Complex, passionate, brilliant, flawedAlexander Hamilton comes alive in this exciting YA biography by Martha Brockenbrough.
He was born out of wedlock on a small island in the West Indies and orphaned as a teenager. From those inauspicious circumstances, he rose to a position of power and influence in colonial America.
Discover this founding father's incredible true story: his brilliant scholarship and military career; his groundbreaking and enduring policy, which shapes American government today; his salacious and scandalous personal life; his heartrending end.
Richly informed by Hamilton's own writing, with archival artwork and new illustrations, this is an in-depth biography of an extraordinary man.
|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
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'The SUBJECT of the MOST HUMILIATING CRITICISM'
ON THE LAST NIGHT OF August in 1772, as twilight descended on the island of Saint Croix, Alexander Hamilton thought he was going to die. He was still a boy, and he wanted to become so much more. He wanted to matter to the world. He wanted to be a man of courage and honor. He wanted to love and be loved. Instead, bracing himself against the winds of a hurricane, he waited for the blow that would end it all.
The storm tore homes and buildings off their foundations and sent wooden beams flying. It tossed huge stones a hundred yards and leveled a three-foot-thick wall around the storehouse of the king. And it wasn't just the wind. There were waves, too, huge ones more than seventy feet above their normal size. They flung ships a hundred yards ashore. Thunder boomed, and lightning lashed the sky, which spattered Alexander with torrents of salty rain. The air itself reeked of gunpowder and sulfur.
When the storm's eye opened over the island, the wind let up, but in an hour it returned with a vengeance from the southwest. The storm felt otherworldly in its power, as if Death himself had wrapped a cloak around the sun and pounded the planet off its axis with his scythe. All around Alexander, entire families ran screaming through the streets. Earthquakes and tidal waves punished the surrounding islands. No one had seen anything like it.
Alexander expected that he and everything around him would be obliterated at any moment.
Even after the storm ended, the suffering did not. Mangled bodies lay all around. Many survivors had grievous injuries. Homes and businesses had gone to wreck, and hungry children clung to the knees of their weeping mothers. There was no food. No shelter. There wasn't even good water to drink; the storm had made it too salty. Alexander's heart bled for these women he could not help. But what did he have to offer? He was poor himself. Fixing this was beyond his abilities.
He sought comfort in church a week after the storm, and a man named Hugh Knox stood to give a sermon. Alexander knew Knox well. He'd helped Alexander publish his first poems and had given him access to his library. Now, inside the church, Knox's words about God soothed and inspired Alexander. On the wings of this divine energy, Alexander picked up his pen and wrote his heart out to his father, describing the destruction and the aftermath, and what these things signified for humanity.
Even if it wasn't enough to bring back his father, the letter was the best thing he'd ever written. It became a turning point in a life that had been unlucky from the start.
Seventeen Years Earlier, Alexander had been born on Nevis, a steeply canted volcanic island not far from Saint Croix. His birth was so unremarkable that no record survived. But it took place on January 11, 1755, in a house on the main street of Charlestown, the island's capital. The house gave his family a view of the blue-green Caribbean Sea pounding sandy beaches made of pulverized coral and volcanic rock, along with all the commotion of trade in the harbor.
Nevis was one of the sugar islands of the West Indies, which during Alexander's time played a major role in the world's economy. Everybody wanted sugar. Fortunes were made trading it. A lot of people grew to depend on it, and the sugar from Nevis was the sweetest of all, even as it required the work and suffering of vast numbers of enslaved Africans.
Nevis was a hard place for Alexander to grow up. The slave trade was grotesque, brutal, and deadly. Alexander hated it. And while he didn't have the catastrophic misfortune of being born or forced into slavery, his parents weren't married to each other. So, his mother was the subject of gossip, he and his brother were called names, and Alexander couldn't go to the church school, as other children did.
