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Monochrome head and shoulders portrait of Philip Schuyler in mlitary uniform.
Engraving of Major General Philip Schuyler, ca. 1835, by T. Kelly after a 1792 painting by John Trumbull. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The Manuscript Division Transcribes Fifty-Six Letters from Philip Schuyler to Alexander and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

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In 2017, the popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton” brought a previously unknown cache of Alexander Hamilton family papers to light. When Sotheby’s sold these papers at auction, the Manuscript Division bought fifty letters written by New York military and political figure Philip Schuyler (1733-1804) to his daughter, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and her husband, Alexander Hamilton. The division digitized these letters and added them to the Alexander Hamilton Papers, which have been at the Library since 1904 and available online since 2017.

In the summer of 2021, four Manuscript Division staff members (Andrea J. Briggs, Emily Flint, Elizabeth Livesey, and Katherine Madison) working partially at home because of the pandemic, transcribed these new letters, along with six similar ones in the Family Papers series of the Hamilton Papers (including one to another daughter, Catherine). Schuyler’s correspondence with his son-in-law is published in the modern edition of Hamilton’s papers, available on Founders Online, but these fifty-six letters are not included there. The recently purchased letters were unknown to the editors of the Hamilton papers, and the published edition focused on letters to and from Alexander Hamilton, thus excluding Schuyler’s letters to his daughters. These new transcriptions make the fifty-six letters, comprising a total of 174 pages, easily readable and searchable for the first time. To see the transcriptions, click on a letter, then select the “Image w/Text” option at the top of each.

Monochrome portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, seated.
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. Print from a portrait by Ralph Earl, 1781. New York: D. Appleton, ca. 1854-1868. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Philip Schuyler, born in 1733, was a New York political figure, a Revolutionary War general, and, with his wife Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler, a descendant of New York’s Dutch settlers. Their daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1757, was one of eight surviving children. She married Alexander Hamilton in 1780. During the years these letters cover, 1796-1804, Hamilton was the first treasury secretary of the United States, a lawyer in private practice in New York, and inspector general of the United States Army.

In these letters Schuyler delivers family news, opines on local, national, and international politics and events, and offers his son-in-law, the treasury secretary, advice on finance. He advises the Hamiltons on improvements on their properties, and reports on his travels to oversee the farms and tenants on his own large landholdings in New York. Several references to snow and “sleding” suggest how residents of Albany, New York, where the Schuylers lived, relied on the ice for winter travel. He complains about his health in every letter.

As a member of the Federalist Party, Schuyler deplored the election of Democratic-Republican Party candidate Thomas Jefferson as president in 1800. In a June 23, 1803, letter he describes the president as someone “who disgraces not only the place he fills but produces immorality by his pernicious example.”

The Schuylers appear to have been hungry for foreign news. Schuyler prodded his son-in-law, through his daughter: “I ought not to expect frequent communications from my Dear Hamilton knowing how very closely he is engaged in his professional duties, intreat him however to steal a few minutes, to advise me of any important events, likely to happen in Europe, of which he may be informed” (April 30, 1802). They were especially consumed by the ongoing Napoleonic Wars. The day the Schuylers learned of “the Arch Dukes victory, and the successes of the Austrian barons in Italy,” was “a joyous one for us,” Schuyler wrote Elizabeth, adding: “It is very well that only friends were present when Catherine read the papers” (June 11, 1799).

Schuyler updates the Hamiltons on his family’s health. He confides his worries about his troubled son, Rensselaer, and his unhappily married daughter, Cornelia Morton. However, the largest part of his anxious attention in these letters is devoted to Alexander Hamilton. He frets about the danger to his son-in-law of overwork, sun exposure, and wet feet. On learning about Hamilton’s hasty escape from a burning boat, he writes (March 27, 1801): “Had you perished, my calamity would have been compleat.” Most of all he worried about yellow fever, the frightening and deadly disease that repeatedly besieged American cities on the Atlantic coast starting in Philadelphia in 1793. He implored Elizabeth to keep her husband out of New York whenever yellow fever threatened the city (August 7, 1803).

Handwritten letter on yellowed paper
Letter, Philip Schuyler to Alexander Hamilton, March 27, 1801. Box 44, Alexander Hamilton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Schuyler’s warmth as a father is notable. He signed every letter to his daughter with some version of “adieu my dearly beloved child, I am ever most tenderly yours.” This only makes the near total absence of references in these letters to the enslaved people who served his family more stark. New York enacted a gradual manumission act in 1799 that began a process of ending slavery in the state.[1] Philip Schuyler, a close observer of New York politics, does not mention it in these letters. Instead, a remark on the influence of the French Revolution on the revolution in Haiti cracks a window into what may have been his own fears. It was the “terrible disorganizing spirit of the French Philosophers,” he wrote Elizabeth, that “taught the blacks that cruelty which is now inflicted upon the whites, and which I sincerely lament” (July 7, 1804).

Just days after that letter was written, Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel by Vice President Aaron Burr. Soon after, Schuyler wrote his widowed daughter: “My Hamiltons spirit is now in heaven, and that of your parent hopes in gods due time to meet in the abodes of bliss” (July 20, 1804). That time came quickly; his worst fear realized, he died in November.

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[1] Graham Russell Hodges, Root and Branch: African-Americans in New York and East Jersey, 1613-1863 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999); Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967).

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