Founding Teens: Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton’s Teenage Years (#relatable)

Teenage Alexander Hamilton was the modern day equivalent to that kid in your school who skipped two grades, thinks algebra II is easy, finishes his in-class essays twenty minutes earlier than everyone else, and finds ways to make it clear he’s better than you.  You know exactly who I’m talking about.

Assuming he was born in 1757 in Nevis (some historians also speculate he was born in 1755), Hamilton was only thirteen years old when he became a clerk at the Beekman-Cruger trading firm and was even left in charge of the firm for five months in 1771! I don’t know about you, but when I was thirteen, I was worried about who I was going to sit with at middle school lunch, not how to run a transatlantic company. But hey, Hamilton’s life wasn’t easy, either. Hamilton’s father, James Hamilton, ditched him and his brother, James Jr., and his mother, Rachel Faucette, when he was 11, and shortly after, his mother got sick and died. And you think you have problems?

As if being an orphan at thirteen wasn’t enough, Hamilton became an apprentice to a local carpenter and was taken in by a merchant named Thomas Stevens in Nevis. He became bros with Stevens’ son, Edward, and according to historical documents, the two even looked alike (#twins). While working and spending time with Edward, Alexander Hamilton shared his nerdy passion for reading and writing. Soon, he began to dream of a life off of his hot, crummy island where he could get a better education and leave the past behind.

In 1772, a terrible hurricane hit Christiansted and devastated the island. Hamilton wrote a letter to his estranged father, James, who he sometimes reached out to, describing the disastrous storm. A minister and journalist close to the young Hamilton read the letter and sent it to be published by the Royal Danish-American Gazette, a newspaper widely read across the islands. Impressed by the young boy’s indisputable talent with a quill, people on the island worked to create an 18th century version of GoFundMe to send Hamilton to North America where he could receive a better education. Did I mention that at this point he was fifteen years old?

So fifteen year-old Alexander Hamilton travelled by ship by himself to Boston and quickly moved to New York City. (Fifteen year-old me freaked out when my mom forgot to pick me up from school, but hey, that’s cool.) Hamilton became friends with his house-mate Hercules Mulligan in the city, and tried to prepare himself for college (at fifteen!) at the Elizabethtown Academy where intellectual William Livingston took him under his wing. He then applied to Princeton and requested an accelerated program but was denied (#relatable), so instead he attended King’s College, which is now Columbia University. Tough break—attending Columbia over Princeton. Although the College did not support the Patriot cause, Hamilton learned about the rebels at off-campus taverns and grew passionate about the movement, making his first public appearance at the Liberty Pole at King’s College on July 6th, 1774. Unfortunately, no one was there to livestream it.

When Alexander Hamilton was seventeen years old he wasn’t worrying about who he was taking to prom (although I bet he would’ve had an amazing promposal), but was instead busy writing his first political publication in opposition to Loyalist and Church of England clergyman Samuel Seabury. In response to Seabury’s attempt to spark fear in colonists at the prospect of separation from Great Britain, Hamilton wrote A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress and The Farmer Refuted. Although he argued for an independent nation of united colonies, Hamilton still supported an amicable relationship with England. Even when an angry mob of Patriots broke into the home of King’s College loyalist president Myles Cooper, Hamilton saved his butt by distracting the mob long enough for Cooper to escape.

After the Battle of Lexington in 1775, eighteen year-old Alexander Hamilton, along with his King’s College buddies, picked up their muskets and defended their country under Captain Fleming. He was part of a volunteer company known as the Hearts of Oak, sometimes identified as the Corsicans, and practiced drills while studying military tactics on his own. It didn’t take long for Hamilton to get a promotion (again, he’s that kid), and hence Hamilton’s grand military career commenced and continued well into his twenties and thirties.

So basically, teenage Alexander Hamilton was just like you and me. Ok, ok, so maybe his life was a little bit more epic than most teens’ lives today, but you have to admit he worked his way out under some pretty tough circumstances. #Lifegoals

Source: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton in the Uniform of the New York Artillery by Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887)

Hamilton’s childhood home in Nevis

Founding Teens: Marquis de Lafayette

The Marquis de Lafayette was born on September 6, 1757, in Château de Chavaniac (I dare you to try to pronounce that). He followed several generations of men in his family who had lost the game of primogeniture, or “the custom of passing all of a man’s resources to his eldest son.” But don’t feel too bad; the death of Lafayette’s uncle Rivière in 1761 ensured he’d be set for life because he was the sole heir to his fortune (#score). Lafayette had sadly lost his father, Roch-Gilbert, in 1759 while he was fighting what is known today as the Seven Years’ War. So at only two years old, Lafayette became a legitimate marquis. At that age, I was drawing on the walls with crayons.

