Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from William Duer, 13 January 1799

From William Duer1

New york. 13th. Jany. 1799.

Dear Sir

As I Owe to your kind Interposition the Permission I have obtained from the Secretary of the Treasury to reside with my Family in the Liberties ’till remanded, so I trust with Confidence that your friendly Exertions will not be wanting to insure to me a Continuance of this Priviledge.

Colo. Giles2 the Marshall has within these few days Expressed a Doubt to one of my Fellow Prisoners, that this Permission can only be construed to be in Force during the Sickness; and under this Impression (though I have had Evidence of his friendly Disposition to me, and my Family) he may Esteem it his Duty to interfere in this Business. I Enclose you a Certified Copy of the Engagement which has been transmitted to the Secretary of the Treasury—And as no Orders for remanding me have been transmitted I conceive myself Entitled to the Priviledge of Liberties in the Suit of the United States.

You will oblige me Extremely, in seeing Colo. Giles in order to remove from his Mind the Misapprehension he Entertains in this Business. I am now on the Point of Emerging from this Abyss of Misery; let me Conjure you to Use your Influence, and kind Offices to prevent my being replunged into it. The State of my Health for these two or three months, has become truly Alarming. I labor under a Malady which requires a greater Degree of Attention than I can obtain, in this Place, and which is daily Encreasing from the Anxiety of my Mind. To this are added Family Considerations of the most Urgent Nature, which render my Return to my Family Essential to their Preservation from Misery, and Ruin. Lady Kitty3 will do herself the Pleasure of delivering to you in Person this Letter.

I am Dear Sir with Sentiments of Esteem, Your Obet. Humble servt.

W Duer

Major Genl. Hamilton

ALS, Sleepy Hollow Restorations, Inc., Tarrytown, New York.

1In PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , XXII, 412, this letter is listed as a “letter not found.”

For background to the letter printed above, see Duer to H, March 21, 1792, note 1 (printed in this volume).

On March 23 Duer had been imprisoned in New York City for debts which he owed to the United States (Duer to H, December 24, 1790, note 1 [printed in this volume]). H has frequently been credited with securing Duer’s temporary release from prison in 1797 (Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, V [New York, 1930], 487; Davis, Essays description begins Joseph Stancliffe Davis, Essays in the Earlier History of American Corporations “Harvard Economic Studies,” XVI [Cambridge, 1917]). description ends , I, 330–31; and earlier volumes of PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends ), but no conclusive evidence has been found that he left jail—even for a short time—in 1797.

In September, 1798, Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr., at H’s suggestion, permitted Duer “to reside at any place within the liberties of the Prison, during the continuance of the present contagious disease [yellow fever].” See enclosure to Wolcott to H, September 19, 1798 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , XXII, 185–87). This enclosure is incorrectly addressed to Thomas Hazard. The letter was actually sent to William W. Parker.

As the letter printed above indicates, Duer wished to have the privileges which he had been granted in September, 1798, continued, and he even hoped that he might be permitted to leave jail and return to his family. Although evidence is lacking, it appears that Duer was not released and that he retained the “liberties” of the prison until his death there on May 7, 1799.

2Aquila Giles was United States marshal of the District of New York.

3Catharine Alexander Duer.

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