Monthly Archives: April 2015

In July 1780, Alexander Hamilton received intelligence from Elias Dayton (not the Culper Ring) that helped save the French fleet and American army in Rhode Island

In July 1780, Alexander Hamilton received intelligence from Elias Dayton that helped save the French fleet and American army in Rhode Island. Previously, this intelligence had been incorrectly attributed to the Culper Ring. Below is a condensed extract from Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years about this interesting event:

On July 21, 1780, Elias Dayton sent intelligence to George Washington “that the [British] fleets under Admirals Arbuthnot and Graves had sailed on Wednesday morning—that fifty sail of transports had gone up the sound, expecting to take troops on board at Whitestone, from whence ’tis said they are immediately to proceed to Rhode Island.” Dayton’s intelligence arrived at headquarters that same day, but Washington was “absent” and was not expected to “return before evening.” Hamilton however was present and, upon receiving the intelligence, he instantly rushed off a message to Lafayette, who was in Connecticut at the time. “The enemy are making an embarkation with which they menace the French fleet and army. Fifty transports are said to have gone up the Sound to take in troops and proceed directly to Rhode Island.” When Washington returned later that day, Hamilton drafted a letter to Rochambeau warning him of the same.

Some historians have stated that the Culper Ring was the source of this intelligence. On July 20, Robert Townsend, a.k.a. Samuel Culper Jr., sent intelligence from New York City to Abraham Woodhull, a.k.a. Samuel Culper Sr., out on Long Island. On the same day, Woodhull penned a letter to John Bolton, Benjamin Tallmadge’s alias, warning him that “Admiral Graves with Six Ships of the Line and . . . three more out of N Y, also 1 of 50 & 2 of 40 guns, . . . has sailed for Rhode Island. . . . Also 8000 Troops are this day embarking at Whitestone for the before mentioned Port. . . . I greatly fear their destination.” Woodhull gave both his letter and Townsend’s to Caleb Brewster and instructed him, “The enclosed requires your immediate departure this day; by all means let not an hour pass for this day must not be lost. You have news of the greatest consequence perhaps that ever happened to your country.” Accordingly, Brewster took these letters across Long Island Sound to Benjamin Tallmadge, as was his usual routine regarding such intelligence. Tallmadge received these letters on July 22 at 9 p.m. Forwarding them to Washington, Tallmadge wrote, “I have this moment received the enclosed from the Culpers, which I have the Honour to enclose to your Excellency.” Washington received these letters on July 23. The following day, Washington thanked Tallmadge for “your favor of the 22d with letters from the Culpers enclosed,” specifically noting that he received them “yesterday” on July 23. Therefore, the Culper Ring could not have been the source for the intelligence received at headquarters on July 21.*

Advocates of the Culper Ring’s involvement have tried to explain these challenges by contending that when Brewster was unable to find Tallmadge on the twentieth or twenty-first, he forwarded the letters straight to Washington. There is no evidence to support this conjecture, which was only conceived after the fact to explain how Hamilton could have received the intelligence from the Culpers in time. It has also been asserted that Tallmadge’s letter of July 22 had been misdated, that it had been written earlier, and that Hamilton received it on the twenty-first. This, however, ignores Washington’s letter of July 24 informing Tallmadge that he received the letter dated July 22 on July 23. Hamilton could not have received this letter on the twenty-first.

Moreover, Elias Dayton had written to Washington that “fifty sail of transports had gone up the sound.” After receiving this letter, Hamilton, using nearly identical language, informed Lafayette that “fifty transports are said to have gone up the Sound.” In contrast, the information coming from the Culper Ring stated that “Admiral Graves with Six Ships of the Line and . . . three more out of N Y, also 1 of 50 & 2 of 40 guns, . . . has sailed for Rhode Island.” Clearly, the information Hamilton passed along to Lafayette came from Elias Dayton, not from the Culpers.

With the intelligence in hand, Washington took measures to counteract and perhaps benefit from Britain’s plans. If the British were to send thousands of men and dozens of ships to attack Rhode Island, poorly defended New York City would suddenly become an easy target for the Americans. Washington started preparing an attack on New York City, to be executed only if a large proportion of the British fleet and army left for Rhode Island. Hamilton wrote to his fiancée on July 31, “We are . . . on our way to New York. I hope we shall take it.” Hamilton’s knowledge of New York’s geography as a resident and of its defenses as one who attended and recorded the interrogation of a Hessian deserter back in October 1778 would have been very helpful in planning the attack. Hamilton also penned letters for Washington to Rochambeau and Lafayette regarding this possible campaign. Washington told Rochambeau in a letter drafted by Hamilton, “The only way I can be useful to you is to menace New York, and even to attack it, if the force remaining there does not exceed what I have reason to believe.” In the end, the British fleet came back to New York without attacking Rhode Island and Washington cancelled his attack on New York City. The gathering of intelligence, quick distribution of it to the necessary parties, and the development of new plans of attack based on changing circumstances enabled the Americans to prevent a possible calamity for the French fleet and American army in Rhode Island.

