This “Portrait of Mrs Alexander Hamilton” by Ralph Earl portrays Elizabeth Hamilton (1757 – 1854), the wife of Alexander Hamilton, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and Founding Father. In 1787, Elizabeth sat for this portrait while Earl was being held in debtors’ prison. Alexander had heard of Earl’s predicament and asked if Elizabeth might be willing to sit for him, to allow him to make some money and eventually buy his way out of prison, which he subsequently did.
Elizabeth Schuyler was born in Albany, New York and her family came from a wealthy and politically influential family. Her family was among the wealthy Dutch landowners who had settled around Albany in the mid-1600s. In 1780 Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth met during the middle of the American Revolutionary War and married in the same year. Together they had eight children.
In 1804, Alexander Hamilton became involved in an “affair of honour,” which led to his infamous duel with Aaron Burr and untimely death. Before the duel, he wrote Eliza two letters, telling her:
“The consolations of Religion, my beloved, can alone support you; and these you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.”
Elizabeth remained dedicated to preserving her husband’s legacy. She was devoted to Alexander’s writings, and she wore a small package around her neck containing the pieces of a sonnet which Alexander wrote for her during the early days of their courtship. She died in Washington, D.C. at age ninety-seven having outlived her husband by fifty years. Elizabeth was buried near her husband in the graveyard of Trinity Church in New York City.
- Title: Portrait of Mrs Alexander Hamilton
- Artist: Ralph Earl
- Year: 1787
- Material: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 31.75 × 26.88 in (80.6 × 68.3 cm)
- Museum: Museum of the City of New York
Artist Essential Facts:
- Name: Ralph Earl
- Born: 1751 – Massachusetts. US
- Died: 1801 – Bolton, Connecticut, US
- Nationality: American
- Notable works:
- Portrait of Mrs Alexander Hamilton
“Make your mark in New York, and you are a made man.” Mark Twain
Photo Credit: Ralph Earl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons