Read the Revolution

curated collection of excerpts from exciting, thought-provoking books about the American Revolution

Fiction

November 14, 2018

I, Eliza Hamilton

A work of historical fiction, I, Eliza Hamilton, tells the story of Elizabeth "Eliza" Hamilton, née Schuyler, the wife of Alexander Hamilton. Present alongside Alexander at pivotal moments in early American history, the story follows their courtship and marriage through the tumultuous years of the Revolutionary War and the uncertain decades of the early American Republic. The novel, written from Eliza's perspective, includes rich historical details of the places she visited, the people she met, and the clothes that she wore.

In the novel's opening chapter, Eliza Schuyler is a young woman of 20 when she first meets her future husband. The following excerpt details their first encounter at her parents' home in Albany, New York in November of 1777.

 

He leaned toward me, a fierceness in his blue eyes. Although I knew I should step back and away from him, the way I should with any man who was too forward with me, I didn't. Despite the fact that the rest of my family and our guests were not ten feet from us in the drawing room, my conversation with Colonel Hamilton had made me forget them all, and turned this window corner into a place so private that we might have stood in another house entirely.

"I knew from the first that you understood, Miss Elizabeth," he continued, lowering his voice like a conspirator. "I heard it in your speech, and see it in your face now. You understand the sacred rights of mankind, and perceive the injustice of how those rights have been taken from us. You crave liberty, and have no more patience with injustice or tyranny than I."

"I do, Colonel Hamilton," I said, pleased that he'd imbued me with such patriotic qualities instead of flattering me with compliments on my eyes or my complexion, the way most gentlemen would. "But I also know that these dreams and glories exact a terrible price."

He nodded solemnly. "They do indeed. That is why each time I am called to battle, I accept that 'Liberty or Death' is no empty, vainglorious slogan for me. If I die, I do so knowing that I have helped secure our country's dearest freedoms."

"How terribly melancholy!" I exclaimed. "A most noble sentiment, but consider how your loss would affect your poor mother, your sisters."

"I am quite without family, Miss Elizabeth, or even a true home of my own,” he confessed. "My father left my mother at an early age on the Caribbean island of Nevis, and after she died I came alone to New York for my studies. I can be that most perfect sol­dier, free to sacrifice myself without thought of those I must leave behind."

I shook my head, unable to accept his grim explanation. Surrounded as I had always been by my own large and loving family, I couldn't conceive of being so utterly alone in the world.

"II shall add you to my prayers, Colonel Hamilton," I said. ''I'll pray for your safe delivery in battle, and for God's blessings upon you as you triumph over our enemies."

"I am honored by your kindness," he said gravely, and bowed as gracefully as any French courtier might. "I cannot think of anything that would give me greater pleasure, Miss Elizabeth."

"Eliza," I said impulsively. "My friends call me Eliza." "Then I shall call you Betsey, to set myself apart from your other friends." He smiled again, and added a disarming-little nod that made me smile in return. "Now that you've honored me once again with a pledge of friendship, Betsey, I shall remain always in your debt."

Too late I realized I shouldn't have smiled with such encouragement, or let him misinterpret my good wishes. I hadn't intended to pledge friendship, and no lady ever wished to have a gentleman in her debt. But before I could demur, my sister Peggy suddenly appeared, popping up like a sprite beside Colonel Hamilton.

"Mamma wishes you to come bid good night to our guests, Eliza," she said pointedly, seizing me by the arm to make sure I un­derstood. Which of course I did: I'd been too long alone in the colonel's company, and Mammaor worse, Papahad noticed. "Pray excuse us, Colonel."

She didn't wait for me to speak, instead pulling me forcibly away from him and from the room. As soon as we were in the hall, I shook my arm free of her grasp.

"I don't require you to yoke yourself to me like that Peggy," I said crossly. I followed hernot willingly, but because I knew I must. "That was rude of you, and you know it."

Peggy pursed her lips and raised her brows, a face full of smugness that I never liked to see.

"Then you can tell that to Mamma and Papa," she said. "I was only obeying their wishes, which is more than you were doing."

"I was doing nothing wrong," I said defensively, though I knew that wasn't quite true. "I was discussing the war with Colonel Hamilton."

Peggy made that face again, but by now we were in the front hall, and I slipped into my place beside my mother. One by one, carriages were drawing up before our house and our guests were taking their leave. As usual, my parents bid each of them farewell in turn, with many promises of good wishes and returning calls.

Last of all came Colonel Hamilton. I didn't note what he said to my parents, because I was concentrating so hard on saying nothing foolish myself.

"Good night, Colonel Hamilton," I murmured, all I dared say as I dipped a slight curtsey.

"Good evening, Miss Elizabeth," he said. He bowed, and moved on to thank my mother.

And that was all. Four words, my full name, and perfect propriety. I should have been relieved (if, in honesty, a bit disappointed), except for how he looked at me as he spoke. His eyes crinkled at the corners and the slightest of smiles played upon his lips, as if to­gether we shared the greatest, most amusing secret in the world. It was only there for the instant that he stood before me, and gone before he'd turned to my mother. Even as I hoped no one else had taken notice, I smiled swiftly in return, unable to help myself.

Read the Revolution is published biweekly by the Museum of the American Revolution to inspire learning about the history of the American Revolution and its ongoing relevance.