Beginning with the first days of their courtship in 1780, Alexander Hamilton wrote hundreds of letters to Elizabeth Schuyler, later his wife. Some were mundane, about paying bills and children's lessons. Others were filled with politics or the law, frustrations balancing his accomplishments, or worrying about her health and welfare when they were apart. The most memorable ones are love letters in the truest sense, filled with emotion, longing, devotion, and love.
But none of those hundreds of other letters are as poignant as this one. Writing in the week before he was to face Col. Aaron Burr in a duel (or an "interview", as it was euphemistically called), Alexander hoped this was a letter that would never need to be delivered. On July 11, he and Col. Burr faced one another on the grass across the river from New York in Weehawken, NJ, and fired their pistols. Alexander was wounded; Burr was not. Bleeding profusely, partially paralyzed, and in great pain, Alexander was brought back across the river to the house of a friend. He lingered for another day before he finally died, early in the afternoon - 213 years ago today - surrounded by family and friends, and seemingly at peace. At his side was Eliza, so distraught with grief that friends feared for her sanity.
It's assumed that Eliza was given this letter to read soon after her husband's death, the way he'd instructed. (On the eve the duel, he also wrote a second letter to Eliza regarding a bequest to a cousin, and briefly repeating the same sentiments and explanations; both letters were delivered to her.) As can be imagined, this letter became one of Eliza's most treasured mementos, and from the paper's wear and staining, it was likely one that she turned to often for comfort. The contents are transcribed below.
"This letter, my very dear Eliza, will not be delivered to you, unless I shall first have terminated my earthly career; to begin, as I humbly hope from redeeming grace and divine mercy, a happy immortality.
"If it had been possible for me to have avoided the interview, my love for you and my precious children would have been alone a decisive motive. But it was not possible, without sacrifices which would have rendered me unworthy of your esteem. I need not tell you of the pangs I feel, from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. Nor could I dwell on the topic lest it should unman me.
"The consolations of Religion, my beloved, can alone support you; and these you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God and be comforted. With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world.
"Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.
July 4. 1804
Above: Letter from Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Hamilton, July 4, 1804, Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress.
Read more about Eliza Schuyler Hamilton and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.