See the hurricane letter that changed Alexander Hamilton’s life

On this day in 1772, a letter providing an “account of one of the most dreadful Hurricanes that memory or any records whatever can trace” appeared in St. Croix’s The Royal Danish American Gazette. The letter, written weeks earlier by a “Youth of this Island” to his father, who lived beyond the storm’s reach, caused such a stir when it was published in the Gazette that it forever lifted the fortunes of its writer—and arguably changed the course of American history.

The “Youth” who authored the letter was a 17-year-old clerk named Alexander Hamilton. As described in a recent article in the Washington Post—not to mention a 2016 Mental Floss article and Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton (Chapter Two: “Hurricane”)the letter prompted businessmen on the island to raise funds to send the young, promising Hamilton to North America, where he made his name. And, I’d be remiss not to note that Chernow’s description of how Hamilton had “written his way out of poverty” inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton.

Since the circumstances surrounding Hamilton’s letter and his rise in fortune have been well recounted in the sources mentioned above, I won’t attempt my own summary. Instead, I thought it would be more useful and interesting to share an image of the letterone of Hamilton’s first attempts at stretching his literary musclesas it appeared in the Gazette (the original letter appears to be lost). I came across the letter while researching a recent blog post on Alexander Hamilton’s poetry, and as with Hamilton’s poetry, I’ve found few images of the letter elsewhere on the Web:

Alexander Hamilton's "Hurricane" letter. Royal Danish American Gazette, October 3, 1772, p. 2.

Alexander Hamilton’s hurricane letter. Royal Danish American Gazette, October 3, 1772, p. 2.

Here is the full page on which the letter appears, and an image of the issue’s first page. Both were scanned from the Library’s microfilm copy of the paper, which resides in our Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room. A transcript of the letter appears on the Founders Online website.

Interested in exploring other From the Catbird Seat posts that delve into the Library’s unparalleled newspaper collections? Here’s a selection of posts to get you started.

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