On July 10, 1804

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


Excerpt from Chernow’s towering biography of the man

A skit

That meeting in June 1790

Letter to Lafayette 1789: “I dread the vehement character of your people”

1st paragraph of Federalist 1

The election of 1800

1780: “A national debt … will be to us a national blessing.”

Hamilton’s teenage poetry

This entry was posted in Founding Fathers, On This Day and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to On July 10, 1804

  1. Independent George says:

    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.

    That seems so unspeakably cruel.

  2. Cullen says:

    I’m sure she would have come if she knew the truth, but I wonder if she would have brought the children?

  3. red says:

    The whole scene is so interesting to me – the mistress, the wife (who fiercely guarded his legacy for the many many years after his death) – the kids – the ministers (whose behavior is enough to make me agree with Hitchens about religion in general. Oh, the contempt I feel for such people, then and now.) – The family had been so shattered by the death of Hamilton’s son in a duel – it’s this weird foreordained feeling (of course I am speaking with retrospect) – all these conflicting feelings about dueling, in general … His letter to his wife (who he did love dearly) suggests he knew he was going to die.

  4. red says:

    Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers opens with an analysis of the duel – I wanted to excerpt from that, but I just didn’t have time this morning.

    I liked how Ellis went at it with almost forensic detail – who did what, the formation, the timing of it, Hamilton shooting into the air, all that stuff. It was really interesting.

    Also, again, I just love that I live near where it all went down and that I walk by his stately head on a daily basis.

  5. Independent George says:

    It’s so hard to gauge intentions. I think that there’s sufficient evidence to believe Hamilton intended to miss on purpose, but there’s also pretty good evidence that he deliberately goaded Burr into firing a fatal shot – which only raises even more questions.

    Was it a 19th-century version of Suicide-By-Cop? Depression over the loss of his son? A final attempt to discredit & ruin Burr? All seem equally plausible and unsatisfying.

  6. red says:

    yeah, you’re right.

    I tend to think that there was definitely a self-destructive streak in this man (like his broadside against John Adams, such a political mistake) – so intelligent, but then – hugely miscalculating at times. There are times when you’re like, “Dude, you’re a genius. Why did you just do that??”

    I guess that’s why he’s so fascinating to me. He seems human and mysterious and flawed.

  7. red says:

    I’m bummed cause I was out of town this week in 2004 – and they had this huge re-enactment of the duel with descendants from the burr and the hamilton family, and throngs of geeks like myself standing on the sidelines.

  8. Cullen says:

    I love that Founding Brothers opening.

    I wonder if it was not only intentional, but some attempt to rescue his legacy. Like, “He died an honorable death” or some such. I wonder this in the same vein as the human frailty aspect you bring up, Sheila. Did he suspect his political enemies would again attempt to sabotage him. Did he fear what he would do.

    His machinations, his ability to help orchestrate all these events, to seemingly see the future, and yet he knew his shortcomings and was unable to overcome them. Except perhaps in death.

    I wonder.

  9. red says:

    Cullen – yeah, like – he was pretty much ostracized by that point, totally. Or – isolated, maybe is the better word. It was over for him. I don’t know how he could have recovered – although I’m sure some folks would argue otherwise.

  10. brendan says:

    Sheila, I am really concerned about your new boyfriend. Yes, he is brilliant and handsome, but I sense a recklessness in him that could be dangerous. Sure, he helped mould our country into what it is, but can he rise above his pride and ego? or will it suck him into some horrible confrontation that will put his life at stake? i think he cares more about his reputation as a man than he does for you. i fear that, given a choice between living with an insult and dying, he would choose death. that means he doesn’t really care enough about you, as far as i’m concerned.

    besides, he’s ALREADY DEAD.

  11. red says:

    Bren, i know, i know. He is reckless. Important. Selfish.

    Oh yeah. And DEAD.

    The scary thing is that I live a 5 minute walk away from where he was shot. This is a complete coincidence – I did NOT plan it – but I know I will not be believed!!

  12. Independent George says:

    Oh man… I think Sheila needs to write to an advice columnist about her relationship troubles with her dead not-gay boyfriend.

  13. red says:

    hee hee

    QUESTION: “My dead not-gay boyfriend forgot my birthday. Should I bring it up to him? Should I be angry and hurt?”

    ANSWER FROM SHEILA: “You need to date someone who’s aLIVE, basically, in order to change this situation. I learned this lesson the hard way.”

