Hamilton courts, weds Schuyler

By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

When Elizabeth “Betsey” Schuyler reached the age of 18, prospective suitors began to notice of her. An aide-de-camp of George Washington, Tench Tilghman, came to Albany to attend the Indian council early that summer and wrote in his diary that Elizabeth Schuyler was “brunette with the most good-natured, dark lovely eyes I ever saw, which threw a beam of good temper and benevolence over her entire countenance.”

Her father was serving as a general and a trusted friend of George Washington when another of Washington’s aide-de-camps took notice of her — none other than Alexander Hamilton. Elizabeth Schuyler was about 20 at the time.

Two years later, Hamilton met her again when “Gen. Schuyler had been appointed to Congress and had gone to live at Philadelphia with his family,” Brooks wrote.

During 1779-80, the army headquarters were in Morristown about 50 miles from Schuyler’s Philadelphia home, Brooks said. In November Elizabeth Schuyler visited her aunt, Mrs. Cochran, there. Her arrival was mentioned by Miss Kitty Livingston in letters and diaries, which indicated that she considered Elizabeth “a great addition to society there.”

According to Brooks, George Washington’s household was very lively at that time with two of his aides-de-camp seated at the heads of his table — Tench Tilghman and Alexander Hamilton. Washington and his wife always sat opposite one another in the middle of the table with guests all around them, including an “impetuous young Arron Burr.”

Elizabeth Schuyler appeared to be fond of both Tilghman and Hamilton, but over time she began to spend more of her time with Hamilton. Part of the reason this was possible was that her father, Philip Schuyler became a military adviser and moved his family to Morristown.

Tilghman wrote to his brother of his love for Elizabeth, “Hamilton is a gone man,” Brooks said.

The next summer the couple announced their engagement, and Philip Schuyler expressed his approval in letters to Hamilton. They were married Dec. 14, 1780, in the drawing room of the Schuyler Mansion in Albany where they had met three years prior.

Although the couple was not rich, they were popular. George Washington danced with Mrs. Hamilton and one other woman at his inauguration ball, Brooks said.

The Hamiltons, who lived on Wall Street, were always included in Washington’s dinner and theatre parties, she added.

“There are records of many elaborate dinners given by them, notably one in honor of Thomas Jefferson after his return from France,” Brooks wrote.

Theirs was a happy home. A letter written after the birth of Hamilton’s son, to Mead, one of his army friends, states: “You cannot imagine how domestic I am becoming. I sigh for nothing but the society of my wife and baby.”

Hamilton writes about his reason for resigning his position leading the Treasury Department in George Washington’s Cabinet: “To indulge my ‘domestic happiness’ more freely was the principal motive for relinquishing an office in which it is said I have gained some glory.”

Sadly, the peace of their happy home ended suddenly in July 1804 when Hamilton lost his life to political rival Aaron Burr in a duel.

Following his death, “the terrible sorrow of his family cannot be described,” Brooks wrote.

In an article from the New York State Museum website, http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/ Jenny L. Presnell wrote, “He left Elizabeth and his family virtually destitute.”

Mrs. Hamilton raised her children and never remarried. She spent the balance of her life defending her husband against his critics and preserving his papers and letters, which were published in 1850-51 by his son, John Church Hamilton, Presnell said.

“The death of her father four months after her husband’s provided her with some financial relief through her inheritance of property and money. She was able to repurchase The Grange, which had been sold at public auction. She also petitioned the government for her husband’s army pension that he had waived. Not granted until 1837 through a special act of Congress, her petition provided her with $30,000 and included land,” Presnell wrote.

According to Presnell, Elizabeth Schuyler founded orphanages in New York City and Washington, D.C., took orphans into her own home and held a position in the New York Orphan Asylum Society.

Elizabeth Schuyler lived in Washington, D.C. in her later years and died at the age of 97. She was buried next to her husband at the Trinity Church graveyard in New York City.

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