Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Benjamin Rush, 26 November 1801

From Benjamin Rush1

Philadelphia Novr: 26. 1801

Dear Sir!

Permit a whole family to mingle their tears with yours upon the late distressing event that has taken place in your family.

It may perhaps help to sooth your grief when I add to that united expression of Sympathy, that your Son had made himself very dear to my family during his late visit to Philadelphia, by the most engaging deportment. His visits to us were daily, and after each of them he left us with fresh impressions of the correctness of his understanding and manners, and of the goodness of his disposition. To One of my Children he has endeared himself by an Act of friendship & benevolence that did great honor to his heart, and will be rememb[e]red with gratitude by Mrs. Rush, and myself as long as we live. My Son has preserved a record of it in an elegant and friendly letter which he received from him After his return to New York.

You do not weep alone. Many, many tears have been Shed in our city upon your Account.

It afforded your friends great Consolation to hear of the pious manner in which your son closed the last hours of his life. God does not judge, nor condemn like man. There are no limits to his mercy.

My dear Mrs Rush joins in respectful Sympathy with Mrs Hamilton with Dr Sir

Yours sincerely

Benja. Rush

Genl Hamilton

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1This letter concerns the death of nineteen-year-old Philip Hamilton, H’s oldest son, in a duel with George I. Eacker, a Republican lawyer practicing in New York City. According to accounts by partisans of both men which were published in the newspapers, the duel occurred as the result of insults which passed between the two men at the Park Theater in New York City on Friday evening, November 20, 1801. That evening, Philip Hamilton went to the theater with a friend identified in the newspaper accounts only as “young Mr. Prince,” who may have been Stephen Price, a 1799 graduate of Columbia College. Both Price and Hamilton made loud and insulting remarks near Eacker’s box concerning an address which Eacker had delivered during celebrations in New York City on July 4, 1801. In this speech Eacker severely criticized the Federalist party, including financial and miltary policies that were largely H’s. See An oration, delivered at the request of the officers of the Brigade of the City and County of Richmond, before them, and the Mechanic, Tammany and Coopers’ Societies on the fourth of July, 1801, in commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of American independence. By George I. Eacker (New-York: Printed for William Durell, 1801), 13–14, 15.

The three men exchanged insults outside the theater, and although they met later on the same evening in an attempt to reconcile their differences, they failed. The same night Price sent Eacker a challenge, and two days later, on November 22, they fought a duel in which neither man was injured. Following the duel, Hamilton’s and Eacker’s seconds met in an attempt to persuade Eacker, as the elder of the two, to retract his insult and promised that Hamilton would also apologize. Eacker’s second was a “Mr. Lawrence,” and Hamilton’s was David Samuel Jones, a 1796 graduate of Columbia College who served as Governor John Jay’s private secretary in 1797 and was a lawyer in New York City in 1801. There were several Lawrences in New York City, any one of whom may have served as Eacker’s second. Two possible candidates are Nathaniel and Jonathan H. Lawrence, both of whom were merchants and Republicans. Another possibility is Samuel A. Lawrence, an insurance broker whose offices were located in the same building that Eacker occupied in 1800. The two men had offices in adjacent buildings in 1801. Eacker, who considered Hamilton his prime antagonist, refused to apologize, and later on the evening of November 22 Hamilton sent him a challenge. According to Jones and Hamilton’s cousin Philip Church, whom Hamilton also consulted, Hamilton decided not to fire first since he had made the first insult (see also Philip Schuyler to Elizabeth Hamilton, December 6, 1801 [ALS, Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, New Jersey]). Hamilton and Eacker fought at Powles Hook, New Jersey, on the afternoon of November 23, and Hamilton, who was severely wounded, died the next morning (New-York Evening Post, November 24, 27, 28, 30, December 1, 1801; The New-York Gazette and General Advertiser, November 25, 1801; [New York] American Citizen and General Advertiser, November 25, 26, 27, December 1, 1801).

