Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Abraham Yates, Junior, 26 September 1793

To Abraham Yates, Junior

Albany Sept. 26. 1793


General Schuyler shewed me yesterday a letter which he had received from you.1 It was then for the first time, I understood, that I had come to this place upon conditions; which General Schuylers paternal anxiety led him to submit to, but which are of a nature too derogatory to my rights, as a citizen of this State, to be permitted by me to continue in force. I feel that by doing it I should betray those rights, and none of the principles which have hitherto governed my Conduct will allow me to be accessory, by my acquiescence, to so improper a sacrifice.

As I desire most sincerely to avoid misunderstanding with the Magistracy or Citizans of this place, I think it proper to place before you in the first instance certain facts, to the exact truth I pledge my Honor.

I undertook the journey to this place, upon the urgent advice of my Phisician accompanyed with his assurance that I might do it with perfect safety to myself and to others. I began it, for greater caution, two days later than he had recommended. We left our own house on Sunday morning the 15 instant, after haveing previously taken the air for two or three days successivly in our Carriage.

Our intention was to pass the River at Kings Ferry, but when arrived there we found there were no adequate means of taking over our Carriages which led us to take the rout th[r]ough the Clove and by way of New Burgh. These circumstances renderd our journey more than usually irksome and fatiguing. We travelled different times till Eleven OClock at night, and the day of our arrival at the ferry opposite to this City, we came no less a distance than sixty four Miles. The obstacles which induced us to remain there through the night, ill enough accommodated, certainly not of a very restorative nature; and yet with all this fatigue and embarrasment Mrs Hamilton and my self are at this moment in better Health than before we were attacked with the desease which is the Subject of so much alarm.

Moreover, as well for our own safty as from an unwillingness to spread a dangerous desese through the Country—we were particularly carefull in leaving be hind us every article of Cloathing which had been on us or near us from the Earliest approach of the Complaint, except perhaps some washed linen which was first thoroughly washed. With the exception of washed articles, neither of us has brought a single thing, which from its nature or situation, could possibly have imbibed infection. Indeed all such of my Cloathing as were capable of conveying infection were adapted to the Summer; those I brought with me are suited to Winter.

With regard to the washed articles common sense will at once pronounce that there can be no possibility of danger.

This detail is of a nature to remove from every reasonable mind all apprehension concerning us.

Either we have had the desease, or our Phisicians and ourselves have mistaken something else for it.

On the first Supposition, it is obvious, after all that has taken place, that no particle of infection can remain about us; on the second, it must be equally obvious that none can exist, when I inform you that our Summer residence has been two Miles and a half out of Philadelphia and that it is upwards of three weeks since either of us has been in that City. In the first case, what ever infection may have existed must have been compleatly discharged. In the last, the lapse of time concurring with the fatigue of so long a journey proves that none can have existed.

With regard to our servants it was my original intention (to avoid multiplying causes of inquietude to our particular connections or the citizens at large) to leave them at some place on the other side of the River where they now are and will remain long enough to dispel all apprehension on their account and give intire satisfaction. My carriages also are and will continue there. But we cannot conveniently be here without our cloathing; and as to being ourselves confined under the eye of a guard or exposing the family of General Schuyler to the mortifying situation of being cut off from their usual intercourse with the Town & their friends, it is absolutely inadmissible.

I hope I shall never be wanting in due consideration for the feelings of any community. I am sure that my regard for the citizens of Albany predisposes me to every reasonable accommodation to their wishes; and when at my own command I trust they will have no cause to think that I have slighted the indications of their present state of mind. But there are bounds to every thing. I can make no concessions inconsistent with due attention to my own delicacy or to my rights as a Citizen.

I am far from disapproving in the Magistracy or Citizens of Albany a careful attention to their own preservation from a contagious disease. But permit me to say they are both under an indispensable obligation to regulate their precautions by the rules of reason moderation & humanity. They are not at liberty to sport with the rights and feelings of a fellow Citizen. They are not at liberty to adopt a principle of conduct which if generally pursued in the full extent of its consequences would expose him to perish in the fields without subsistence & without shelter.