But little Lafayette had his share of troubles; he rarely saw his mother, who lived elsewhere and returned to visit him only a few months at a time. This was actually common for French nobility. Lafayette was tutored by a man named Fayon who educated him in a way that kept tradition “among the Nobility of the Sword,” which meant that Lafayette was part of a multi-generational military family that received these kinds of privileges. But with his father and uncle’s deaths, Lafayette was sent to Paris for a different, more modern kind of education.

In 1768, eleven year-old Lafayette enrolled in the Collège du Plessis, a competitive secondary school under the dominion of the University of Paris (casual). Although most of his fellow peers were from less prestigious Nobility of the Robe, Lafayette enjoyed the camaraderie and quickly rose to become a leader amongst his classmates. He definitely had a seat at the lunch table. As a matter of fact, Lafayette used some of his fortune to dine out with his friends. (Eleven-year-old-me is jealous).

Even though Lafayette was Mr. Popular at his fancy new school, he still had dreams of military distinction and wanted to wear a uniform. So naturally, when he was twelve, his great-grandfather helped him secure him a place in the Black Musketeers, otherwise known as soldiers of the king’s guard (except they were more or less just for show and didn’t really do much “guarding”). Nonetheless, Lafayette was proud of his position and doubly stoked that participating in a review before the king counted as an excused school absence.

The four years spent at the Collège du Plessis made Lafayette a young man serious about his education. He even won a school prize for Latin rhetoric (it’s like the eighteenth century version of a spelling bee), but was super bummed when he didn’t win the university-wide stage of the competition. Lafayette was upset that other boys in the competition had taken the same Latin class several times while he had only taken it once. But his loss became his gain, as Latin gave young Lafayette a place to focus his energy. He learned moral and ethical principles from texts like Cicero’s “On Moral Duties” and Virgil’s pastorals and Georgics- You know, just some light twelve- year-old reading.

Just when it looked like he was on a roll, Lafayette lost his mother on April 3, 1770, when he was only twelve. As if it couldn’t get any worse, Lafayette’s grandfather died only a few weeks later (possibly from grief). But Lafayette was no orphan Annie! As a matter of fact, he was loaded. Let’s take a peak at what his income looked like as a twelve year-old: most years his annual money stream topped 100,000 livres. For comparison, a skilled worker with a regular job rarely earned more than 1,000 livres a year at the time. Young Lafayette was making it rain without lifting a finger. But he wasn’t interested in spending it on a new carriage ride to take the ladies for a spin. Instead, he looked to his friends, family, and advisers help him manage his fortune.

His family believed it was time to find a wife for him (I mean, he was almost an old man at sixteen!) and found Adrienne de Noailles, a fourteen year-old girl from one of France’s most distinguished families. Strategically, the two were a perfect fit. Lafayette’s family wanted him to marry into an esteemed family and Adrienne’s family wanted her to marry into a family that didn’t want her for her money.

Lafayette had a rough adjustment to married life and the new set of expectations set by his future in-laws. He was forced to leave his school and its classical curriculum and began attending the Académie de Versailles, which taught manners to children of court nobility. There, he learned to ride a horse like an officer and dance in court which apparently could “make or break a man at court.” That’s pretty much what high school is like today, right? I almost forgot to mention that on April 7, 1773, Lafayette was named lieutenant in the mounted regiment of the French army known as the Noailles Dragoons, thanks to his in-laws.

A year later, sixteen year-old Lafayette married fourteen year-old Adrienne de Noailles in the saddest wedding of the century. Guests described him as being “cold” and “lifeless.” Despite his background, he was not suited to the dissipated, aristocratic lifestyle. While other young men liked to drink, gamble over cards and horses, Lafayette wasn’t feeling it. He was looking for a nobler cause.

Around 1775, all of France fell in love with the idealistic Rebel cause in the United States, even though they were governed by a monarchy. Lafayette, in particular, was moved by “the desire to right the wrongs of the last war, to fight the English and to fly to the aid of the Americans.” So he and his buddies, Ségur and Noailles, made a pact in October, pledging to join General Washington’s army together. Lafayette, barely nineteen years old, claimed that he could bring more to the table than pure devotion. He could also make noise about the cause so that the French public would know what was happening. Oh yeah, and he could donate boatloads of money (literally).  Lafayette asked the King for a senior military rank and was granted the rank of Major General.

Lafayette spent a whopping 112,000 livres on a ship called La Victoire (“Victory”) and left for America when Adrienne was expecting their second child. Her dad was pretty mad and wrote to Louis XVI who forbade Lafayette to leave France but it was too late, the ship had already set sail. The boat ride there kind of sucked and he, along with a bunch of the other men on the ship, became very ill. When he arrived in America, however, he wrote excitedly to Adrienne that he felt completely at home, which he never felt back in Paris. His rank as Marquis impressed his new American hosts. The American Revolution gave Lafayette, a young man who seemingly had everything, a newfound purpose in life. He felt like he was missing out on a true calling (FOMO), and the Rebel cause provided him with this long sought sense of purpose.

After a rocky start to the Franco-American relationship, Congress wanted France’s help on their terms. And Lafayette had to wait and wade through bureaucracy for the Americans to recognize his military rank. And Congress told him he wouldn’t get paid. Luckily, Lafayette had enough money to last him a lifetime and just wanted military prestige, so he happily swiped right on the Revolution.

Soon thereafter, Lafayette met the one. The only. George Washington. He was basically starstruck when he spotted him across a crowded room at the City Tavern. He was Lafayette’s #goals. But Washington was not so keen on Lafayette, or the French in general. He believed that Lafayette’s rank was a superficial honorary title and doubted his military experience yet Lafayette expected a division of troops to command. Lafayette didn’t seem to notice any of Washington’s disapproval. He moved to Washington’s Bucks County encampment and worked with the General, exiting his teenage years by travelling with the army and fighting in the American Revolution. Très cool!


Source: The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio

Lafayette by J. Fielding, Pater-noster Row (London), 1785

Lafayette as a lieutenant general, in 1791. Portrait by Joseph-Désiré Court.

Founding Teens: Aaron Burr

It’s time to talk about Aaron Burr. Before you roll your eyes and click out of this browser, consider: Burr wasn’t always known as the idiot who killed our beloved Hamilton. You’ll be surprised to know he was considered a pretty special kid and young man. Let’s take a look.

Aaron Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 6, 1756, which puts him around the same age as Alexander Hamilton. His mother, Esther, wrote in her journal that he arrived unexpectedly and immediate family were not there for his birth. Aaron’s father, Aaron Burr Sr., was a pretty well-known guy, as he had been educated at Yale and then became the president of the College of New Jersey, a.k.a. Princeton. Burr Jr. also had a sister, Sally, who was two years older than he. Sally was the better behaved one, as their mother described Aaron as “a little dirty noisy boy” who was often physically punished for his misbehavior.

Even though he may have been mischievous (aren’t most kids, anyway?), Esther thought he was a boy marked for a special destiny because he survived two major illnesses: the first one he fought at only eight months old! The next one he may have caught from his father, who fell ill and died shortly after on September 23rd, 1757. Little Burr survived and Esther’s father, the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, replaced Burr Sr. as the president of the college. But another illness made the rounds and he succumbed to smallpox in March of 1758. As if that wasn’t enough for young Burr to handle, his mother passed away from illness a month later on April 7, 1758. But that’s not all! Esther’s mother, Sarah Edwards, came to pick up Sally and Aaron and collect all of their belongings, but soon died of dysentery. Makes you pretty thankful for antibiotics and clean water, right?

So young Sally and Aaron were now orphans, taken in by a family friend named Dr. William Shippen. They were then placed under the guardianship of their Uncle, Timothy Edwards, who was Esther’s young brother (#thanksfam). Unlike Sally and Aaron’s small, close-knit family, their new relatives were a large clan. But hey, at least they had a roof over their heads, right? So Aaron spent his first two years there in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and then spent the rest of his early years in Elizabethtown, New Jersey.

Edwards was a stickler for both the academic and religious education of children, so he hired a Princeton graduate, Tapping Reve, to supervise the instruction of both Aaron and Sally. Aaron was then enrolled at the local Presbyterian academy at just seven years old. I guess Kindergarten was full? But get this: while Burr was in Elizabethtown, he may have crossed paths with no other than Alexander Hamilton. Crazy, right? They both spent time there as teenagers in 1773, and even though Burr was living in Princeton at the time, he regularly visited Elizabethtown. Kind of makes you wonder what would’ve happened if they had become friends there?

Burr, being the total genius kid he was, submitted an application to the College of New Jersey (Princeton) at eleven years old. Eleven years old. Before you start feeling inadequate, though, remember that colonial colleges were more like today’s preparatory schools and had student bodies of all different ages. Yet even though Burr had all of the academic qualifications to get into the school, they rejected him because they thought he was still too young. So, naturally, like most people do when they’re rejected (not), he spent the next two years studying the college curriculum on his own. Casual. In 1769, he reapplied for examination and requested to enter as a junior. The college wanted the last word, however, and admitted him as a sophomore. At thirteen, however, he was still a good four years younger than his peers, and was given the nickname “Little Burr.”

Although he was little, Burr became a giant brain at college, and everyday he, along with his classmates, were required to recite in geography, mathematics, and history. Yikes! They were also expected to compose and memorize an oration every other week. No big deal. Burr studied up to eighteen hours a day because- who needs sleep? He was even forced to stay in his own room during long study periods and could only go outside for ten minutes at a time. Talk about going stir-crazy.

Princeton wasn’t all that strict, however, and it “embraced the idea of ‘liberty’ far more readily than other institutions.” The students had more freedom to choose what they wanted to study. When they weren’t prisoners to studying in their rooms, they often engaged in “boyish pranks,” including “stealing a plump fat hen” from the neighborhood, or even parading prostitutes across the campus to upset the faculty! The most important socializing was in the clubs, however. At the time there were two clubs: the American Whig Society and the Cliosophic Society. Burr unusually belonged to both; first he was a part of the Whig Society but then switched over to the Clios.

These clubs were an important part of the college experience. They offered male camaraderie and competition, as well as made good character and created male bonds. There’s even evidence that suggests these clubs laid the foundation for later political parties. Pretty cool, right? According to his friends, Burr was a fairly popular guy, too. He served as president of the Cliosophic club and humorously sat in an armchair that dwarfed his tiny body. A key part of the clubs was banter, which helped Burr and his friends as they went off to war and launched political careers.

In 1772, Burr gave an oration to his classmates, where he argued that “men of action” were a “political elect” who were “divinely called and naturally gifted leaders of society” and “deserved to occupy the public stage.” He stated that these men “combined noble ambition with discretion” and that they did “everything to avoid the stigma of dishonor,” even hiding their faults from the public. Arguably the most interesting part of the oration was the end, which discussed dueling. Foreshadow much? He spoke of a parable about Colonel Cardiner who “refused to engage in a duel with a man who had challenged him on a trivial matter.” Pretty ironic, right? According to Burr, Gardiner’s relationship with God and his sense of honor are what held him back from the “senseless duel.” Burr probably should have remembered this story when…nevermind!

In 1772, his mind filled with “heroic ideals and the duty of leadership,” he considered following his father’s footsteps and entering the ministry. He spent an extra year at Princeton and underwent difficult theological training with the Presbyterian divine Joseph Bellamy. Yet after six months, Burr decided to study law instead, and moved to Connecticut.

News of Boston colonial protests reached Burr and once he heard of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, he joined friends and his step-brother, Mathias Ogden, to travel to Boston to sign up for the Continental army. He participated in Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Canada, where he impressed Arnold who sent him to accompany General Richard Montgomery on his journey to Quebec. One of the last major accomplishments of Burr’s teenage life was retrieving the General’s corpse after he was killed in the Battle of Quebec returning it home safely for a proper burial. I can’t even get a text back from my friends.

So, although Aaron Burr is known today as more of a “fallen angel” and the arch nemesis of Alexander Hamilton, this wasn’t always the case. Burr was a genius in his own right and dedicated to the cause of Revolution as a teen. Makes you see him kind of differently, right?

Source: Fallen Founder by Nancy Isenberg

Portrait of Aaron Burr

Founding Teens: The Schuyler Sisters

Born and raised in Albany New York to super-rich Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler, the Schuyler sisters were basically the eighteenth-century Kardashians.

Angelica, the oldest child of ten, was born on February 20th, 1756, and is known as the outgoing sister. Smart and beautiful, Angelica was often in the company of royalty and famous politicians. Many of the founding fathers, in fact, asked for her opinion on some important matters.

Eliza was only one year younger than Angelica, but acted quite differently from her older sis. While Angelica was more extroverted (and maybe even a little bit of a flirt), Eliza didn’t like the same kind of attention. Eliza was loyal to her family and friends and exhibited more modest behavior. She wasn’t about to sneak out the back window and run off to party with Jonathan the ninth-grade dropout. Instead, you could find Eliza sewing in the Schuyler mansion, and sometimes if she was feeling a little wild she went out back to the garden and took care of the plants. She was a woman known for her warmth and strong values.

But don’t forget Margarita (a.k.a. Peggy), the third Schuyler sister! She was also a beautiful woman who was known not only for her looks but her humor and sarcasm. Hamilton even wrote a piece called “The way to get him for the benefit of all single ladies who desire to be married” with Peggy as the main character! She got married to another really rich dude named Stephen Van Rensselaer who came from a wealthy Dutch family. Guess how he made his cash? He rented out his family’s land to farmers, which raked up enough to be worth over $101 billion if he was alive today. Yes, you heard me right, $101 billion. He wasn’t setting up lemonade stands on Saturday afternoons, if you know what I mean.

The Schuyler sisters had a very comfortable upbringing, as their father was an important military leader who fought in the French and Indian War who later became a general during the American Revolution. In 1780 he even became a U.S. Senator, which made him a very powerful person to know. The Schuyler name was a well known name…maybe even more so than “Kardashian!”

Source: The Schuyler Sisters by Monika Davies

pastel on paper 
Source: Art Inventories Catalog, Smithsonian American Art Museums

Portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by James Sharples

Source: WikiWand

Miniature Portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church by Samuel Shelley