* Washington often complained about the slow delivery of intelligence from the Culpers. In February 1780, Washington wrote to Tallmadge, “It is my furthermost earnest wish that you would press him to open, if possible, a communication with me by a more direct route than the present. His accounts are intelligent, clear, and satisfactory, consequently would be valuable but, owing to the circuitous route through which they are transmitted, I can derive no immediate or important advantages from them.” Again in May, Washington explained that the Culpers’ “intelligence is so long getting to hand that it is of no use by the time it reaches me.” After the war, Washington told Tallmadge, “The Services which were rendered by him (however well meant) was by no means adequate to these Expenditures. My Complaints on this head, before I knew the amount of his charges, you may remember were frequent; and but for the request of Count de Rochambeau . . . I should have discontinued the Services of S[amuel] C[ulper] long before a cessation of hostilities took place, because his communications were never frequent and always tedious in getting to hand.” It would seem that the intelligence arriving from the Culper Ring on July 23 was just one of many instances when this spy network delivered information too late to be useful.

This topic is covered more fully in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years. Citations and even more supporting evidence will also be found in the book’s endnotes. Please support the publication of this important work by pre-ordering your copy today.

It’s Hamiltime! reviews Michael E. Newton’s Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years

It’s Hamiltime!, a blog written by Pooja Nair, associate and litigation lawyer in the Los Angeles office of Foley & Lardner LLP and a Hamilton expert who has spoken on various aspects of Hamilton’s legal career at Federal Hall National Memorial, Morris-Jumel Mansion, Hamilton Grange National Memorial, and the Museum of American Finance, has posted the following review of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years:

Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years by Michael E. Newton provides a comprehensive account of Hamilton’s life from 1757 to 1782, including his birth, childhood, education, participation in pre-Revolution politics in New York, and service in the Revolutionary War, both as Washington’s aide-de-camp and as a military leader. The book takes the reader on a detailed journey through the first half of Hamilton’s life. While many historians have lifted some accepted details of Hamilton’s life from past biographers, Newton has taken 4 years to exhaustively research both primary sources and the existing historical record and thus has the perspective to compare contradictions in the record and uncover new information. Newton’s extensive research efforts enable the reader to understand the historiography behind each of the well-known Hamilton legends he covers, and on some occasions, debunks. During the course of his research, Newton has made several new discoveries, some of which are outlined on his website, including information about Hamilton’s arrival in New York, studies at King’s College, and militia service. Newton’s painstaking devotion to the details of Hamilton’s life is apparent in the extensively footnoted text, and the reader is able to come away with a fresh understanding of Hamilton’s early life. Newton takes the time to explain his research and discovery process to the reader, making it clear where sources disagree with each other so that the reader can form her own opinion. Hamilton’s early life was complex, filled with nuances and conflicting motivations that contributed to his later political and personal decisions. AHTFY lays out these events in a way that provides illumination to the reader on the development of Hamilton’s character.”

Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years is scheduled for publication in June 2015. Please support the publication of this important work by pre-ordering your copy today.

Alexander Hamilton’s role in preventing the attempted treason of Lieutenant Colonel Herman Zedwitz

An extract from Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years about recently discovered evidence regarding Alexander Hamilton’s role in preventing the attempted treason of Lieutenant Colonel Herman Zedwitz:

In August 1776, Alexander Hamilton helped prevent the attempted treason of Lieutenant Colonel Herman Zedwitz. On August 25, Zedwitz was charged with “holding a treacherous correspondence with and giving intelligence to the enemies of the United States.” Zedwitz was also accused of planning to “Spoil [poison] the Watering place.” Augustus Stein stated in a written deposition that Zedwitz “wanted me to go to Long Island with a letter to Governor [William] Tryon.” At Zedwitz’s trial, Stein added, “I took the letter. I went immediately to Captain Bowman’s house and broke the letter open and read it. Soon after, Captain Bowman came in, and I told him I had something to communicate to the General. We sent to Captain Hamilton, and he went to the General’s, to whom the letter was delivered.”  This Captain Bowman, or Bauman as it is spelled elsewhere in the court-martial record, was Captain Sebastian Bauman of the New York Artillery.  Accordingly, Captain Hamilton must have been Alexander Hamilton, Bauman’s colleague in the New York Artillery.  Thus, it was Alexander Hamilton who “went to the General’s” to give Zedwitz’s letter to Washington. Hamilton may have personally delivered the letter into Washington’s hands and explained to him how he came to have it. If Hamilton already knew Washington, that would explain why Stein and Bauman chose him to deliver the letter. On the other hand, Hamilton may have done nothing more than drop off the letter with Washington’s staff.