In our case there is the fullest evidence from the circumstances that there is no just ground of apprehension. The Physicians of your City have confirmed this inference by their unanimous testimony. This is and ought to be sufficient.

I am therefore Sir to declare to you that after the present day all stipulations which are said to have been made by General Schuyler will be considered as at an end. And we shall all think ourselves free from any other restraints than our own decisions and prudence shall dictate.

If I hear nothing from you in the course of the day I shall take it for granted that this declaration is not unsatisfactory. If I am told the contrary I propose tomorrow to recross the River with Mrs. Hamilton in order to put every thing where it was before any stipulations were made. I shall then repass the River with her to proceed to her Father’s House.

The result will determine whether from causeless apprehension, in violation of law & right, of that protection which is the primary object of Society—citizens are to be excluded from an asylum in the bosom of their family; in other words whether a Citizen has rights or not; and whether a public Officer who persevering in a faithful discharge of his duty, undeterred by considerations of personal hazard has happened to contract a contagious disease is, in return, when perfectly recovered to be deprived by arbitrary and tyrannical means of the essential rights of a member of the Society—merely because it has been his lot to have had a dangerous disease.

In the execution of this plan, which force alone can interrupt, I count equally on the exertions of the Magistracy to prevent lawless violence and on the good dispositions of the body of the Citizens, who will respect their own security & rights too much to permit those of a fellow Citizen to be violated. With respect

I am Sir   Your Obedient serv

Alex Hamilton

Abraham Yates Esqr
Mayor of the City of Albany

LS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress. The first part of this letter is in an unidentified handwriting; the remainder is in the handwriting of H.

1For background to this letter, see George Washington to H, September 6, 1793, note 1. Yates was mayor of Albany.

After H and his wife had contracted yellow fever, several of the Hamilton children had been sent to the home of their grandfather, Philip Schuyler, in Albany. When H and Elizabeth Hamilton had recovered, they proceeded northward to join their children and complete their convalescence away from Philadelphia. The Hamiltons’ trip was made exceedingly difficult by the fact that at almost every town at which they stopped they were “shunned as infectious” (Powell, Bring Out Your Dead description begins J. H. Powell, Bring Out Your Dead (Philadelphia, 1948). description ends , 108). New York City put guards at the approaches to the city “with orders to send back every person coming from Philadelphia” (The Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, September 19, 1793). According to a letter from Henry Remsen, Jr., to Thomas Jefferson on October 1, 1793, “Col. Hamilton after his recovery came on to Powles hook, but understanding his crossing the river would be disagreeable to the inhabitants, went up to Albany on the west side of the river” (ALS, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress). Remsen’s statement is not altogether accurate, for the Hamiltons approached Albany from the east rather than the west side of the Hudson River.

In Albany fear of the spread of yellow fever led to stringent measures to quarantine or to turn away residents of Philadelphia who were fleeing the disease. The Albany Common Council had resolved on September 21, 1793, that four men should be appointed to detain all vessels bound for Albany until such vessels had been examined and given a bill of health by a physician appointed for the purpose. If fever was found on board a vessel, the vessel was to be detained and no one permitted to land. Vessels or persons arriving in Albany from Philadelphia were to be turned back, and ferrymen were ordered to report any individuals from infected places who attempted to cross the Hudson River in boats. All citizens were requested to give information to the authorities concerning the arrival of such persons in the city (D, “Minutes of the Common Council,” from the original in the New York State Library, Albany).

The following contemporary account explains the events which took place upon the arrival of the Hamiltons and their servants at a point across the Hudson River from Albany: “On Monday evening, the 23d September, 1793, the Hon Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the treasury of the United States, and his lady, arrived at Greenbush opposite to this city, from the seat of government. As they were supposed to have been afflicted with the yellow fever then prevalent in Philadelphia, the city physicians, by request, immediately visited them, and on their return published the following certificate:

“‘Albany, September 23, 1793.