The subject of his birth humiliated him. One man was largely to blame for Alexander's suffering on this front. Johann Michael Lavien was a merchant who'd come to Saint Croix dressed in silk clothing with gold buttons and dreaming of making a fortune as a sugar plantation owner. He took a liking to Alexander's mother, Rachel Fawcett, who was on Saint Croix visiting wealthy relatives who lived a mile and a half southwest of the island's capital, Christiansted.
Rachel's mother, fooled by the glitter, thought Lavien would make a good match for her daughter, Alexander later said. Rachel hadn't wanted to marry Lavien. She was a teenager: beautiful, brilliant, and in possession of a small fortune she'd inherited from her father.
Their marriage was miserable. Lavien was at least twelve years older, and he'd been nothing more than a fortune hunter. A poor businessman, he ran through Rachel's money. By 1750, Rachel had left Lavien and their son, Peter. Lavien was furious. She'd left him to the work and expense of raising their son, and she'd moved on with other men.
To punish her, he turned to the legal system. Danish law said a woman who'd twice committed adultery could be jailed. Rachel, found guilty, was thrown into a 130-square-foot cell with a floor made of brick. It wasn't the dungeon authorities forced enslaved people into, but it was a dismal spot nonetheless, mostly inhabited by drunks, thieves, and other lowlifes. For months, she lived in that tiny room, surviving on boiled cornmeal mush and fish, with nothing more than a glimpse of the wharf and the eastern end of cobble-stoned King Street through the bars on her windows.
Lavien still held out hope that this punishment would force her back into submission. Instead, she fled to the nearby island of Saint Kitts. She supported herself by sewing and hiring out the labor of the enslaved people she'd inherited from her father. It was a drop down from the comfortable spot she'd had as the daughter of a doctor, but she was resourceful and smart, and she managed.
Before long, she paired off with a thirty-two-year-old Scotsman named James Hamilton. His upbringing was the stuff of fairy tales. He'd grown up in a Scottish castle called the Grange, southwest of Glasgow. His father was a laird whose estate was large and beautiful. As the fourth son, though, James wasn't in any position to inherit. Instead, he had to make his own way in the world.
Unfortunately, he wasn't all that smart — nor was he a particularly diligent worker. After he failed to distinguish himself in a textile apprenticeship set up by an older brother, he went to Nevis, thinking he could make a fortune in sugar. Returning triumphant from abroad, some of Europe's upper crust had bought splendid estates of their own. Of course, many people who had hoped to turn sugar into gold were crushed by failure and debt. Some never made it home again.
James and Rachel fell in love in the early 1750s, when he worked for a mercantile firm on Saint Kitts. They had two sons together, James Jr. and then Alexander, who was named for his paternal grandfather. Where they could, James and Rachel passed themselves off as a married couple, and for a while, the family lived on Nevis, surrounded by blue water rich with lobster and other delicacies. Alexander and his brother could climb through lush jungles that rose up the steep slopes of the volcano, surrounded by snowy egrets, monkeys, mongooses, and other tropical creatures.
It wasn't quite paradise, though. In many ways, the landscape itself was a reminder that nothing was solid underfoot. The terrain was pimpled with sulfurous, undrinkable hot springs and steaming fumaroles. Earthquakes, tidal waves, and massive storms could strike at random. It could be rough in other ways, too. Pirates and privateers caroused at night in taverns and brothels. And sometimes there were bloody duels, fought by outlaws and would-be aristocrats alike.
The smallest insult could put a man in a mood for a deadly challenge. One famous duel happened after the victim called his shooter "an impertinent puppy." These duels fascinated Alexander. They were fights for honor, and honor was everything.
That was the sort of man Alexander decided to be — one with honor worth defending. He'd also be educated, even if he couldn't go to a regular school. It didn't matter if people made fun of him for being a good student, or for being skinny and small. He'd show everyone what he was really made of.
From his mother, he learned fluent French. He also took lessons from Jewish people from Spain and Portugal, starting young enough that he had to stand on the table next to his teacher when he recited the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. He had thirty-four books, a huge collection, which most likely included titles by Machiavelli, Plutarch, and Alexander Pope. From these, he learned political philosophy, history, and the art of writing.
