Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

1.
The Making of a Revolutionary

Alexander Hamilton bore neither loyalty nor affection for Nevis, the British island on which he was born, or for St. Croix, the Danish island on which he passed his early youth. An American who spent a few years on St. Croix during the eighteenth century remarked that he felt "much the same anxiety at a distance from it as Adam did after he was banished from the bowers of Eden." For Hamilton, however, the island was a prison from which he could not wait to escape: probably the happiest moment he knew in the West Indies was when, from the deck of a ship, he watched St. Croix drop below the horizon. 1*

No doubt, much of the aversion Hamilton felt for St. Croix was owing to the unhappiness he experienced there. His father, James Hamilton, the fourth son of the Laird of Cambuskeith, "The Grange," Ayrshire, Scotland, lived in open adultery with Alexander's mother, Rachel Fawcett Lavien, the daughter of a French Huguenot physician and wife of John Lavien, a German businessman who had settled at St. Croix. Although Alexander was born in 1755 (his brother James had preceded him by two years), John Lavien did not get round to divorcing Rachel until 1758. In his bill of divorce, he declared her to be no better than a prostitute. In actuality, she seems to have been an impetuous, ardent and high-spirited young woman, too strong-willed to endure a loveless marriage. But since Rachel was forbidden by Danish law to remarry (she being the offending party), the bar sinister was indelibly fixed upon her two sons. 2

To make matters worse, James Hamilton was a ne'er-do-well. His business ventures almost invariably turned out badly; the year Alexander was born, his father went bankrupt. Moreover, most of Alexander's relatives on his mother's side, the most important of whom were the Lyttons, were in financial difficulties. Thus, from his earliest years, it was impressed upon Alexander that while he came of good family--"My blood," he once said, "is as good as that of those who plume themselves upon their ancestry"-- and many of his near relatives had been wealthy and respected, times had

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*
Numbered notes will be found in a group beginning on page 577.

-3-

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