Supporting evidence and citations will be found in the endnotes of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years. Please support the publication of this important work by pre-ordering your copy today.

HamilTEN Questions with Michael E. Newton

I was recently interviewed about my new book, Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years, for the very first issue of “HamilTEN Questions.”

1. How were you first introduced to Alexander Hamilton?

I’ve always been a fan of history, especially American history and most especially the American Revolution and Founding. As a child, I read books on the major Founding Fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Franklin. Oddly, Hamilton was missing, though he appeared in many of those other books. In 2004, I read Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, which I believe was the first Hamilton bio I read.

 2. Why did you decide to write a book about Alexander Hamilton?

After reading Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton in 2004, I did nothing more with Hamilton for a while. When I wrote Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers (published in 2011), I was surprised to learn that Hamilton was not only involved in virtually every aspect of the American Revolution and Founding, but also that nearly everything he did and even the facts of his life are surrounded by so much controversy. It was then that I decided I needed to learn more about Hamilton, that I needed to know whether Hamilton was an indispensable Founding Father who Washington relied on and the Federalists followed, or if he was the villain that Jefferson portrayed him to be.

3. What separates your book from what is already out there in the Hamiltonian literature?

Aside from the many new discoveries presented in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years, I focused on separating the facts of Hamilton’s life from the many uncorroborated tales that have been told. Instead of simply repeating what previous Hamilton biographers have written, I examined every assertion to ensure that they are backed up by solid evidence, eyewitness testimony, or objective analysis of the relevant evidence. If they are not, I determine the plausibility of that information.

This means that many interesting stories about Hamilton have been debunked or shown to be based on flimsy evidence, but it also enables us to find new details that previously had been overlooked…

Click here to continue reading this interview.

You can pre-order your copy of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years at Kickstarter.

Alexander Hamilton recommended for appointment as adjutant general when just 20-years old

Another new discovery that will appear in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years.

In November 1777, Timothy Pickering decided to step down as adjutant general. To replace him, Pickering recommended twenty-year-old Alexander Hamilton, even though he was not old enough to vote and had only served as Washington’s aide for a mere nine months. Pickering told Congressman Elbridge Gerry, “I do not know how the office would suit Colo. Hamilton, the General’s aid-de-camp. I once asked him why the General did not appoint him instead of sending for me? He replied his youth was a material objection. He is young, tis true; but he possesses all the stability of mature age, genius rarely to be equalled, and a most excellent heart. In a word, he is a great character.”

Alexander Hamilton, however, was deathly ill at this time and away from headquarters after having been sent northward to retrieve troops from Horatio Gates and Israel Putnam. Accordingly, Pickering told Gerry that Hamilton “unfortunately fell sick” after “he was sent by his Excellency to Genl. Gates with orders respecting the march of the northern troops.” As a result, Pickering said, “I cannot possibly quit my present office till someone is ready to take it, & Colo. Hamilton’s absence increases the difficulty. Were he present I could at once commit the business to him.”  Had he not fallen ill, Hamilton probably would have become acting adjutant general and may have been appointed to the position. In his absence, Congress “unanimously elected” Alexander Scammell.

Supporting evidence and citations will be found in the endnotes of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years. Please support the publication of this important work by pre-ordering your copy today.

Rand Scholet, President & Founder of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, reviews Michael E. Newton’s Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years

Rand Scholet, President & Founder of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, has written the following review of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years:

“Michael E. Newton’s Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years represents a significant scholarly contribution to the literature regarding the first half of Alexander Hamilton’s remarkable life story and to our understanding of the American Revolution. This extensively researched, incredibly well-documented, theme-based biography reveals new discoveries, debunks previously held myths, and objectively analyzes disputed or unknowable facts. The narrative of Hamilton’s critical role during the American Revolution and his relationships with other key Founding Fathers, most notably George Washington, is enlightening and inspiring. Readers get a fuller sense of Hamilton’s accomplishments and impact during the War for Independence and more accurate insight into the formative years of the man who subsequently shaped America’s foundations. Not only will this book serve as an invaluable reference for decades to come, it is a most engaging read, which any consumer of history books will enjoy. Mr. Newton’s scholarly findings regarding Hamilton’s origins, youth, and service in the American Revolution surpass every book that has preceded it.”

