From Angelica Church
[London, January 20, 1797]
I would have you to understand Mon tres cher Monsieur that my eyes have recovered all their former lustre, and that they have been ineffectually employed in searching for the grace and elegance of your friend,1 nor have I yet been able to discover that ease and je ne sais quoi by which Sterne observes the gentleman2 may be so readily ascertained. As to his capacity for Bargain making that I cannot deny, as I do really beleive that he took his Carosposa weight and Measure. It was not so in days of chivelry, nor when you were young.
We are all going to see you, perhaps to importune you, perhaps to be happier, and it may be to repent—but I am a little sad. The accounts we hear from America are not flattering, and I dread their effect on my children.
I have this moment seen Mrs. King, they seem to be very agreeably settled, and are remarkably polite and attentive.
My love at home, I wish you joy of your president.
Farewell my dear friend, I want you to tell me that my children have a prospect of happiness and that I may be free from terrors of fevers3 and Negro plots, the latter they say are the cause of your fires.4
If I consider only myself, I know your attachment and that of Elizas.
AL, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
2. See Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (2nd ed., London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1760–1767).
3. For the yellow fever epidemic in New York City in 1796, see H and Richard Harison to Richard Bayley, July 19, 1796, note 3.
4. This is a reference to a number of fires which occurred in various cities in early December, 1796. On December 19, 1796, Claypoole’s [Philadelphia] American Daily Advertiser carried the following report from New York City: “The minds of the citizens are in a state of agitation; and well they may be; the recent Fires at Baltimore, Philadelphia, Savannah, Morrisville, and this city, besides various detected attempts, are sufficient to alarm all good citizens, and to rouse them to vigilance.…” See also The [New York] Argus. Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, December 12, 13, 15, 1796.
New Yorkers were particularly alarmed, and on December 9, 1796, The Argus wrote: “A Fire in This City. Broke out about One o’clock this morning, which raged tremendously, and consumed all that block of stores, at the lower end of Wall-street, comprised between Stewart and Jones and Cook’s stores, in Wall-street, and Steuart and Jones and Bruce’s new stores in front-street, consisting of above eighteen stores, with an immense value in goods; continuing its impetuous rage, sweeping all before it to the fish-market, about 40 buildings—where were hopes of arresting its further progress. It still raged when the paper went to the press. Particulars to-morrow.” On the following day, The Argus wrote: “The sketch we gave in haste yesterday morning, was not incorrect so far as it went. Since then we have taken pains to ascertain a minute and we believe accurate statement, for the guidance of the public.
“The fire commenced about one o’clock yesterday morning, in the range of stores on Murray’s wharf, and raged with such fury as to baffle all human skill, until all the buildings from thence to the Fly-market, on the east side of Front-street, were consumed to ashes.… The buildings alone are estimated at about seventy thousand dollars.…”
H did not need to be told about the fires in New York City. On January 28, 1797, Robert Troup wrote to King: “Hamilton has for some time past been laid up with a lame leg, got by watching the City. Have you heard that within two months past frequent attempts have been made to burn the City? It is the case.… Who are concerned in them, or what in particular has led to them we cannot discover. The consequence, however, has been a serious alarm, which produced a nightly watch consisting of about 20 in each ward …” (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , II, 136–37).
As Troup indicates, no evidence was found concerning a plot to set the fires, but on December 14, 1796, The [New York] Minerva, & Mercantile Evening Advertiser carried the following report: “Serious Cause of Alarm!
“Citizens of New-York, you are once more called upon to attend to your safety. It is no longer a doubt—it is a fact, that there is a combination of incendiaries in this city, aiming to wrap the whole of it in flames! The house of Mr. Lewis Ogden, in Pearl-street, has been twice set on fire—the evidence of malicious intention is indubitable—and he has sent his black man, suspected, to prison. Last night an attempt was made to set fire to Mr. Lindsay’s house in Greenwich street—The combustibles left for the purpose are preserved as evidence of the fact. Another attempt, we learn, was made last night in Beekman-street. A bed was set on fire under a child, and his cries alarmed his family.
“Rouse, fellow citizens and magistrates—your lives and property are at stake. Double your night-watch—and confine your servants.”
See also The [London] Times, January 17, 18, 1797.