Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to William Jackson, 26 August 1800

To William Jackson1

New-York Aug 26 1800.

My dear Jackson.

Never was there a more ungenerous persecution of any man than of myself.—Not only the worst constructions are put upon my conduct as a public man but it seems my birth2 is the subject of the most humiliating criticism.3

On this point as on most others which concern me, there is much mistake—though I am pained by the consciousness that it is not free from blemish.

I think it proper to confide to your bosom the real history of it, that among my friends you may if you please wipe off some part of the stain which is so industriously impressed.

The truth is that on the question who my parents were, I have better pretensions than most of those who in this Country plume themselves on Ancestry.

My Grandfather by the mothers side of the name of Faucette4 was a French Huguenot who emigrated to the West Indies in consequence of the revocation of the Edict of Nantz and settled in the Island of Nevis and there acquired a pretty fortune. I have been assured by persons who knew him that he was a man of letters and much of a gentleman. He practiced a⟨s⟩ a Physician, whether that was his original profession, or one assumed for livelihood after his emigration is not to me ascertained.

My father now dead was certainly of a respectable Scotch Fami⟨ly.⟩5 His father was, and the son of his Eldest brother now is Laird of Grang⟨e.⟩ His mother was the sister of an ancient Baronet Sir Robert Pollock.6

Himself being a younger son of a numerous family was bred to trade. In capacity of merchant he went to St Kitts,7 where from too generous and too easy a temper he failed in business, and at length fell into indigent circumstances. For some time he was supported by his friends in Scotland, and for several years before his death by me.8 It was his fault to have had too much pride and two large a portion of indolence—but his character was otherwise without reproach and his manners those of a Gentleman.

So far I may well challenge comparison, but the blemish remains to be unveiled.

A Dane a fortune-hunter of the name of Lavine9 came to Nevis bedizzened with gold, and paid his addresses to my mother then a handsome young woman having a snug fortune. In compliance with the wishes of her mother who was captivated by the glitter of the  10 but against her own inclination she married Lavine. The marriage was unhappy and ended in a separation by divorce. My mother afterwards went to St Kitts, became acquainted with my father and a marriage between them ensued, followed by many years cohabitation and several children.

But unluckily it turned out that the divorce was not absolute but qualified, and thence the second marriage was not lawful.11 Hence when my mother died the small property which she left went to my half brother Mr Lavine12 who lived in South Carolina and was for a time partner with Mr Kane.13 He is now dead.

As to my fathers family Mr McCormick14 of this city, merchant, can give testimony and will corroborate what I have stated.

Yours truly and affectionately.

Alexander Hamilton

Major. Jackson.

Copy, Francis Baylies Papers, Library of Congress.

1H did not send this letter to Jackson; instead, he enclosed it in H to James McHenry, August 27, 1800.

Jackson served as an aide-de-camp to Major General Benjamin Lincoln during the American Revolution, and in 1781 he was named secretary to the mission to France headed by John Laurens. H nominated Jackson to be secretary of the Constitutional Convention, and Jackson was elected on May 25, 1787. Jackson became one of George Washington’s secretaries, and he served in that capacity until December, 1791, when he resigned. He subsequently formed a partnership with William Bingham, and in 1795 he married Elizabeth Willing, who was the daughter of Thomas Willing, president of the Bank of United States. On January 13, 1796, Washington nominated Jackson as surveyor and inspector of the revenue for Philadelphia, and the Senate confirmed the nomination on the following day (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 197–98).

Jackson was an old and trusted friend of H. They had both been on Washington’s staff during the American Revolution, and H had entrusted Jackson with confidential information during the “Reynolds Affair.” See Jackson to H, July 24, 25, 31, August 5, two letters of August 7, August 11, 1797. For information on the “Reynolds Affair,” see the introductory note to Oliver Wolcott, Jr., to H, July 3, 1797.

2For H’s parentage, see “Probate Court Transaction on Estate of Rachel Lavien,” February 19, 1768, note 1; H to James Hamilton, June 22, 1785. For a detailed account of H’s parentage and boyhood, see Holger Utke Ramsing, “Alexander Hamilton og hans mødrene slaegt Tidsbilleder fra Dansk Vestindiens barndom,Personalhistorisk tidsskrift, 24 cm., 10 Raekke, 6 bd. (Copenhagen, 1939).

3The July 28–July 31, 1800, issue of The [Boston] Independent Chronicle and Universal Advertiser printed “Letter I,” which was addressed to H and signed by “Manlius.” The letter reads in part: “In your daring prediction, That if Mr. Pinckney was not elected President, a revolution would be the consequence; and that within the next four years you should lose your head, or be the leader of a triumphant army—your vanity was more gross than ever your ignorance of the character of the people of the Eastern states.… And you might find yourselves equally mistaken, in supposing, that the mode of your descent from a dubious father, in an English island would be no bar in this country to the pretensions to the Presidency; nor interfere with the claim of virtues which in another, has enabled an ambitious soldier to trample upon the little that remained of public liberty.”

“Letter II” appeared in the July 31–August 4, 1800, issue of the Chronicle.

4John Faucett.

5James Hamilton, H’s father, was the fourth son of Alexander Hamilton, Laird of Grange in Stevenston parish, Ayrshire, Scotland. H’s father belonged to the Cambuskeith, or Grange, line of the Hamilton family, which dated from Sir David Hamilton of Cadzow, who died in 1374.

6James Hamilton’s mother was Elizabeth Pollock, the daughter of Sir Robert Pollock and Annabella Stewart (Ramsing, “Alexander Hamilton,” Personalhistorisk tidsskrift, 232–33).

7St. Kitts is one of the Leeward Islands in the British West Indies.

9John (Johann) Michael Lavien went from Nevis to St. Croix, where he met and married H’s mother in 1745. Lavien was an aspiring merchant and planter (Ramsing, “Alexander Hamilton,” Personalhistorisk tidsskrift, 299–30).

10Space left blank in MS.

11See Ramsing, “Alexander Hamilton,” Personalhistorisk tidsskrift, 234–36.

12Peter Lavien, the only child of Rachel Faucett Lavien and John [Johann] Michael Lavien, was born in 1746 on St. Croix and moved to Beaufort, South Carolina, in 1764, where little is known of his activities except that he served several years as church warden in St. Helena’s Episcopal Parish.

13John Kean, formerly a merchant in Beaufort, South Carolina, was a member of the Continental Congress from 1785 to 1787 and cashier of the Bank of the United States from 1791 until his death in 1795. In 1786 he married Susan Livingston of New York City, moved to that city, and became associated with the mercantile firm of LeRoy, Bayard, and Company.

14Daniel McCormick was a director of the Bank of New York from 1784 to 1799. In 1789 H and McCormick were neighbors in New York City: H’s office was at 58 Wall Street and McCormick’s house at 57 Wall Street. In addition, McCormick’s nephew and heir, Samuel McCormick, became Lord Advocate of Edinburgh.

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