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“Portrait of Mrs Alexander Hamilton” by Ralph Earl

Mrs. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

“Portrait of Mrs Alexander Hamilton” by Ralph Earl

This “Portrait of Mrs Alexander Hamilton” by Ralph Earl portrays Elizabeth Schuyler 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 later 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. In 1806, two years after her husband’s death, she became co-founder and then deputy director of the first private orphanage in New York City. She served for twenty-seven years in this role, her passion for this cause was fueled by Alexander Hamilton’s personal history. Alexander Hamilton as a child was born out-of-wedlock in Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean Sea, and was orphaned as a child. He was fortunate enough to be taken in by a prosperous merchant.

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton died in Washington, D.C. at age ninety-seven having outlived her husband by fifty years. Elizabeth is buried near her husband in the graveyard of Trinity Church in New York City.

Reflections

  • If Alexander Hamilton as an orphan child, had been left destitute and without support, would American history have been radically different?
  • Could Alexander Hamilton have become President of the US, if he had not died in a duel?

Portrait of Mrs Alexander Hamilton

  • 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

Ralph Earl

  • Name:                Ralph Earl
  • Born:                  1751 – Massachusetts. US
  • Died:                  1801 – Bolton, Connecticut, US
  • Nationality:      American
  • Notable works:

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“Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.”
– Alexander Hamilton

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Photo Credit: Ralph Earl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons