(Number) 10 Things Hamilton Got Wrong
The historical hits taken by the Broadway hit
It is worth note to specify that Lin Manuel Miranda worked very long and hard on his incredible musical. He studied the life of not only the treasury secretary but everyone from around him as well. There were of course some royalties taken by Miranda as he turned the life of Alexander Hamilton into a 3 hour dramatic retelling. I am of course not taking away anything from this once in a century piece of art. But I like history, so I'm gonna point out some things he got wrong. And I like musicals so I'm gonna do it following the tune of the ten duel commandments.
Number 1: Alexander Hamilton and friends did not regularly communicate through song and dance. Not to say they did not sing and dance. In fact, like the musical claims, Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton actually did meet at a winter’s ball, which brings me to
Number 2: Angelica Schuyler was actually married before her younger sister. Lin Manuel Miranda altered this fact in his retelling of the story to add some more drama to the stage. It wouldn’t have been as interesting if there were only 2 women interested in Alexander, but three makes it spicy. And to be fair, if I were writing a part that I would ultimately perform 8 times a week, I’d probably have my character kiss two beautiful women too. Alexander and Angelica actually did have an interesting relationship. While Angelica was in England, they would send letters to each other very often. Most of Alexander’s writings would be read by his wife before getting sent out, including a lot of his letters to Angelica. However, after they died, Eliza was looking through some of her husband’s belongings where she found a stack of letters that she never read. These letters were addressed to Angelica, and hinted towards a possible sexual relationship between the two. It has never been confirmed, but it is very likely that something happened between them.
Number 3: They spoke a lot differently. The English language hasn’t changed much since the 1700’s, but the way it is spoken has changed dramatically. The sentence, “Man openly campaigns against me, talkin' bout "I look forward to our partnership"” never would have been spoken in 1800. Instead, Jefferson would have said something like, “Mr. Burr, I am afraid that your folly in challenging my bid for the presidency has not awarded you any favor in my eyes”. Or it would be something like that, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Trying to read some of these thousands of pages of Alexander Hamilton’s writings is a difficult task for someone who grew up thinking 'I'm up' and 'I'm down' both somehow mean the same thing.
Number 4: In the musical, the vital information leading to the continental victory at Yorktown was provided by tailor’s apprentice Hercules Mulligan. It is well known that Hercules Mulligan was a spy for Washington’s army, able to collect information from British soldiers who entered his shop. One of his most famous contributions occurred when one of those soldiers made him aware of an attempt to capture George Washington. He quickly found the sons of liberty and told them of the news, allowing them time to change plans and avoid having their General captured. However, Mulligan was not the man who told the marquis de Lafayette about General Cornwallis’ plans at Yorktown. It was actually a slave named James Armistead, whose master allowed him to enter the army. He became close with General Cornwallis and famous traitor Benedict Arnold, learned of their plans and relayed them to the marquis.
5: The duel between John Laurens and Charles Lee. While a lot of the details are way off, Miranda did nail the main points of the conflict. John Laurens did challenge General Lee to the duel because he had been speaking ill of General Washington. Again, he was speaking and not singing. I don’t know where Miranda got this assumption that the founding fathers sang everything. Anyway, in the musical, John Laurens brought Alexander Hamilton as his second. This is true. Hamilton served as Laurens’ second and saw the whole thing. However, Aaron Burr did not serve as second to General Lee. Instead, the General brought Major Evan Edwards to aid him in the conflict. I get that move from Miranda though. Bringing in a whole new character for just something small would have been impossible. It’s not like they had someone outside of the main cast play General Lee.
The second big difference between real life and Miranda’s version is in the end of the duel. Miranda claims that Lee was shot, Burr carried him off to the side, Washington showed up, got mad and Lee left with a doctor. Not what happened. The duel was fought away from the military camp because these men were not stupid. Okay, they were a little stupid for dueling in the first place, but that’s a whole different thing. After they fired, Laurens thought that he missed and was preparing to fire again. Lee interrupted him saying that he was hit. They talked about what to do next and decided that they should fire again. Hamilton and Edwards did not agree. Here’s basically the way that went down translated into current English.
Lee- “Oww, that hurt. But it didn’t hurt a lot. Let’s keep going.”
Laurens- “I’m down."
Or maybe 'I’m up'. English is stupid.
Edwards- “You guys are nuts.”
