american history Womens History

The real Schuyler sisters

Born into a political powerhouse, the Schuyler sisters, Angelica, Eliza and Peggy were expected to make something of themselves. Their Father was a General in the American revolutionary army and the sisters spent their early lives surrounded by the likes of George Washington. Yet despite their incredible upbringing nobody could have expected that one day Angelica (the eldest), Eliza (the middle child) and Margarita ‘Peggy’ (the youngest) would help shape America.

Angelica

Witty, bright and razorsharp; Angelica Schuyler was born in 1756

Angelica Schuyler portrait
Pictured in later life with her child 

She grew up to be a force of nature. Shining incandescent at the sumptuous parties held at her parents mansion. So it’s hardly surprising that thanks to her mega watt personality, not to mention looks, wealth and her powerfully politically placed parents, suitors were lining up for Angelica.

And yet the man she choose was one nobody could have guessed.

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And that man was not Alexander Hamilton! via giphy

John Church was a roguish Englishman now residing in America. The reasons for his transatlantic move were foggy at best and downright shady AF at worst! With rumours rife that Church had killed a man in a duel and was in mountainous debt in his native England. Troubling? Yes. But none of this mattered because John Church supplied arms to the American Revolutionary cause.

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via giphy

Unsurprisingly Daddy Schuyler wasn’t exactly thrilled at his eldest daughters choice in a men. Espically as she was incredibly young and about to get mixed up with a sketchy suitor. But the heart wants what it wants (and teenagers are want to make terrible life choices) so Church and Angelica exchanged love letters in secret. Not long after, in 1777 they took the plunge and eloped. A year later Angelica was pregnant with the couples first child.

Ok, Let’s hit pause for a moment. Now if you’re here because you’re fan of the musical Hamilton, then I’m guessing right you’re probably feeling a tad confused. You were expecting an Angelica, Eliza and Alexander Hamilton love triangle right? Well guys I’m afraid that history is a lot more complicated than musical theatre, but stay with me, because history is also a lot more juicy – there’s duels, aslymns and yes, a love triangle in store…on that note:

Eliza

Elizabeth Schuyler was born in 1757, just a year after her older sister. Known as Eliza by friends and family, she was a tomboy at heart, with a potent mix of intelligence, warmth and determination. Mrs._Elizabeth_Schuyler_Hamilton

In the winter of 1779-1780 Eliza met Alexander Hamilton, an upstart from the West Indies who had emigrated to America and risen to become General George Washingtons right hand man!

Hamilton fell fast for Eliza, writing furvant letters to Angelica about his new love and also suggesting that the revolutionary armies chances of success would be greatly diminished if Eliza didn’t wed him…which is kinda weird and intense, but I guess it worked because in December 1780 the pair were married!

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Bonus Hercules Mulligan flower girl for fans of Hamilton.

Following the wedding Hamilton returned to his station as Leiutant Colonel and Angelicas husband John, made his fortune selling arms to the revolutionary troops. Eliza advised Hamilton on his military moves and by the time the revolutionary war ended, each couple were in a far better position than when it started.

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And they say war achieves nothing!

John Church secured a nice job in Parliament and so he, Angelica and their children set off for a new life in London (turns out possible deadly duels don’t mean a thing if you got that green).

Meanwhile Eliza, Hamilton and their growing brood settled in New York, where Hamilton dazzled in his leading role in Washingtons new cabinet. Working to settle the countries debts and set up a banking system (I know it sounds deathly dull but it was v necessary)

Eliza passionatly worked with her husband on his writing and plans, whilst across the pond Angelica had become the toast of London; joining the inner royal circle and hosting intellectual debates at her home – she transformed into quite the political influencer!

Though apart, the sisters remained close, Writing each frequently. But Eliza wasn’t the only person Angelica was writing. She was also one half of an increasingly flirtatious pen pal relationship with none other than Eliza’s husband!

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Yes what started with Hamilton gushing to Angelica about his love for her sister, turned into something much more devilish- via giphy

Angelica was discovering that her husband John was in fact deeply dull (probably because he had just become a British politician…) so its unsurprising that she poured herself out in letters to Hamilton, who in many ways was similar to herself; intellectual, witty and ballsy. Hamilton seemed to feel the same, writing to Angelica:

‘I seldom write to a lady without fancying the relation of lover and mistress,”

Again it’s intense/wierd (which seems to be Hamiltons trademark with the ladies) Surprisingly Eliza was aware of this relationship, with Angelica writing to her sister:

‘I love him very much and if you were as generous as the Old Romans you would lend him to me for a little while.’

Again, bit of a wierd thing to send your sister? For sure! But the real question is, did Angelica and Hamilton ever seal the deal?

The debate wages on…but probably not. Angelica was loyal to her sister; in the letter above she goes on to assure Eliza that her intentions will remain pure (aside from the whole ‘you sex your husband Mon-Thurs and I’ll have weekend sex custody’…thing). We also know that it’s unlikely the sisters would have remained as close as they did if Angelica and Hamilton had sex, as you’ll find out later, Eliza is not a woman you want to cheat on!

But Hamilton wasn’t the one Angelica was writing. In 1788 she first wrote Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson
I mean who wouldn’t right?

The pair pinged letters back and forth, sharing their political musings and discussing the best way to visit each other and maybe even become travelling buddies (sounding less like founding fathers and more gap year students…)

Angelica also worked to convince Jefferson -an enthusiastic advocate of the French Revolution- to reconsider his views and help those at risk. Many of those most at peril during the French Revolution were her friends (in fact by 1794 two of her friends had already fallen victim to the terror; Madame de Gramont and Madame de Chatelet).

