With all of the publicity surrounding the Broadway musical Hamilton, I thought I would devote some space to two women with whom Alexander Hamilton is said to have had affairs. His liaison with MARIA REYNOLDS is known for certain because he himself admitted to their affair (1791-1792) in order to clear himself of charges of financial impropriety during his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury. In 1797 he published “Observations on Certain Documents” from a draft of which the following excerpt is taken. In it Hamilton describes how the affair began. Subsequently James Reynolds, Maria’s husband, blackmailed Hamilton demanding money to keep the affair secret. Publishing the details must have been difficult for Hamilton but maintaining a spotless reputation during his public service was more important to him than the scandal resulting from a sexual escapade. In the end Hamilton is likely to have suspected that husband and wife had colluded to set him up.
Some time in the Summer of the year 1791 a woman called at my house in the City of Philadelphia and asked to speak with me,
apart in private. She was shewn into the parlour and I where I quickly after went where I went to her. She introduced herself by telling With a n seeming apparent air of distress she informed me that she was a daughter of a Mr. Lewis of the State of New York and a sister to a Mrs. G—— Livingston of the State of New York and wife to a Mr. Reynolds whose father was in the Commissary or Quarter Master department during the war with Great Britain— that he had lately lef that her husband had for a long time treated her very cruelly w had lately left her to live with another woman and so destitute that though desirous of returning to her friends she had not the means—that knowing I was a citizen of the same State of New York she had take the liberty to address herself to my humanity for relief. There was something odd in the application and the story yet there was a genuineness simplicity and modesty in the manner of relating it which gave an impression of its truth. I replied that her situation was an interesting one & that I was disposed to afford her as much aid as might be necessary sufficient to convey her to her friends—but, that at the instant it was not convenient to me, (which was truly the case) that if she would inform me where she was to be found I would send or bring it to her in the course of the day. She gave me the Street and the number of the house where she would be found lodged. In the Evening I put a thirty dollar bill in my Pocket and went to the house where I inquired for Mrs. Reynolds and was shewn up Stairs into at the head of which she met me and conducted me into a bed room. I took the bill out of my pocket and delivered it to him her. Some conversation ensued which made it quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would not be unacceptable. It required a harder heart than mine to refuse it to a pretty woman Beauty in distress.
After this, I had frequent meetings with her—most of them at my own house. Mrs. Hamilton being absent on a visit to her father with her Children. . . .
Next time some excerpts from letters Maria wrote to Hamilton.
“Draft of the “Reynolds Pamphlet”, [25 August 1797],” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-21-02-0138-0001 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 21, April 1797 – July 1798, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974, pp. 215–238.
The illustration of Hamilton is a photograph of a painting by John Trumbull; 1 negative: glass [between 1900 and 1912]. Prints & Photographs Division, Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-det-4a26168.