Hamilton- “What he said.”
Lee- “Nope, let’s go. I’m ready.”
Lee- “Okay, fine. Hey Laurens, you wanna stop?”
Laurens- “Yeah, sure. I feel like I got the point across.”
Hamilton- “Cool, let’s go get some ice cream.”
So that’s pretty much how that went. Lee barely got nicked and they all walked back to camp like they didn’t just try to kill each other.
Number 6: Philip Hamilton had more than just one sister at the time of his ninth birthday. Clearly Miranda is trying to play another fast one on us here. Phillip Hamilton has a line Take a Break that goes “I have a sister but I want a little brother”. He actually had two little brothers at the time. Anna Hamilton is the sister to whom he referred, born just two years after Phillip and named for her aunt Angelica. Before Phillip’s 9th birthday, his mother gave birth to Alexander Jr and James. Fun but slightly morbid fact: The Hamilton’s did not go long without a child named Phillip. Just six months after the death of their first born, they were gifted with a healthy baby boy who they named Phillip after his late brother.
7: Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds were actually two different people. In the musical, the incredibly talented Jasmine Cephas Jones enters stage left as Peggy Schuyler in the beginning of act 1. However, towards the start of the second act, she pops on some red lipstick and a stunning red dress, transforming before our very eyes from stage right as the harlot Maria Reynolds. In real life, historians believe that these were actually two different people. Like number 3, this also can’t be proven, but it is widely regarded to be true.
Number 8: The Reynolds Pamphlet was not the first that the public saw of Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds. There is actually a way bigger story behind it, but I’ll try and boil it down to the main points. Firstly, Jefferson and his crew were not the ones to confront Hamilton about possible embezzling. It was actually future president James Monroe, who was an old friend of Eliza as well as a widely known republican from Virginia. Monroe was the one sent to investigate Hamilton about the incident, asking him about a few checks written to a Mr. James Reynolds. Hamilton admitted to the affair in order to maintain his political office and favor with the country. He was exonerated and Monroe was not supposed to tell anyone the outcome of the investigation. Somehow though, a tabloid journalist named James Callender found out about the affair and published a story about it.
This is just the beginning of the story and would’ve taken a crazy long amount of time to tell. Miranda just stuck to his main cast to tell the story of the affair. James Monroe didn’t really serve a huge role in the rest of the story of Alexander Hamilton, so I guess it’s excusable to misinform the public in that situation. It wasn’t until this article from Callender came out and the affair was exposed that Hamilton published the book that would be called ‘The Reynolds Pamphlet’. I say book because the Reynolds pamphlet is not a pamphlet. It is 95 pages of explanations, letters and big words explaining that he didn’t break the law. He only cheated on his wife.
One of the craziest parts of the Reynolds pamphlet predicament is the duel challenge that came out of it. Hamilton was naturally pretty peeved off at Monroe for letting this out, so he challenged him to a duel. The two were going to go forward with it until they were stopped by none other than Aaron Burr, the man who would later go on to kill Alexander in a duel. Burr’s reasoning was that dueling was immature, a line that Miranda utilised to accurately show Burr’s feelings towards the practice of dueling.
Number 9: Eliza Hamilton did not speak French very well. That may be a reason that the only French that Eliza teaches her son in the musical are the first nine numbers. Alexander Hamilton was actually fluent in French, but Eliza always had trouble with the language. She would usually need her husband or sister to translate for her. A decent amount of New Yorkers spoke French back in the day so she picked up a decent amount, just not enough to call herself fluent. Don’t take this as a critique on Eliza Hamilton’s intelligence. She was actually an incredibly smart person. Alexander Hamilton would never agree to spend the rest of his life with someone who couldn’t keep up with him in a conversation. She actually had an incredible life after the death of her husband, but the musical makes that pretty clear.
Number 10: Paces fire. The man that Hamilton kept referring to as Marquis de Lafayette was not named Marquis de Lafayette. His name was actually Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, the marquis de La Fayette, but it was much easier to just refer to him as the marquis de Lafayette. Unlike what the musical made it seem, Marquis is not a first name. It is actually a sect of high ranking noblemen in some European countries. I understand why Miranda took this route though. Marquis de Lafayette is way easier to say than that curse of a name he was given. Lafayette was actually one of the most admired people in the revolutionary era even though he was not born in the colonies. Like Washington, everyone loved Lafayette.