“the relation of lover and mistress”

ANGELICA SCHUYLER CHURCH was the sister of Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth, usually called Eliza or Betsy. They were the two eldest of the eight children—Angelica one year older than Eliza— of soldier and statesman Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer both of whose families were wealthy Dutch landowners. The Schuylers lived in Albany where the girls were educated by their mother and private tutors.

Alexander Hamilton met Eliza in Morristown, New Jersey, the Continental Army’s winter quarters, in 1780 where she had come to stay with relatives. Hamilton was smitten; he wrote to his friend John Laurens in March 1780:

I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler. She is a good-hearted girl who, I am sure, will never play the termagant. Though not a genius, she has good sense enough to be agreeable, and though not a beauty she has fine black eyes, is rather handsome, and has every other requisite of the exterior to make a lover happy.

Hamilton married Eliza but he was also drawn to her sister Angelica whom he also met in 1780. Angelica was gay, witty, vivacious and interested in politics. In 1777 Angelica had married John Church, an Englishman who left for America under suspicious circumstances. Since her father did not approve of the match the pair eloped. Church made a fortune in the Revolution; after the war he and Angelica settled in London where John became a member of Parliament and Angelica established herself as a noted hostess. Angelica and Hamilton corresponded frequently during her stay abroad.

Angelica also made a friend of Thomas Jefferson who was serving as minister to France. Although they were on opposite sides of the political scene in America—Federalists vs Republicans—the two also corresponded. They had discussions about the appropriate roles for women, Jefferson expressing the view that “French ladies miscalculate their happiness when they wander from the true field of their influence into politics.” (Recall the exchanges Jefferson had had with Ann Willing Bingham on this subject here, here, and here. Angelica and Jefferson also corresponded in language that is quite intimate and flirtatious. They worked together to assist victims of the French Revolution.

Hamilton’s letters to Angelica in London were also intimate and flirtatious. Just after the Churches left in 1785 he wrote:

You have I fear taken a final leave of America and of those that love you here. I saw you depart from Philadelphia with peculiar uneasiness, as if foreboding you were not to return. My apprehensions are confirmed and unless I see you in Europe I expect not to see you again.
This is the impression we all have; judge the bitterness it gives to those who love you with the love of nature and to me who feel an attachment for you not less lively.

He wrote on December 6, 1787, thanking her for some information she had sent him.

. . . I can not . . . resist the strong desire I feel of thankg you for your invaluable letter by the last packet. Imagine, if you are able, the pleasure it gave me. Notwithstanding the compliment you pay to my eloquence its resources could give you but a feeble image of what I should wish to convey.
This you will tell me is poetical enough. I seldom write to a lady without fancying the relation of lover and mistress. It has a very inspiring effect. And in your case the dullest materials could not help feeling that propensity.

More about Hamilton and Angelica Church in the next post.

Sources for LETTER to John Laurens and Hamilton’s letters to Angelica: “From Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [3 August 1785] also Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [6 December 1787 Founders Online, National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 3, 1782–1786, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 619–620 and pp. 374–376.] The portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church, son Philip, and a servant is by John Trumbull (1785).


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