angelica, and she even shared much of her sister’s sparkling social savvy—she was apparently a “favorite at dinner tables and balls,” according to New York Times best-selling author L.M. Elliott, who wrote a book about Alexander and Peggy’s friendship.
Peggy was also one of Hamilton’s most platonic relationships. Elliott continued, “Peggy was a friend—perhaps the only woman in Hamilton’s life with whom he did not engage in double entendre. Lots of affectionate teasing, yes, but very much that of a knowing big brother to a strong-willed and vivacious younger sister.”
Eliza and Alexander had several children other than Philip.
The only Hamilton child we meet in the musical is Philip, the eldest son who later dies during a duel, eerily foreshadowing his own father’s death at the hands of Aaron Burr. The focus on Philip might lead some viewers to forget that Eliza and Alexander had eight children in total: Philip Hamilton, Angelica Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton Jr., James Alexander Hamilton, John Church Hamilton, William Stephen Hamilton, Eliza Hamilton Holly, and another Philip Hamilton, born after the eldest Philip’s death.
In fact, Eliza was so often pregnant that Angelica would often join Alexander at social events in her sister’s stead, according to the American National Biography. Alexander also adopted Fanny Antil, “a daughter of a fellow revolutionary war veteran.”
Eliza did, in fact, help keep Alexander’s legacy alive.
After Alexander’s death near the end of Hamilton, we watch Eliza pick up where he left off, using his letters and connections to build an orphanage and a legacy. “Without her devotion to organizing his papers, Hamilton could easily have been relegated to the trash-heap of political scandal or tangential founding fathers,” Elliott explained.
For nearly half a century after her husband’s death, Eliza collected his writings, collected papers from other Federalists, and defended her husband’s reputation against his critics, including arguing that he authored George Washington’s “Farewell Address,” according to the ANB. It is in large part due to Eliza (and her sisters) that Hamilton is on your screens today.
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