The Life & Influence of Eliza Schuyler-Hamilton By: Amy Silva

What is Influence?

First & foremost, one who is "influential" in my own terms is one whose actions leave a lasting effect through history as well as on people throughout. Whether we've heard Alexander Hamilton's name at some point in our lives or another, we've seen his face depicted on a $10 bill in remembrance of what he's done for our country's banking, Treasury Department, etc. Very little know about the efforts made by his wife before and after his early death.

Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Ralph Earl, painted 1787

As a child, Eliza lived comfortably under the parenthood of Revolutionary War General Philip Schuyler, and was described as having a "strong character with depth and warmth...glowing underneath, bursting through at times in some empathetic expression." Determined and with strong faith, these aspects shone through in her later life and marriage to Hamilton. She would need this during their marriage, as Alexander was often turning to work nonstop (which she would sometimes assist in political writing, correspond with heads of state, draft essays, etc), placing both in the public eye when caught in political scandals.


"The Reynolds Pamphlet," Maria Reynolds, & Alexander Hamilton

One of such scandals happens to be the first major recorded sex scandal in American history between Eliza's husband Alexander, and Maria Reynolds - a 23 year old woman manipulated into seducing Hamilton by her husband in hopes of earning money. This money was paid, and to cast off accusations from Thomas Jefferson of stealing government funds, Hamilton wrote and published a 95 page pamphlet (The Reynolds Pamphlet) telling of his meetings with Maria over the course of a summer while his wife an children were vacationing in Albany (complete with letters sent between the two). This, of course, would humiliate both Eliza and Alexander, and though she was devastated to learn about this, Eliza would later forgive her husband for committing adultery.

"Her efforts made it easier to research Alexander's life, because after his death, his enemies were in power. Elizabeth was working against the political system and time - time itself."

Eliza had the heart to forgive him so much that after he passed away due to the infamous duel between himself and Aaron Burr, that the next 50 years she would live without her beloved husband would be spent trying to recover and bring into light all of his written works and rebuild his shattered reputation. All this while outliving all of her 14 siblings and paying off Alexander's debts - even losing their house in an auction (soon bought back). She would speak out against critics who made a bad name out of Hamilton, granting him credit for being the author of George Washington's Farewell Address when it was lost, not James Madison, who had in fact written only the earlier draft. For an entire decade after Hamilton's death, Elizabeth and her son James Alexander scrounged together all of his papers and hunted relentlessly for an editor so they could be rightfully published. Legacy was an extreme importance to Alex in his life, constantly worried if he would be remembered for doing well and serving America. Author of Alexander's biography, Ronald Chernow has confirmed that without Eliza's efforts, any legacy at all for Hamilton would be very difficult to find. The countless pages of his work were finally published in 1861. In fact, Elizabeth was so devoted to her husband's writings that she carried the pieces of a sonnet she wrote her in a locket from early marriage onward.

Washington Monument at National Mall

President George Washington was a mentor and father figure to Alexander in his life, and a great friend to Elizabeth over the years. Her effort did not stop at her husband's legacy alone, but it was put into Washington's as well. She assisted in helping former First Lady Dolley Madison raise funds in Washington D.C. to erect the monument we know now in his honor when she was in her nineties.. Despite growing up around slavery (her father was a slave owner), Eliza also spoke out against slavery. Whether intentional or not, this could be seen as a nod to Hamilton's very best friend, John Laurens, who made an effort to create the first black battalion for the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

Graham Windham orphanage, formerly Orphan Asylum Society in NYC
“My Maker has pointed out this duty to me, and has given me the skill and inclination to perform it.”

After two years being widowed in 1806, Eliza established the first private orphanage in New York City, a still lasting act of kindness to her husband who was a suffering orphan himself before he was able to immigrate to America. Along with many other women, she founded the Orphan Asylum Society and was appointed its vice president. In 1821, she was then made its president and aided in the lives of many children as they grew up. For 27 years, she acted as the president of the orphanage until she went to live with her daughter (Elizabeth Holly) who was recently widowed in Washington D.C. Altogether, Eliza has been working with the organization nonstop for 42 years.

Elizabeth "Betsy" Hamilton, age 94, and her grave beside Alexander's in Trinity Church

It has been noted by historians and researchers alike that Eliza was active in her charity work until her last breath, forming a forgotten legacy of her very own through her efforts to preserve those of others. She died at the old, and advanced age of 97 in Washington D.C. on November 9, 1854, and was buried beside her husband and sister, Angelica in the graveyard of Trinity Church in New York City.


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