  14. Independent George says:

    Dear Sheila,

    I bring my dead not-gay boyfriend fresh flowers every week, but I never get even the slightest acknowledgment from him. I know he is the quiet type (which is partly what drew me to him to begin with), but I’m starting to feel like he’s taking me for granted. I don’t want to seem needy – I just want a little hint that my efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

    Neglected in NY

  15. red says:

    Dear Neglected in NY:

    You write: “I don’t want to seem needy.” Frankly, I think you need to work a little bit harder at that. Your question reeks of need.

    Having a dead not-gay boyfriend is not for everyone. You sound a bit too fragile to handle it.

    Good luck!

  16. Alexander Hamilton says:

    Dear Red,

    I truly appreciate your devotion but I’m trying to get busy with a couple dead floozies that Ben Franklin doesn’t want to date anymore. Could you please take a week off from sleeping by my grave and reenacting my death? seriously, it is flattering but I’ve got my death to lead. Oops, gotta go, Burr just tried to push me off a cloud.


  17. Independent George says:


    I love my dead not-gay boyfriend to death, but it’s become very clear to me that my family does not approve. Last Thanksgiving, I invited them over to meet him, and while they did not say anything overtly negative, I could tell from the expressions on their faces that they didn’t like him. Dinner was a disaster – hardly a word was exchanged in four hours! I don’t want to have to choose between them, but it’s obvious where this is headed.

    Conflicted in Harrisburg

  18. Independent George says:

    Ok, ‘A.H.’ wins the thread…

  19. red says:

    Dear Conflicted in Harrisburg:

    First of all, you say you love your dead not-gay boyfriend “to death”, and I find your phraseology quite interesting and illuminating in this context. You love him to death?

    But is he not already dead?

    Please examine your subliminal desires here, there seems to be some denial. If you insist on dating someone dead, you’re gonna have to put up with some silence on his side of things.

    A love affair with a dead man is necessarily one-sided.

    Good luck!

  20. red says:

    Check out AH’s email address – that’s the best part. hahahahaha

  21. Cullen says:

    Dear Sheila,
    My wife’s sister brought her dead not-gay boyfriend over for dinner the other night and I must say it was, at the very least, awkward.

    He refused to eat a bite, join in conversation, or stop decaying. The dog couldn’t seem to leave his leg alone. And talk about a smell!

    I don’t know whether or not I should tell my sister-in-law my true impression.

    – Bleaching My Kitchen in Boston

  22. Cullen says:

    The e-mail addy is fantastic!

  23. red says:

    Dear Bleaching My Kitchen in Boston,

    Your sister-in-law needs to know how her choices have impacted her now bleach-ridden family.

    I was smart enough not to inflict my dead not-gay boyfriend on real-life people who would have to deal with the awkwardness and the silence. I have just sicced him on the Internet public, where we have more boundaries, not being to smell or see one another, and where we all can simply glory in his dead not-gay-ness.

    Allowing your dead boyfriend to be gnawed on at the dinner table is just poor etiquette, plain and simple.

    Hope this helps!

  24. red says:

    Cullen – wasn’t there some site with increasingly pissed-off emails between Hamilton and Burr? I have to find it – I know I linked to it, and it was hysterical!!

    Not as funny though as the text messages from the battlefield that Nightfly and ken Hall and others came up with.

    I’ll see if I can track them down.

  25. red says:

    A quick search and I found both links.

    In the comments section to this post are the text messages between various founding fathers.

    I particularly enjoyed this one:

    dear aaron

    u r pwn3d

    j/k :-) lol



    And here’s the “college roommates” correspondence which goes to hell pretty quickly.

  26. Rasputin says:

    Hamilton –

    Stay away from my girl.

  27. red says:

    Rasputin? Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww. Wash your hair. Wash it in the Neva River, pal.

  28. Independent George says:

    Dear Sheila,

    I’ve been with my dead not-gay boyfriend for almost two years now, and things are great between us, except for one thing: he won’t divorce his dead not-gay wife. I’ve explained to him several times that ‘until death do us part’ means that it’s ok to leave her now, and he always agrees, but, at the end of the day, they’re still married. They’d already separated when we met, she’s already shacked up with some other dude, and we’re happy together, but I can’t help but wonder if he still loves the old bat.

    Impatient in Grand Rapids

  29. Cullen says:

    Anyone who conspires to steal the Louisiana Purchase is obviously compensating for a tiny dick.


