In the way of famous men, there are many portraits of Alexander Hamilton, making it easy to visualize what he must have looked like. In comparison, there are only a handful of Eliza, and only one of her as a younger women.
But beyond Alexander and Eliza, there are even fewer surviving paintings of their extended family. Given the circumstances of Alexander's family, it's not surprising that no known images of his mother or father exist, but the senior Schuylers weren't very well-represented, either: there's only one portrait of Eliza's mother Catherine Schuyler, two of her father General Philip Schuyler, and none of Eliza and her many siblings as children.
Nor did Eliza and Alexander have their own much-loved children drawn or painted as children. Aside from a few tantalizingly brief descriptions of their appearances in letters, we don't know today if their first son Philip* truly was as handsome as everyone claimed, or if their daughter Angelica favored her namesake aunt. Even as adults, the Hamilton children are woefully missing from the visual record.
While chasing down another research rabbit-hole this weekend, however, I came across this wonderful portrait of John Church Hamilton (1792-1882). Despite all the searches I've done about the Hamiltons, this painting had never before turned up, but I'm so glad it did. John Church Hamilton was the fourth son of Eliza and Alexander. Named in honor of Angelica's husband John Barker Church (they returned the complement by naming one of their sons Alexander Hamilton Church), John Church was only eleven when Alexander died following the duel with Aaron Burr in 1804.
John Church graduated from Columbia College - the same university attended by his father and older brothers - in 1809, and also like his father, he studied law, and served in the United States Army during the War of 1812. He was the Hamilton son most closely tied to preserving his father's history and legacy, and not only did he edit and publish his father's papers in The Works of Alexander Hamilton: Containing His Correspondence, and His Political and Official Writings, Exclusive of the Federalist (a seven-volume endeavor), but he also wrote the comprehensive biography of his father and his times that required another seven volumes. This was the biography that Eliza had so desired to have written; unfortunately, she died before its completion.
The artist of this portrait, Henry Inman (1801-1846) was one of the most skilled and popular portraitists working in New York City in the first half of the 19thc. Although this painting is not much larger than a miniature (8 1/4" x 6 3/4", or smaller than a sheet of notebook paper), Inman captures John Church as a dignified young New York gentleman. What I find most fascinating is how his face is such a combination of his parents' features: Eliza's dark hair and eyes, with Alexander's mouth and nose. A handsome fellow indeed!
* There is a drawing from a later date that floats around the internet - and even appears in Ron Chernow's "Hamilton" biography - purporting to be of Philip; it's not him, but his younger brother William.
Portrait of John Church Hamilton by Henry Inman, painted between 1825 - 1830, Detroit Institute of Arts.
Read more about Eliza Schuyler Hamilton and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.