“‘This is to certify that we have visited Col. Hamilton and his lady at Greenbush, this evening, and that they are apparently in perfect health; and from every circumstance we do not conceive there can be the least danger of their conveying the infection of the pestilential fever, at present prevalent in Philadelphia, to any of their fellow citizens. (Signed) Samuel Stringer, W. Mancius, H. Woodruff, W. McClallen, Cornelius Roosa.’

“In consequence of which on Tuesday morning an order was granted by the mayor, that Col. Hamilton and lady be allowed to cross the ferry.” (Joel Munsell, The Annals of Albany [Albany, 1850], I, 257.)

On September 25, 1793, Yates wrote the following letter to Philip Schuyler:

“The Common Council have desired me to Acquaint you that the Alarm Occasioned by the Arrival of Coll. Hamilton in the City, has by no Means Subsided, the Fears of the Citizens are up, beyond conception, from the Idea that the Carriages & baggage of Coll. Hamilton and Servants may contain Infection, & possibly Spread the disorder—and that the same now are either in or near the City. Our duty to the Citizens, and to quiet their Apprehensions demands that we remind you of the promise & engagements made by you to the Common Council previous to the arrival of Coll. Hamilton at Green bush, vizt. that they should not advance nearer than Mr. McKowns & that the Physicians should visit with Coll. Hamilton at your Expence; that the Clothing of the Coll, and Lady should be destroyed and fresh ones provided; That they had no baggage (of course none could be brought into the City) That they came in an open Chair without servants, of course no Carriage Possibly containing the Infection, nor Servants from Philadelphia who may be infected could be Expected; That no communication should be had with the Citizens and your Family—to inforce this part of the agreement, a Guard should be placed at or near your House at your Expence. Notwithstanding all which, if the Board are rightly informed, the Carriages, Baggage and Servants of Coll. Hamilton are either in, or near the city. They therefore request of Genl. Schuyler an immediate faithful performance of all and every the Stipulations made by him. Nothing but this can quiet the Citizens nor prevent effective measures to enforce the Resolutions entered into by the Board.…

“I am also further requested to require of you an Answer in Writing, how far the above Engagements have been, or are yet intended to be fulfilled.” (LS, Lloyd W. Smith Collection, Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, New Jersey.)

Schuyler’s reply to Yates, dated September 25, 1793, reads as follows:

“I have this moment received Your letter of this days date.

“Colo: Hamilton yesterday sent to stop his Servants at Mr McGowens. where he has directed them to remain until further orders, his carriage and a box with linnen he has this day ordered on, but in complaisance to the request of the Corporation he will direct that neither shall be brought over the ferry, but he has requested me at the same time to assure you, that whilst considerations of regard to the citizens and corporation will lead him to Acceed to every thing that is reasonable, he claims the rights of citizenship and that these cannot be violated, and that he does not consider his stay here as a matter of grace or favor. After an Inspection by all the Physicians, and the most ample certificate that no Danger was to be apprehended from Colo & Mrs. Hamilton, I concluded that It was not necessary for me or my family to refrain from intercourse with the City, however as the corporation request It, I shall steadily adhere to the offer I made them and which tho not exactly is substantially recapitulated in Your letter.

“It is much to be lamented that whilst no proper degree of apprehension is refused that the most painful Consequences may result to all the Citizens If extended too far, and that It therefore becomes the duty of prudent men to mitigate the apprehension of the people and I am persuaded the corporation will Exert themselves to prevent Its rising to an Improper height In which I shall most Cordially second them.” (ADf, Lloyd W. Smith Collection, Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, New Jersey.)

As late as September 27 Schuyler found it necessary to write to Yates denying a report that “when I embraced my Daughter on her arrival that I put a sponge diped in vinegar to my Mouth Immediately after and then left the room and washed my face and Mouth. This I declare in every part of It to be an abominal falsehood and I appeal to all the Gentlemen of the familly who were present, a falsehood propagated to raise the fears of my fellow citizens …” (ADF, Lloyd W. Smith Collection, Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, New Jersey).

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