When he was still a teenager, he published his first poems, which were about girls and the glories of heaven, and were inspired by the work of Alexander Pope. Here are two stanzas of "The Soul ascending into Bliss, In humble imitation of Popes Dying Christian to his Soul," which ran in the Royal Danish American Gazette in 1772.
HARK! HARK! A VOICE FROM YONDER SKY, METHINKS I HEAR MY SAVIOUR CRY, COME GENTLE SPIRIT COME AWAY, COME TO THY LORD WITHOUT DELAY; FOR THEE THE GATES OF BLISS UNBAR'D THY CONSTANT VIRTUE TO REWARD.
I COME OH LORD! I MOUNT, I FLY, ON RAPID WINGS I CLEAVE THE SKY; STRETCH OUT THINE ARM AND AID MY FLIGHT; FOR OH! I LONG TO GAIN THAT HEIGHT, WHERE ALL CELESTIAL BEINGS SING ETERNAL PRAISES TO THEIR KING.
AS MUCH AS HE ENJOYED WRITING ABOUT heaven, he'd seen plenty of its opposite. If you weren't a rich plantation owner, life in the sugar islands could be brutal, especially for the enslaved people who'd been stolen from their homes, crammed into the bellies of overcrowded ships, and then displayed in marketplaces for buyers to examine as though they were animals or pieces of furniture.
His own grandfather had been a physician inspecting the human wares at those auctions, and Alexander witnessed the brutality of these markets regularly. Even though he and his brother were masters themselves of a boy named Ajax, Alexander grew up hating slavery. Enslaved Africans worked naked in the fields under a scorching sun, trying to coax cane out of the volcanic slopes. They also worked in boiling-hot sugar factories, where their lives and limbs were constantly at risk. To be enslaved in the sugar islands was essentially a death sentence, and millions of human beings suffered it.
On Nevis, enslaved people outnumbered white people by at least eight to one. On other islands, the ratio was even higher. Alexander and the rest of the white population lived in constant fear of uprisings, and many tried to terrorize enslaved people into submission through brutal punishments for small infractions — and worse for larger acts of resistance.
Alexander crossed paths with enslaved people throughout his childhood. As an older boy, he lived a half block from the Sunday market in Christiansted, where enslaved people came each week, spread their wares beneath trees, and sold a variety of food, candles, scarves, and cloth to each other.
His spot of relative privilege offered only so much protection. Life was difficult and could turn disastrous at any moment, as it did when Alexander was four. His mother's estranged husband, Johann Lavien, had continued to founder as a businessman. Moneylenders had seized his plantation, and he was reduced to being the overseer of someone else's. He had to rent out his enslaved people to get by. But romance had found him, and he was living with a woman who wanted him to marry her. To do this, he'd need a formal divorce from Rachel. This was expensive and hard to get, which is why they'd never pursued one.
Lavien sent a court summons that went to an address on Saint Croix, where Rachel hadn't lived for nine years. She never received it and wasn't there to defend herself against the charges.
The court papers were scorching. "She has shown herself to be shameless, rude, and ungodly, as she has completely forgotten her duty and let husband and child alone, and instead given herself up to whoring with everyone, which things the plaintiff says are so well known that her own family and friends must hate her for it."
Lavien didn't soften the language for Alexander and his brother James. He called them "whore-children."
Rachel was found at fault. As part of the divorce decree, Lavien could marry again. It didn't matter that he was living with another woman himself and was therefore guilty of the same things Rachel was. She was forbidden to remarry. This restriction wasn't from spite alone; it was also about money. It meant Alexander and James were officially branded as illegitimate, so that when Rachel died, all of the few things their mother had would go to their half brother, Peter — her one legitimate child under the law.
James, Rachel, and the boys moved back to Christiansted in May 1765. James had found work, but it was a terrible place for Rachel to live. She was known there as a bigamist and an adulterer. Under the weight of this shame, their long-term relationship collapsed. By July, James and Rachel had separated. In January 1766, Alexander's father went to Saint Kitts to collect a debt.
