A Biography of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)

An unlikely launching pad (1755-1768)

"I consider Napoleon, Fox, and Hamilton the three greatest men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation the first place to Hamilton. He divined Europe." --Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

Before earning such a glowing acclamation from the French statesman, Alexander Hamilton would have a rocky road to travel. He was most likely born on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies in 1755. The exact date of his birth is unknown, and even his year of birth is an item of dispute among scholars. The youngest of two illegitimate sons born to Rachel Faucett Lavien, a Huguenot, and James Hamilton, an irresponsible but charming Scottish merchant, Alexander had no birth certificate nor baptismal record to track his early journey. What remains in print is a single document stating his age at 13 in 1768 when his mother died. What is known, however, is that Alexander, his brother James, and their mother, who had been abandoned by their undependable father in 1765 on St. Croix, lived on the bottom rung of white society on the mercilessly stratified island.

Having to fend for herself and her two children after James left, Rachel opened a store, and employed her youngest son as clerk and bookkeeper. It was in his mother's store that Hamilton got his first taste of finance; it was also in that high-visibility capacity that he probably became the target of malicious whispers, or perhaps even outward disdain from the townspeople he encountered. Rachel's husband, who had had her imprisoned in Christiansted some years before for adultery, had posted a public summons for her to appear before a divorce court, declaring her a whore who had given birth to illegitimate children. After Rachel's death from yellow fever, her husband then sued for all her assets, depriving her "whore children" of any benefit her meager belongings might bring.

That Hamilton frowned upon as a youngster can be reasonably assumed by his behavior later in life: primarily his preoccupation with matters of honor and character, and his often visceral reactions to criticism aimed at him. He was also painfully aware that, having no money, family connections, or inherited prestige, nothing would be handed to him. He would have to work harder and excel beyond everyone else in order to make a name for himself, which is what he resolved to do early on. However, the harsh and shameful circumstances of his childhood haunted Hamilton throughout his life; and even long after he had proved himself a brave soldier and a brilliant statesman, the whispering would continue.