  30. red says:

    Dear Impatient in Grand Rapids:

    You write: “I can’t help but wonder if he still loves the old bat.”

    Ya think??? What clued you in to THAT?

    Get out now. He’s not a free man, even though he is dead. Don’t be one of THOSE women. Have some self-respect.

    Rasputin’s free, by the way, if you insist on being a dead not-gay person.

    His cock is huge, but his hair is matted and has not been washed since the Russian Revolution.

    A girl can’t have everything.

  31. Independent George says:

    I always wondered what Burr would think of Emperor Norton I.

  32. red says:

    Why don’t I know anything about that person?? Thanks for the link … I love nuts like this dude.

  33. red says:

    //Though he was considered insane, or at least highly eccentric,[1] the citizens of San Francisco celebrated his regal presence and his proclamations, most famously, his “order” that the United States Congress be dissolved by force (which Congress and the U.S. Army ignored) and his numerous decrees calling for a bridge and a tunnel to be built across San Francisco Bay.[7]//


  34. red says:

    //Norton spent his days as emperor inspecting the streets of San Francisco in an elaborate blue uniform with tarnished gold-plated epaulets, given to him by officers of the United States Army post at the Presidio of San Francisco. He also wore a beaver hat decorated with a peacock feather and a rosette.[25] He frequently enhanced this regal posture with a cane or an umbrella. During his inspections, Norton would examine the condition of the sidewalks and cable cars, the state of repair of public property, and the appearance of police officers.[26] Norton would also frequently give lengthy philosophical expositions on a variety of topics to anyone within earshot at the time.


  35. Ken says:

    Wait…I think I should’ve turned left at Albuquerque. I was looking for red’s place, and seem to have stumbled into the Dead Not-Gay Vine. Beg pardon, awfully sorry…. ;-)

  36. red says:

    Reading that wikipedia piece – i see he was the inspiration for the “king” in Huckleberry Finn!!

  37. Independent George says:

    This is my favorite part of the story:

    In 1867, a police officer named Armand Barbier arrested Norton for the purpose of committing him to involuntary treatment for a mental disorder. The arrest outraged the citizens of San Francisco and sparked a number of scathing editorials in the newspapers. Police Chief Patrick Crowley speedily rectified matters by ordering Norton released and issuing a formal apology on behalf of the Police Force… Norton was magnanimous enough to grant an “Imperial Pardon” to the errant young police officer.. all police officers of San Francisco thereafter saluted Norton as he passed in the street.

  38. red says:

    hahaha He pardoned them!!

    Very gracious.

  39. nightfly says:

    The man wanted to disband Congress and build the Golden Gate Bridge. Does that make him a visionary? =)

    Not to be late to the station or anything, but I’ve been thinking about the whole “dude, you’re a genius, what are you doing?” train of thought. I tend to think that the spectacular crack-up occurs precisely because of the genius – one is smart enough to know that it’s insane but decides, “Hell with it, if anyone can make this work it’s ME,” and off we go. As Dumbledore observed, “I’m brilliant, therefore my mistakes tend to be appropriately huge.” (Or words to that effect.)

  40. red says:

    Just seeing the name Dumbledore gives me a shiver of almost unbearable anticipation. ahhhhh!!!

    I think you’re totally right, Nightfly – genius is, necessarily, the opposite of cautious. That’s why so many geniuses have disastrous personal lives, I guess.

  41. Independent George says:

    In other words, I’m Keith Hernandez!

  42. Tour Marm says:

    Are the dueling grounds motorcoach accessible? I would like to see if I could include this in one of my NY bound student tours. (We already lay a wreath at Hamilton’s grave as part of the program.)

    As far as the fixation on your dead not-gay boyfriend, the best explanation comes from Woody Allen: Unrequited love is the most enduring.

    Hey! snap out of it – get a live one!

  43. red says:

    Tour Marm – the tour grounds no longer exist – there’s just condos and roads there now.

    And how do you know I don’t have a live boyfriend? I don’t write about my current love life on my blog.

    Also, how do you know that this isn’t a completely sore spot with me?

    Please be careful when making comments like that. You don’t know me.

  44. Tour Marm says:

    Thank you for the information concerning the in accessibility of the dueling grounds.

    I guess you don’t know me either as you would have known that it was tongue-in-cheek.

  45. red says:

    And my point is: you don’t know me well enough to tease me about my single status or anything else.

    Watch your step when you deal with people on line, that’s all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *