Discovering the “last will and testament” of Alexander Hamilton’s half brother

On St. Croix in the West Indies, Alexander Hamilton had a half-brother named Peter Lavien. Around 1764, Peter Lavien moved to South Carolina, where he owned a plantation in Prince William’s Parish along with co-partner John Kean. Kean later represented South Carolina in the Continental Congress, supported ratification in the state’s ratifying convention, was a leading Federalist, became cashier of the Bank of the United States, and married Susan Livingston, niece of William Livingston. As a leading Federalist and cashier of the Bank of the United States, Kean often corresponded and interacted with Alexander Hamilton. By marring Susan Livingston, John Kean came to own William Livingston’s home, Liberty Hall. I asked William Schroh Jr., Director of Museum Operations at Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University, if he had anything in The Papers of John Kean related to Peter Lavien. Turns out that William Schroh and Rachael Goldberg, Collections Manager, found in their collection the “last will and testament” of Peter Lavien dated February 12, 1778.

In his will, Peter Lavien wrote, “I give and bequeath to Alexander Hamilton and his brother Robert Hamilton (as the Testator believes) each one hundred and fifty pounds sterling.” [Hamilton’s brother was named James, not Robert.] Lavien also bequeathed three hundred pounds to Thomas Grayson and two hundred pounds to Rozay Moraes, but left the bulk of his estate to his wife and John Kean, his business partner, to be split equally between them.

PeterLavienWill 1PeterLavienWill 2 PeterLavienWill 3

Peter Lavien died sometime before March 1781. Upon Lavien’s death, John Kean, his “surviving copartner,” auctioned off “the property of Peter Lavien and Co.,” including “fifty-five valuable slaves, chiefly country born, some plantation tools, horses, etc.” When Hamilton learned of Peter Lavien’s death, Hamilton wrote to his wife, “Engrossed by our own immediate concerns, I omitted telling you of a disagreeable piece of intelligence I have received from a gentleman of Georgia. He tells me of the death of my brother Levine. You know the circumstances that abate my distress, yet my heart acknowledges the rights of a brother. He dies rich, but has disposed of the bulk of his fortune to strangers. I am told he has left me a legacy. I did not inquire how much.” Hamilton also wrote to Nathanael Greene, “I take the liberty to enclose a letter to Mr. Kean, Executor to the estate of Mr. Lavine, a half-brother of mine who died some time since in South Carolina.” The letter from Hamilton to Kean has been lost, but it obviously concerned the “legacy” Peter Lavien had left him.

The recent discovery of Peter Lavien’s will finally reveals the “legacy” that he had left for Alexander Hamilton.

Citations and more supporting evidence will be found in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years.

Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years is now available for purchase.

Identifying the two doctors who treated Hamilton in November 1777

On October 30, 1777, George Washington sent Alexander Hamilton about 230 miles northward to General Horatio Gates in Albany “to point out to him the many happy consequences that will accrue from an immediate reinforcement being sent from the Northern Army.” The ride from Pennsylvania to New Windsor, then to Albany, then back to New Windsor–a journey of over three hundred miles in ten days– and the clashes with Gates and Israel Putnam as well took their toll on Alexander Hamilton’s health. Despite his illness, Hamilton travelled from New Windsor across the Hudson River to Fishkill and then made the twenty-mile journey south to Peekskill. On November 15, Hamilton wrote to Washington, “I arrived at this place last night and unfortunately find myself unable to proceed any further.” On November 23, Captain Caleb Gibbs, who had accompanied Hamilton on this mission, informed Washington:

I . . . arrived here yesterday morning about 9 o’Clock, where I found Colo. Hamilton much worse than I expected, labouring under a Violent nerves fever and raging to the greatest extremity; he continued through the day & last night very Ill. He is this morning something better, the fever in some small degree abated. Every possible measure is taking to restore him & it is the opinion of the Doctor two or three days will determine his fate. . . . Doctors Adams or Ustice has kept constantly with him and have paid the greatest attention possible to him, both by day & Night, and to do those Gentlemen Justice, they have spared no pains in making things comfortable around him.

Nearly every Hamilton biographer writes about this important mission given to Hamilton by Washington and many also write about Hamilton’s subsequent illness. But no one has identified these two doctors. Perhaps they don’t merit notice; perhaps they do. In researching Hamilton’s life, I decided to see if I could discover more about these two men who helped Hamilton in his illness and may have even saved Hamilton’s life.

John Adams recorded in his diary on November 18, 1777:

Dined at Fish Kill, at the Dr’s. Mess, near the Hospital, with Dr. Sam. Adams, Dr. Eustis, Mr. Wells, &c.

Here was a Dr. Adams just 20 miles from Hamilton along with a Dr. Eustis, who must be the Dr. Ustice that Gibbs had written about. Knowing that Dr. Adams’s first name was “Sam.” and the correct spelling of Dr. Eustis’s name, it is clear that these two doctors were Samuel Adams Jr., son of the more famous Samuel Adams, and William Eustis, future U.S. representative, secretary of war, and governor of Massachusetts. (William Eustis was only one Dr. Eustis in the army at this time Samuel Adams Jr. was a friend of this William Eustis, he was stationed “on the Hudson” at this time, and it is clear that it was this Samuel Adams who met John Adams in November 1777 )

The method of identifying Adams and Eustis is described immediately above in more detail than in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years. (In hindsight, the endnote in AHTFY for this topic probably should have provided these details). Citations for the earlier quotes, which are not given in this post, will be found in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years.

Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years is now available for purchase. Click here for links to the print book and various ebook editions.

Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years is now available for sale.

The wait is over. After four years of hard work, Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years is now available for sale.

The print edition of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years can be purchased at:
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Don’t be so naive: the real reason the Treasury plans to remove Hamilton from the $10 bill.

Up until two days ago, there was a growing movement to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a woman. A bill was proposed in Congress to do this. A website was established to promote this idea. A poll was taken to choose a worthy woman to replace Jackson, which Harriet Tubman narrowly won, beating out Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Wilma Mankiller.

But then the Treasury suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly announced that it would replace Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman. Why the sudden change?

It all comes down to politics and public opinion. If the Treasury had announced it would replace Andrew Jackson with a woman, there would have been protests against it. Those who like Andrew Jackson would have argued that no woman was as important to American history as Jackson, who was a popular president and founded the Democratic Party. Those who are less favorable towards Jackson would have also opposed the move by asking why he should be replaced by a woman rather than another worthy male, such as John Adams, James Madison, or the very underrated Albert Gallatin. The public uproar against replacing Jackson with an undetermined woman may have forced the Treasury to cancel its plans.

The people at Treasury or perhaps the White House recognized this challenge. There are a lot of smart people in the White House and at Treasury and one of them realized that they could accomplish their goal by using the door-in-the-face (DITF) technique. This psychological technique, which is often used in marketing, involves “making a large request that the respondent will most likely turn down” and then making “a second, more reasonable request.”

So the Treasury Department suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly announced that it would replace Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman. Social media went berserk. How could the Treasury Department replace one of the leading Founding Fathers, the man who made the Treasury Department, the man who did more than anyone else to establish the U.S. on a solid financial footing? Not only are they making these arguments, they are also asking why Hamilton is being replaced instead of Jackson. Many have pointed out how Hamilton established the Treasury whereas Jackson shut down the Second Bank of the United States and opposed paper money (the country suffered a severe depression as a result). Many have pointed out how Hamilton opposed slavery whereas Jackson owned many slaves. Many have pointed out how Hamilton refused to shoot his opponent (Aaron Burr) in a duel whereas Jackson had an apparent blood lust when it came to duels, fighting in upwards of 100 duels according to some and killing at least one opponent. Many also point out Jackson’s genocidal persecution of the Native Americans.

While these arguments are convincing and it is clear that Hamilton is a superior candidate to stay on the U.S. currency, we have fallen into the Treasury Department’s trap. By defending Hamilton as worthy to remain on the $10, we have given the Treasury all the ammunition it needs to remove Jackson. Instead of debating which individuals most deserve to be on our currency, we are instead arguing about who to remove from our money and which woman to put on it. We should instead be debating which individual, regardless of race, religion, or gender, deserves to be on our currency.

But I’m afraid we’ve already lost this argument. If the Treasury succeeds in replacing Hamilton on the $10, it won’t be long before Jackson is replaced on the $20 and Grant on the $50. (Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin are too popular and likable to replaced, at least for now.) If we succeed in convincing the Treasury that Hamilton should stay, they’ll instead replace Jackson with little public uproar and it won’t be long before Grant is also replaced. I would not be surprised if we see the faces on certain bills changing every 10 years or so to satisfy all the different minority groups. The decision as to which people will be featured on our money will become part of the political debate and the different political parties will attempt to buy votes of various interest groups with the promise to put a member of their group on our currency.

We must challenge the Treasury Department’s decision to remove Hamilton from our $10 bill with all the power and influence in our possession. But we must be sure to do it correctly. We must argue that our money should feature those Americans who contributed the most to our nation regardless of race, religion, or gender. If we fail, not only will Hamilton be removed from the $10 bill, Jackson will be removed from the $20, Grant will be taken off the $50, less deserving individuals will appear on our currency, and I predict that our currency will ultimately feature a rotation of individuals chosen for political reasons and our money will lose the respect that it earned thanks largely to the work of one and only Alexander Hamilton.

(As to the question of which woman most deserves to be on our money, my vote goes to Martha Washington. If George Washington was the father of our country, Martha was the mother. The soldiers in the army of the American Revolution certainly saw her in that light when she stayed with them at headquarters each winter and led the women in producing homespun clothing and blankets for the troops. Obviously, women now play a greater role in politics and public affairs than they did in the eighteenth or even nineteenth centuries, but that makes Martha Washington all the more remarkable. But again, I don’t see the achievements of Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, or Wilma Mankiller as coming even close to what was accomplished by Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, Adams, Madison, or Gallatin.)

Alexander Hamilton speaks to us from the grave about his planned removal from the $10 bill.

I had the distinct pleasure of asking Alexander Hamilton what he thought about his planned removal from the $10 bill. Major General Hamilton replied:

Mine is an odd destiny. Perhaps no man in the UStates has sacrificed or done more for the present Constitution than myself—and contrary to all my anticipations of its fate, as you know from the very begginning I am still labouring to prop the frail and worthless fabric. Yet I have the murmurs of its friends no less than the curses of its foes for my rewards. What can I do better than withdraw from the Scene? Every day proves to me more and more that this American world was not made for me.
Alexander Hamilton to Gouverneur Morris, February 29 [sic], 1802

Why Alexander Hamilton should stay on the $10 bill, according to his contemporaries.

“He smote the rock of the national resources, and abundant streams gushed forth. He touched the dead corpse of the public credit, and it sprung to its feet. The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton.”
~ Daniel Webster

“He did more with his pen and his tongue than any other man, not only in reference to the origin and adoption of the Federal Constitution, but also to create and establish public credit, and defend the Government and its measures, under the wise and eventful administration of Washington.”
~ James Kent

“He made your Government! He made your Bank. I sat up all night with him to help him do it. Jefferson thought we ought not to have a Bank, and President Washington thought so. But my husband said, ‘We must have a Bank.’ I sat up all night, copied out his writing, and the next morning he carried it to President Washington, and we had a Bank.’”
~ Elizabeth Hamilton

“Mr. Hamilton may justly be regarded as the Founder of the Public Credit of this country. He raised it from the dust, and placed it on sound foundations. His great moving principle of action in his department, was good faith—was a punctual performance of contracts.”
~ The Albany Centinel, 1804

The irreplaceable Alexander Hamilton is being replaced on the $10 bill

If you haven’t already heard, the Secretary of the Treasury announced that Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, will be replaced on the $10 bill by a woman. Social media sites are up in arms about this. How can the man most closely related to our monetary and financial system be replaced without any public input? I too have been posting on facebook and twitter about this ridiculous action. Here’s a sample of what I’ve had to say on this topic:

  • I predict there will be such a backlash against this that they’ll change their mind.
  • There are only two women who can replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 and I won’t complain: Elizabeth Hamilton or Audrey Hepburn.
  • I’m not in favor of kicking Jackson off the $20 just to replace him with a woman. Replace him with the best person, regardless of gender.
  • I vote to keep Alexander Hamilton on the ten and remove Andrew Jackson from the $20 and replace him with Albert Gallatin. Who is with me?
  • If they remove Alexander Hamiltonfrom the $10, will they also remove the Treasury Building from the back? Doesn’t make much sense to have Harriet Tubman on the front and the Treasury on the back.
  • With the desire to have a woman on a Treasury note, what about the other minority groups? Don’t they also deserve representation? Therefore, I propose the new bills be adopted:
    $3 woman
    $4 African American
    $6 Native American
    $7 Asian American
    $8 Hispanic American
    $9 LGBT activist
    $11 Jewish American
    $12 Catholic American
    $13 Muslim American
    $14 Buddhist American
    $15 Hindu American
    $16 Confucianist American
    $17 Shinto American
    $18 Atheist American
    $19 Agnostic American
    $21 Add your own photo (they do it for stamps)
  • Is the purpose of removing Alexander Hamilton from our money part of the long-running plot to minimize the contributions of the Founding Fathers? Discuss.

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with this ongoing debate.