Alexander Hamilton wrote the following letter to this wife:
My beloved Eliza
Mrs. Mitchel is the person in the world to whom as a friend I am under the greatest Obligations. I have not hitherto done my duty to her. But resolved to repair my omission as much as possible, I have encouraged her to come to this Country and intend, if it shall be in my power to render the Evening of her days comfortable. But if it shall please God to put this out of my power and to inable you hereafter to be of service to her, I entreat you to do it and to treat her with the tenderness of a Sister.
This is my second letter.
The Scruples of a Christian have determined me to expose my own life to any extent rather than subject my self to the guilt of taking the life of another. This must increase my hazards & redoubles my pangs for you. But you had rather I should die innocent than live guilty. Heaven can preserve me and I humbly hope will but in the contrary event I charge you to remember that you are a Christian. God’s Will be done. The will of a merciful God must be good.
Once more Adieu My Darling darling Wife
Tuesday Evening 10 oClock
Early the next morning, July 11, 1804, my soon-to-be-dead boyfriend rowed across the Hudson with his second and a doctor. He rowed to the cliffs in Weehawken, a well-used dueling ground, to meet Aaron Burr. The shots were fired – and it is apparent, from comments he made later, that Hamilton knew he would die from them. He said to the doctor later, “This is a mortal wound, Doctor.”
Excerpt from Willard Sterne Randall’s Alexander Hamilton:
Alexander Hamilton lasted thirty-one hours after Aaron Burr shot him. When they finally got him into a bed on the second floor of Bayard’s house on Chambers Street, he was nearly comatose. The doctor undressed him and administered a large dose of a strong anodyne, a painkiller. During the first day, Hosack gave Hamilton more than an ounce of opoium and cider potion, called laudanum, washing it down with watered wine. But, Hosack noted, “his sufferings during the whole day were almost intolerable.” The ball had lodged inside his second lumbar disk, which had shattered, paralyzing his legs. His stomach was slowly filling with blood from severed blood vessels in his liver. Hosack “had not the shadow of a hope of his recovery,” but he called in surgeons from French men-of-war anchored in the harbor who “had much experience in gunshot wounds.” They agreed that Hamilton’s condition was hopeless.
During the night of July 11, the sedated Hamilton “had some imperfect sleep”. He knew he had little time left to live: he asked Bayard to summon the Reverend Benjamin Moore, Episcopal bishop of New York and president of Columbia College, where Hamilton had once been a scholarship boy. In recent months, Hamilton had prayed Episcopal Matins and Vespers with his family at home. He had not attended any church since the Revolution. When the bishop arrived, he refused Hamilton Holy Communion after he learened that Hamilton not only had never been baptized an Episcopalian, but had been wounded in a duel, something Moore considered a mortal sin. Instead, the bishop gave Hamilton a lecture on the meaning of communion and left him to take some “time for serious reflection”. Hamilton, clearheaded and determined now, asked the Bayards to send for the Reverend John M. Mason, pastor of the Presbyterian church and son of th eman who had once sponsored him for a place at a Presbyterian academy when he had arrived in New York, an orphan from the West Indies. Hamilton as a boy had undergone a strong Presbyterian conversion experience – although, as a bastard, he had not been allowed to receive Presbyterian communion. But this Reverend Mason informed Hamilton that he could only receive communion in church, at the altar, during a regular Sunday ceremony. Hamilton pleaded for Bayard to go once more to Bishop Moore and try to persuade him.
It was noontime on the twelfth, more than twenty-four hours after the duel, before Elizabeth Hamilton arrived with their seven children. No one had told her the truth. Hamilton, she believed, was suffering only from stomach cramps: he’d had digestive disorders recently. Now she learned everything. She became frantic. Hamilton had been semiconscious, his eyes closed. He opened them, saw his children. His own grief at seeing his daughter Angelica, half mad since her brother’s death in a duel over his father’s politics, swept over him. He closed his eyes again, only saying to his wife, “Remember, Eliza, you are a Christian.” It was as if he had banished her. She left with the children, sobbing hysterically.
When Bishop Moore called again, he lectured Hamilton once more on his own “delicate” situation. He wanted to help “a fellow mortal in distress,” but he must “unequivocally condemn” dueling. Hamilton agreed with him “with sorrow and contrition”, Moore reported. If Hamilton survived, would he vow never to duel again and use his influence to oppose the “barbaric custom”? It was a promise Hamilton found easy to make. Would he live “in love and charity with all men”? He answered yes, he bore “no ill will” to Aaron Burr. “I forgive all that happened.” He received communion “with great devotion,” Moore recorded, and “his heart afterwards appeared to be perfectly at rest.”
But Hamilton was now writhing in agony. He could not hear the commotion downstairs when a note arrived from Aaron Burr, asking about his condition, and worrying about a rumor that Hamilton had never intended to fire at him. When Bishop More returned the morning of the twelfth, he stayed at Hamilton’s bedside – across the bed from another grief-stricken visitor, Hamilton’s sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler Church. She did not speak, nor did Hamilton. Over the years, they had been lovers. For nearly thirty years, Angelica Church had loved Hamilton more than her own dour, money-grubbing husband. Church, an expert duelist, had fled England after believing he had killed a man, changed his identity, grown rich selling supplies during the Revolution, and then returned to take a seat in Parliament. He often had left Angelica alone in their Manhattan mansion near Hamilton’s town house while Elizabeth Schuyler stayed in the country with the children. John Church’s pistols had finally ended the affair. Hamilton and Angelica could say nothing now. There was nothing more to say.
On July 12, 1804, shortly after noon, with his mistress and his bishop at his bedside, Alexander Hamilton died “without a groan”. He was forty-nine.
The old dueling grounds are near my house – and I took some pictures of the monument that is now there. It was erected on July 11, 2004 – the 200th anniversary of the Hamilton-Burr duel.
Here are the pictures.
Some of my Hamilton posts below