He never came back. Nor did he send money to support the boys. Alexander charitably figured his father could not afford to support them after his business dealings failed.
Family members helped where they could. Rachel's sister, Ann Lytton, had a wealthy husband, who pitched in on rent for Rachel and the boys. He even bought the family six walnut chairs with leather seats.
But there was only so much the Lyttons could do. Their son James Jr. had botched a business venture in 1764. Rather than face the consequences, he'd stolen twentytwo enslaved people and the family schooner and escaped to the Carolinas to start over. His devastated parents had sold their large stone house, which was called the Grange, just like James Hamilton's ancestral home. Gone were the sugar mill, the boiling house that produced molasses and brown sugar, and the quarters for the enslaved people who worked the land. The only thing they kept from the Grange was a small bit of earth that held the bones of their ancestors. The next year, Ann Lytton died.
Alexander, his mother, and his brother moved into a two-story wood-and-stone building on Company Street. The family occupied the top floor; on the lower one, Rachel ran a small grocery that provided supplies to plantations: pork, beef, salted fish, rice, flour, and apples. Alexander, always great at math, kept the books for his mother.
His work impressed her suppliers at a trading company called Beekman and Cruger. Thanks to Alexander, the family managed. They didn't have much: a half dozen silver spoons, seven silver teaspoons, fourteen porcelain plates, two porcelain bowls, a bed covered with a feather comforter, and the chairs from Uncle James. But, along with Alexander's treasured books, it was enough.
In February 1768, though, just after Alexander turned thirteen, Rachel grew violently ill, probably with yellow fever, an often-deadly virus that affects the liver and kidneys and makes the skin and eyes turn yellow from jaundice. After a week, they summoned a doctor, who bled her veins and applied an alcohol compress for her headache, medicine that made her vomit, and provided an herb called valerian that caused terrible gas. Alexander got sick, too. The doctor drained some of Alexander's blood and forced fluid into his lower bowel through the rectum. For the rest of his life, he suffered kidney ailments.
Alexander and his mother struggled side by side in the family's only bed. He was next to her when she died on the nineteenth of February. And even though it was nine in the evening when she passed away, the financial vultures arrived an hour later, locking away her assets to ensure they would go to her legal heir. They left only a few things unsealed so they could be used to prepare her for burial: the chairs, two tables, and two bowls for washing.
Alexander and his brother were effectively orphans, and so poor that a judge in town gave them money to buy shoes and black veils to wear to their mother's funeral. She was buried the next day in the family cemetery.
Then came the bills, including ones for the unhelpful medical care. The probate court — the officers of which had swooped in the night of her death — decided to consider three possible heirs to inherit her meager belongings. Two were Alexander and his brother. The third was their half brother, Peter. The process dragged on for a year. The court gave the entire estate — including Alexander's precious books — to Peter. The paperwork called Alexander and James "obscene children" born into "whoredom."
Excerpted from "Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary"
Copyright © 2017 Martha Brockenbrough.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 'The subject of the most humiliating criticism' xii
Chapter 2 A Son of Liberty 28
Chapter 3 'It's a collegian!' 44
Chapter 4 Love, War, and Glory's Price 71
Chapter 5 'All for love' 109
Chapter 6 'I must tell you, Sir, you treat me with disrespect' 130
Chapter 7 'Rocking the cradle and … fleecing my neighbours' 162
Chapter 8 The Federalist 186
Chapter 9 Mr. Secretary 214
Chapter 10 Genius and Fool 284
Chapter 11 Hamilton's Heart 290
Chapter 12 'This is a mortal wound' 292
Hamilton's Family 328
Allies & Enemies $
Time Line $
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love the book Alexander Hamilton Revolutionary. I choses this book because of the play and because i’m into history. But now i know that his life was very exciting and super interesting. This book is telling you about one man's life throughout 1755 all the way to 1801. As he moves to the 13 colonies he tries to balance his love life with his ampact and place in the war. This is a nonfiction book written by Martha Brockenbrough about Alexander Hamilton's life, the revolutionary war, and politics. This book was written by Martha Brockenbrough.