Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James Reynolds, 15 December 1791

From James Reynolds1

Philadelphia, 15th December, 1791.


I am very sorry to find out that I have been so Cruelly treated by a person that I took to be my best friend instead of that my greatest Enimy. You have deprived me of every thing thats near and dear to me, I discovred whenever I Came into the house. after being out I found Mrs Reynolds weeping I ask’d her the Cause of being so unhappy. She always told me that she had bin Reding. and she could not help Crying when she Red any thing that was Afecting. but seing her Repeatedly in that Setevation gave me some suspicion to think that was not the Cause, as fortain would have it. before matters was Carred to two great a length. I discovered a letter directed to you which I copied of and put it in the place where I found it. without being discovered by Her. and then the evining after. I was Curious anough to watch her. and see give a letter to a Black man in Markett Street. which I followed Him to your door. after that I Returned home some time in the evening, and I broutched the Matter to her and Red the Coppy to her which she fell upon her knees and asked forgiveness and discovered every thing to me Respecting the matter And ses that she was unhappy. and not knowing what to do without some assistance. She Called on you for the lone of some money. which you toald her you would Call on her the Next Evening. which accordingly you did. and there Sir you took the advantage a poor Broken harted woman. instead of being a Friend. you have acted the part of the most Cruelist man in existance. you have made a whole family miserable. She ses there is no other man that she Care for in this world. now Sir you have bin the Cause of Cooling her affections for me. She was a woman. I should as soon sespect an angiel from heven. and one where all my happiness was depending. and I would Sacrefise almost my life to make her Happy. but now I am determed to have satisfation. it shant be onely one [f]amily thats miserable. for I am Robbed of all happiness in this world I am determed to leve her. and take my daughter with me that She shant see her poor mother Lot. now Sir if I Cant see you at your house call and see me. for there is no person that Knowes any thing as yet. And I am tiremd to see you, by some Means or other. for you have made me an unhappy man for eve. put it to your own case and Reflect one Moment. that you should know shush a thing of your wife. would not you have satisfaction yes. and so will I before one day passes me more.

I am yours

James Reynolds.

Mr. Alexander Hamilton.

1Reynolds was the husband of Maria Reynolds, H’s mistress in one of the most famous and sordid affairs in American history. Writing in 1797, H described the background of this affair as follows:

“Some time in the summer of the year 1791 a woman called at my house in the city of Philadelphia and asked to speak with me in private. I attended her into a room apart from the family. With a seeming air of affliction she informed that she was a daughter of a Mr. Lewis, sister to a Mr. G. Livingston of the State of New-York, and wife to a Mr. Reynolds whose father was in the Commissary Department during the war with Great Britain, that her husband, who for a long time had treated her very cruelly, had lately left her, to live with another woman, and in so destitute a condition, that though desirous of returning to her friends she had not the means—that knowing I was a citizen of New-York, she had taken the liberty to apply to my humanity for assistance.

“I replied, that her situation was a very interesting one—that I was disposed to afford her assistance to convey her to her friends, but this at the moment not being convenient to me (which was the fact) I must request the place of her residence, to which I should bring or send a small supply of money. She told me the street and the number of the house where she lodged. In the evening I put a bank-bill in my pocket and went to the house. I inquired for Mrs. Reynolds and was shewn up stairs, at the head of which she met me and conducted me into a bed room. I took the bill out of my pocket and gave it to her. Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.

“After this, I had frequent meetings with her, most of them at my own house; Mrs. Hamilton with her children being absent on a visit to her father. In the course of a short time, she mentioned to me that her husband had solicited a reconciliation, and affected to consult me about it. I advised to it, and was soon after informed by her that it had taken place.…” (“Reynolds Pamphlet,” August 31, 1797.)

After his announcement of the discovery of his wife’s infidelity, Reynolds proceeded in the course of the following year to extort from H various sums of money under threat of making the affair public. In December, 1792, three Republican congressmen, Frederick A. C. Muhlenberg, Abraham B. Venable, and James Monroe, were informed by Jacob Clingman, Reynolds’s confederate, that H had engaged with Reynolds in speculation in public funds, offering in evidence some of the letters which had passed between Reynolds and H. H reassured the congressmen on the charge of speculation by revealing to them his relationship with Mrs. Reynolds and Reynolds’s subsequent venture into blackmail. Here the affair rested until the summer of 1797, when the earlier charges of speculation with Reynolds were revived in Pamphlets V VI, dated June 26 and July 4, 1797, in a series of tracts written by James T. Callender, which were published in book form under the title The History of the United States for 1796 (Philadelphia, 1797). H answered the charges in the pamphlet Observations on Certain Documents Contained in No. V. and VI of “The History of the United States for the Year 1796,” in which the Charge of Speculation against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, is Fully Refuted. Written by Himself (Philadelphia: Printed for John Fenno, by John Bioren, 1797). This pamphlet contains H’s version of the affair and its aftermath and is subsequently referred to in these volumes as the “Reynolds Pamphlet.” H’s draft of the pamphlet, together with the published version and appendix containing letters and statements relative to the affair, is printed in these volumes under the date of August 31, 1797.

The letter above is printed as document No. II in the appendix of the “Reynolds Pamphlet,” August 31, 1797.

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