After the duel, Thomas Rathbone, one of Philip Hamilton’s former Columbia College classmates, wrote to his sister: “On Monday before the time appointed for the meeting between E, & H, General Hamilton heard of it and commanded his Son, when on the ground, to reserve his fire ’till after Mr E, had shot and then to discharge his pistol in the air.” Rathbone, who visited Hamilton on the evening of the duel, continued: “On a Bed without curtains lay poor Phil, pale and languid, his rolling, distorted eye balls darting forth the flashes of delirium—on one side of him on the same bed lay his agonized father—on the other his distracted mother.… Yesterday, tuesday, I was invited to attend his funeral.… His poor father was with difficulty supported to the grave of his hopes!” (“The Duels Between—Price and Philip Hamilton, and George I. Eacker,” The Historical Magazine, 2nd ser., II [October, 1867], 203–04).

On January 1, 1833, Dr. David Hosack, who attended H when he died after the duel with Aaron Burr, wrote to John Church Hamilton his recollections “of any occurrences or circumstances relative to the private life of your Father.” Concerning Philip Hamilton’s death Hosack wrote: “… in every important case of sickness that occurred in his family … he was not only the assidious nurse, he was also the skillful physician; for few men knew more of the structure of the human frame and its functions, or possessed a knowledge of the principles upon which diseases are to be counteracted or relieved, than your Father. I have often heard him speak of the interest and ardour he felt when prosecuting the study of anatomy under Dr. [Samuel] Clossy, the first professor of anatomy in Columbia College, whose lectures he attended during his pupillage in that institution. Here he doubtless laid the foundation of that acute discernment and excellent judgment which he manifested upon the occasions referred to. Nor can I ever forget his countenance, nor the expression of his strong feelings, when returning from the bedside of the same son, who some years afterwards fell a victim to a mistaken sense of honour. Although the General had been apprised of the nature of the dispute and the progress of the negotiations to reconcile the parties, when he learned that accommodation was at an end, and that his son had actually gone to New Jersey to call at my house with the view of informing me that my professional assistance might be required, he was so much overcome by his anxiety that he fainted, and remained some time in my family before he was sufficiently recovered to proceed.

“In the meantime I had previously been called upon and had gone to Greenwich whither Philip had been conveyed from Hoboken after receiving his fatal wound. General Hamilton upon recovering his feelings immediately repaired to the house … where I was in attendance upon his son. As soon as your Father ascertained the direction of the wound, examined the countenance and felt the pulse of your brother, he instantly turned from the bed, and taking me by the hand, which he pressed with all the agony of grief, he exclaimed in tones and manner that can never be effaced from my memory, ‘Doctor, I despair.’” (typescript, Columbia University Libraries.)

In H’s Cash Book, 1795–1804, under the date of May 12, 1802, H wrote: “Expence (Philips funeral &c) 266.11” (AD, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress). A second entry in H’s Cash Book under the same date concerning Philip Hamilton reads: “Expence Caritat (Philip) 12.68.” Henry Caritat was the proprietor of a circulating library and bookstore at 153 Broadway, New York City (Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory, for the Twenty-sixth Year of American Independence [New York, 1801], 134).

On December 5, 1801, Robert Troup wrote to Rufus King: “For twelve days past the city has been much agitated with a duel between Hamilton’s oldest son Philip and a Mr. Eacher—a brother lawyer of mine and a violent and bitter democrat.… Young Hamilton was mortally wounded and soon after died. Never did I see a man so completely overwhelmed with grief as Hamilton has been. The scene I was present at, when Mrs. Hamilton came to see her son on his deathbed (he died about a mile out of the city) and when she met her husband and son in one room, beggars all description! Young Hamilton was very promising in genius and acquirements, and Hamilton formed high expectations of his future greatness! … At present Hamilton is more composed and is able again to attend to business; but his countenance is strongly stamped with grief. Eacher has not since made his appearance at the bar. There is a general current of opinion agt. him, except amongst the violent democrats” (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 , IV, 28).

When it is recalled that Rush strongly opposed H’s policies as Secretary of the Treasury (Rush to Thomas FitzSimons, August 5, 1790 [L. H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush (Princeton, 1951), I, 569]), it is remarkable that the Rush and Hamilton families were friendly and that Rush wrote the letter printed above. In addition, Rush knew that H had blocked his appointment to the faculty of Columbia College’s medical school (Butterfield, Rush, II, 794, note 4), and the two men had also disagreed publicly on a cure for yellow fever (H to the College of Physicians, September 11, 1793, note 2).

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