With the award-winning musical Hamilton selling out on Broadway, there has been a resurgence in interest about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. It is commonly known that Hamilton was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, a major author of the Federalist papers, and the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury. What many are surprised to learn is that Hamilton was actually born in the Caribbean, and lived right here in Christiansted, St. Croix for many of his formative years.
Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis in 1755* to Rachel Faucette Lavien and James A. Hamilton. However, Alexander Hamilton’s history on St. Croix really started back in 1745 when his mother first came to the island. Rachel Faucette was the daughter of physician and planter John Faucette, of French Huguenot ancestry, and Mary, and English woman born in Uppington (or Uppingham). In 1745, Rachel came to St. Croix with her mother to visit her sister and brother-in-law, Ann and James Lytton who owned a sugar plantation located about southwest of Christiansted at No. 9 Company’s Quarter, known as Estate Grange. Once on St. Croix, Mary Faucette quickly arranged Rachel’s unwilling marriage to Johan Michael Lavien, owner of a 75-acre cotton plantation at No. 12B Company’s Quarter.
Estate Grange, plantation owned by James Lytton until 1764, and location of the grave site of Rachel Faucette
Lavien was much older man than 16-year-old Rachel and was considered a cruel husband, so by early 1750 Rachel had left her husband and son, Peter. Lavien petitioned the Danish authorities to have his errant wife jailed for her flirtatious behavior and unwillingness to live with him as husband and wife. After several months of imprisonment in Fort Christiansvaern, Lavien had Rachel released, assuming she would have learned her lesson and everything would change for the better. Instead, Rachel left St. Croix and moved to St. Kitts. There, she met and fell in love with a 32-year old Scotsman named James Hamilton, who was working for the mercantile firm of Archibald Ingram in Basseterre. Rachel and James eventually moved to Rachel’s old home on Nevis, and the couple had two sons, James Jr. and Alexander.
Young Alexander Hamilton | Historic Drawing of Christiansted Harbor
James Hamilton was sent to St. Croix in May of 1765 to collect a debt on behalf of his employer, and Rachel and their two sons accompanied him. This move to St. Croix would mark the beginning of the most influential and formative years of young Alexander Hamilton’s life, and would be the site of several tragedies that would befall him. In January of 1766, just months after the family moved to St. Croix, James Hamilton abandoned Rachel and their two sons. While there remains a lot of speculation about the reason James left his family, Alexander Hamilton’s explanation many years later to his uncle was: “…my fathers affairs at a very early day went to wreck; so as to have rendered his situation during the greatest part of his life far from eligible. This state of things occasionned a separation between him and me, when I was very young, and threw me upon the bounty of my mothers relations, some of whom were then wealthy.”
With James gone, Rachel rented a two story house and supported her family by operating a small store on the first floor selling plantation supplies. The shop and residence were located in Christiansted at No. 34 Company Street (although there was a temporary move to No. 23 Company Street in 1767). Rachel’s store sold plantation staples such as meat, salt fish, flour, rice and apples, which she purchased from her landlord, Thomas Dipnall. The location of Rachel’s’ store and residence was just half a block from the Sunday Market, where the slaves would use their free Sundays to sell and trade their goods and wares. The goings on at Sunday Market, and in the neighboring Free Gut (an area where slaves who had earned their freedom resided), were an integral part of forming Alexander’s social and economical ideals.
A photo of Sunday Market Square, near the house in Christiansted where Hamilton grew up
The next tragedy struck Alexander Hamilton in 1768 when he and his mother contract yellow fever. While Alexander recovered, his mother succumbed to the fever and died on February 19, 1768, leaving the Hamilton brothers orphaned. After Rachel’s death, Alexander and his brother were adopted briefly by their cousin, Peter Lytton. Another tragic blow struck the Hamilton brothers just seventeen months later when Lytton committed suicide and the brothers were separated*; James became an apprentice for a local carpenter, while Alexander was adopted by Nevis merchant Thomas Stevens.
Nicholas Cruger of Beekman and Cruger | Image of sugar being transported on St. Croix
At the age of eleven, before his mother’s death, Alexander Hamilton was hired by Nicholas Cruger as a clerk at the local import-export mercantile firm of Beekman and Cruger. Alexander worked hard and gained invaluable experience working for Nicholas Cruger and his partner. Hamilton would later refer to his time as a clerk on St. Croix as: “the most useful part of his education.” An avid reader most of his life, and a self-educated young man, Alexander later developed an interest in writing. He wrote an essay that was published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette, offering a detailed account of a hurricane which had devastated Christiansted on August 30, 1772. Recognizing his diverse talents, Alexander’s employers and additional community supporters, provided him with funds to attend college on the North American mainland. Alexander Hamilton left St. Croix in the fall of 1772, eventually settling in New York just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. The rest, as they say, is history…
Text from the Hamilton letter published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette about the 1772 hurricane
For Crucians and true Hamilton historians, it is important for the world to know that his time on St. Croix became eight of the most influential and formative years of Alexander Hamilton’s life. Throughout his career, Hamilton certainly remembered and applied the lessons he had learned on St. Croix, most notably his understanding of international trade, the need for a standardized currency and a sound fiscal policy, and his abolitionist views of slavery. Today, you can still walk in the footsteps of young Alexander Hamilton here in Christiansted. If you are interested in learning more, we highly recommend taking a guided Christiansted walking tour that focuses on Alexander Hamilton. If you are feeling a little adventurous, you can also opt to geocache around historic downtown Christiansted and visit landmarks that were a part of the landscape when Alexander Hamilton lived on St. Croix on a multi-cache tour. In either case, enjoy the unique experience of touring the town that shaped the extraordinary life of Alexander Hamilton.
– Jennie Ogden, Editor
* Editor’s Note: There is some debate among historians as to the birth year of Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757), as well as whether or not both James Jr. and Alexander were adopted by Thomas Stevens, or just Alexander. The information included in this blog was taken from the majority opinions based on the research available.