Click here for an interview with Rand Scholet about his review of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years.

Rand Scholet is the President & Founder of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society (The AHA Society). Mr. Scholet spent his professional career with IBM, which included ‘Business Transformation’ Consulting for the Automotive and Aerospace industries.  His final assignments were at IBM Global Services headquarters in Somers, NY.

Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years is scheduled for publication in June 2015. Please support the publication of this important work by pre-ordering your copy today.

Alexander Hamilton’s Militia Service: New Discoveries and Uncertainty Removed

It is well known that Alexander Hamilton joined the New York state militia while still attending college. However, many of the details given by Hamilton’s friends and biographers have been questioned and, indeed, many eyewitness statements appear contradictory. The following excerpt from Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years firmly establishes when Hamilton joined the militia, which company he belonged to, and reveals some interesting newly discovered details about his militia service:

According to Nicholas Fish, “In the year 1775, immediately after the battle of Lexington,” news of which reached New York City on April 23, Hamilton “attached himself to one of the uniform Companies of Militia then forming for the defence of the Country by the patriotic young men of this city.” Less than two months later, on June 14, 1775, Hamilton appeared on a list as a private in the militia. Thus, sometime between April 23 and June 14, 1775—probably in late April or early May based on Fish’s account—Hamilton, along with Robert Troup and Nicholas Fish, enlisted in the militia. Robert Troup reported that the company he and Hamilton joined “was uniformed in short green coats and leather caps having the inscription of ‘Freedom or death’ in front.” Troup wrote that the company was commanded by a Major Fleming, but Hercules Mulligan and Nicholas Fish said it was commanded by Captain Fleming, whereas that list from June 1775 had him listed as Colonel Fleming. According to a list of New York’s “Independent Foot Companies” dated August 9, 1775, the Corsicans had “short Green Coats, Small round Hats Cock[ed] on one side. A Red Hart of Tin with the words, God and our Right, round the Crown Liberty or Death.” Edward Fleming was captain of the Corsicans and lieutenant colonel of the battalion. With the correct captain, nearly the same motto, and the same green coats, Hamilton clearly belonged to the Corsicans.

John C. Hamilton, however, said that Alexander Hamilton, Robert Troup, and Nicholas Fish were in a militia company called the Hearts of Oak. But the Hearts of Oak do not appear on the catalog of New York militia companies from August 9, 1775. On August 28, 1775, Edward Fleming was appointed Deputy Adjutant General for the New York Department. With this promotion, Fleming was no longer able to command the Corsicans. On a list of companies dated September 14, 1775, the Corsicans no longer show up but there appears out of nowhere the “Hearts Oak,” or “Hearts of Oak” as it was called in a subsequent list. John Berrian, who had been a lieutenant in the Corsicans, was captain of the Hearts of Oak. Frederick Jay, John Jay’s younger brother, who had been second lieutenant of the Corsicans, became first lieutenant of the Hearts of Oak. With two former Corsicans taking command of the Hearts of Oak and John C. Hamilton putting Hamilton, Fish, and Troup in the company, it is clear that the Corsicans sometime between August 9 and September 14 became the Hearts of Oak, either by changing its name or by the members of the old company forming a new one. Thus, Hamilton served first in the Corsicans and afterwards in the Hearts of Oak.

Alexander Hamilton dove right into his military training with characteristic enthusiasm and energy. Nicholas Fish remembered how Hamilton “devoted much time attending regularly the parades and performing tours of duty with promptitude and zeal.” Robert Troup recalled that “the Company met every morning, for a considerable time, for exercise in the Church Yard of St. George’s Chapel in New York,” and that Hamilton “was constant in his attendance and very ambitious of improvement. He became exceedingly expert in the manual exercise.” Within just weeks of enlisting, Alexander Hamilton had so impressed his superiors that he was recommended for promotion by being included in a June 1775 “List of Gentlemen who were deemed Qualified to Serve as Officers in the Provincial Army . . . if one should be raised.”

Supporting evidence and citations will be found in the endnotes of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative YearsPlease support the publication of this important work by pre-ordering your copy today.

Alexander Hamilton helps the Whigs win an important political contest on March 6, 1775

On March 6, 1775, New York Whigs and Tories competed for power at a political meeting. At the October 1780 trial of Joshua Hett Smith for his alleged involvement in Benedict Arnold’s treason, Alexander Hamilton was asked by Smith, “Do you recollect my conduct in New York on the sixth of March, 1775?” Hamilton replied, “Not precisely on that day, but on the preceding evening I do recollect it. You then appeared active to promote the interest of the Whig Party; and I believe at that time you were sincere.”  Evidently, Smith mistakenly thought that he had seen Hamilton on March 6, but Hamilton corrected him, telling him that they had seen each other the previous evening.*  Thus, within just two weeks of the publication of The Farmer Refuted, Alexander Hamilton had become an active participant in the patriotic cause and a well-known Whig (if he had not been prior to the publication of his essays).