But Jefferson couldn’t be swayed, paying little attention to Angelicas accounts of French Revolutionary horror. Though he did manage to take the time to remind her that women were much happier when they weren’t involved in politics.

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via giphy

But If Angelica thought she had it bad, she didn’t have shit on Eliza.

In 1797 Hamilton published the Reyonolds pamphlet. A 95 page document (so less a pamphlet more a tome) outlining and apologising for his affair with one Maria Reynolds.

Reynolds Pamphlet .jpg
Jeez, the title alone takes forever to read

Eliza was unsurprisingly humiliated and incredibly pissed off. She took Hamilton to task and burned all the letters they had ever sent each other (effective at the time, but making it incredibly hard for future historians to discover who Eliza was!)

Your husband telling literally everyone about his affair in painful detail is bad, but Eliza’s lot was about to get a whole lot worse.

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via giphy

In 1801 her oldest son, Philip was killed in a duel at the age of 19. The Hamilton’s were a wreck. And it wasn’t just the parents, their daughter, Angelica, was so deeply scarred by her brothers death that she had a mental breakdown.

Angelica eventually regressed into a state that she would never recover from. And she spent the next 50 years being cared for in a mental facility, only occasionally emerging into bouts of lucidity until her death aged 72.

During this time Hamilton and Eliza were pushed together by grief and rekindled thier relationship. It was to be short burst of happiness. In 1804 Hamilton was killed in a duel.

Now a widow Eliza was knocked once more by both her parents dying within months of each other.

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Please say it doesn’t get any worse!

Luckily by now Angelica was back home in America and the sisters lent on each other for support. Angelica became Eliza’s rock, something she desperately needed as when Alexander Hamilton died, he left not only a huge hole in her life, but a pile of ever increasing debts to be paid (because when it rains it fucking pours)

Ironically around the same time as Eliza lost her family home to her late husbands debt, Angelicas son was rolling in it. Even founding a new town on The outskirts of New York, which he named after his mum (the town of Angelica is still there today FYI) awwww for Angelica, but it was just more crap for Eliza.

With all this shittery you wouldn’t blame Eliza for just throwing her hands up and sinking under.

But she persisted. 

Yep, despite everything Eliza decided to spread as much good as she possibly could. And she didn’t do this by halves.

Eliza was known to take in homeless children and care for them. And in 1806 she set up New York’s first Orphanage, the Orphan Asylum Society (which sounds super child friendly…)

But she was dealt yet another blow in 1814 when Angelica died at the age of just 57.

Still, though devastated, Eliza peservered. In 1818 she set up the Hamilton Free School, which was the first educational institution in Washington Heights. In 1821 she became directness of the Orphanage she had set up, now directly looking after the 100+ children cared for there.

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Eliza later in life 

She continued her charity work but also fought tirelessly to create a legacy for her husband; extensivley chronicling his work. She wore a necklace containing scraps of a sonnet he wrote her, until she died in 1754 at the ripe age of 97.

But that’s not the end of Eliza’s story. Her orphanage is still running, over 200 years later. It’s now called Graham Windham and cares for children and families across New York. A legacy I am sure Eliza would be proud of.

The End

Well ok – not quite! ‘What about Peggy’ I hear you shout. and peggy!.gif

And Peggy 

Ok there isn’t enough time to go into all of Peggy’s life (another time) but I will leave you with this. Without Peggy there would not be this article, because Peggy saved god damn everyone.

In 1781 the Schuyler sisters were at home in Albany, New York. Eliza and Angelica were both heavy pregnant and hoping to get some much needed rest at the Schuyler Mansion. This was not to be, as a huge group of British Loyalists and native Americans encircled the home. They were looking for the sisters father, Philip, who was supposedly in charge of a revolutionary spy ring – he wasn’t at home, but the angry mob were’nt to know that.

The trapped women were terrified, and knowing they wouldn’t be able to fight (two pregnant women against a group of pissed off men with weapons probably won’t come out that well…) they ran upstairs and hid.

The mansion was quickly raided by the mob who were intent on finding and capturing Philip at any cost. The sisters stayed quiet, hidden upstairs, when they suddenly realised that their brothers newborn daughter was downstairs…right in the path of the angry mob. oh shit!.gif

Peggy didn’t waste anytime, she left the safety of her hiding place and leapt to her nieces aid. On her way downstairs she was confronted by the mob, who pointed a musket at her face and demanded to know where Philip was. Knowing that if she told the truth the sisters would all surely die, Peggy thought quickly, telling the loyalists that Philip had fled to tell the nearby town and fetch the troops.

Scared of military repercussions the men fled, but not before one particularly pissed off man threw a tomahawk at Peggy as she ran upstairs with her niece. It narrowly missed, inserting itself deeply into the banister where her head had just been.

Yet another reminder, if we needed one, that the Schuyler Sisters are the living end Sisters gif.gif

This was really interesting! Where can I find out more? You know what, there are loads of really amazing books and papers on the sisters and this era…but, I’m just gonna suggest if you haven’t already to go listen to Hamilton (and if you have already listened, then lets be real, your probably going to listen again now…)

6 comments

  1. Thank you for your fascinating telling of the history of our young Nation. Behind great men are usually great women. Usually, they don’t get the credit they’re due.

    Like

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