* The newspapers of the day reported that the Whigs met on March 4 to discuss how to win the contest, but made no mention of a meeting on March 5. Perhaps Hamilton remembered incorrectly and he had seen Smith on the evening of the fourth, not the fifth. Or perhaps the Whigs met again on the evening of the fifth as Hamilton stated and this meeting went unreported by the newspapers.

Supporting evidence and citations will be found in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years. Please support the publication of this important work by pre-ordering your copy today.

Richard Sylla’s review of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years

“Covering Hamilton’s background, birth, and youth in the West Indies and his first decade in the United States, Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years details Hamilton’s emergence as a revolutionary pamphleteer, military leader, General Washington’s principal, ablest, and most trusted aide-de-camp, and hero of the decisive Yorktown campaign. With encyclopedic knowledge of Hamilton’s life and career and all that has been written about it, including the many contradictions, Michael E. Newton judiciously sorts out what we know and don’t know based on the historical evidence. Where historical actors and later scholars disagree, the author weighs the evidence and presents us with what is most likely based on the extant record. He thereby corrects many false statements and impressions given in the Hamilton literature. Along the way, Mr. Newton also presents a number of new and interesting discoveries. It is a pleasure to read such a deep, informed, and scrupulously documented volume, yet one that is so engaging and well written as to be something of a page-turner.”

~ Richard Sylla is the Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets at New York University Stern School of Business. He is the past editor of Journal of Economic History and serves on the editorial board of many journals, including Financial History Review, Enterprise and Society, and Economic and Financial History Abstracts. He is currently a Trustee of the Museum of American Finance. Professor Sylla is also the author or co-author or numerous books and published papers.

Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years is scheduled for publication in June 2015. Please support the publication of this important work by pre-ordering your copy today.

The Extensive Influence of Alexander Hamilton’s ‘A Full Vindication’ and ‘The Farmer Refuted’

As a 17-year-old, Alexander Hamilton wrote A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress. A few months later, he penned The Farmer Refuted. While these essays have been widely praised, some have questioned their influence. One Hamilton biographer asserted, “Probably few people in turbulent New York at that time heard of Hamilton’s pamphlets. They were known and admired in a restricted circle, but that circle included men of leadership and influence, whose good opinion was valuable.” Another argued that the “significance” of these essays “has been overstated. . . . Had not Hamilton become famous, his essays . . . would merit only cursory attention.”

While it is true that more attention has been given to these essays due to Hamilton’s later fame, they certainly attracted more than just “cursory attention” when they were published. In New York City, James Rivington advertised Hamilton’s essays in eleven issues of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer over a three-month period. Rivington also offered to supply “gentlemen” living outside of New York City with a number of pamphlets he had published, including those written by Seabury and Hamilton. Rivington even encouraged his customers to “purchase by the dozen” in order to “distribute” copies “amongst their Friends” or “amongst those who cannot afford to purchase them.” Over in Philadelphia, John Airey advertised copies of A Full Vindication in a December 1774 issue of Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet. And in Boston, bookseller Henry Knox, the future major general and secretary of war, advertised copies of The Farmer Refuted in one March 1775 issue of The Boston-Gazette and two issues of The Boston Evening-Post.

Hamilton’s essays were not just advertised outside of New York, but were also purchased, read, and even quoted. In The Pennsylvania Gazette of January 25, 1775, “A Philadelphian” writing about “the iniquity of the Slave-trade” quoted “the Friend to America” who had asserted that “all men have one common original, they participate in one common nature, and consequently have one common right. No reason can be assigned why one man should exercise any power over his fellow creatures more than another, unless they voluntarily vested him with it.” Hamilton had written A Full Vindication under the name “A Friend to America” and the quote in the Philadelphia newspaper came straight out of Hamilton’s essay.

Clearly, Hamilton’s essays were circulated throughout the colonies and their influence was widespread.

(Knox’s advertising of The Farmer Refuted has previously been noted in a handful of books but never in a Hamilton bio. John Airey’s advertising Hamilton’s A Full Vindication and Hamilton’s essay being quoted in The Pennsylvania Gazette on January 25 are new discoveries.)

Supporting evidence and citations will be found in Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years. Please support the publication of this important work by pre-ordering your copy today.