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Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton

Review

Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton

This lively biography by the bestselling author of THE WIDOW CLICQUOT and IRENA’S CHILDREN follows Eliza through her early years as the daughter of a prominent landowner, through her life with Alexander and for 50 years after his death, as she worked to ensure his legacy while looking after her large family and founding New York’s first private orphanage.

In her youth, Eliza was one of the famous New York Schuyler sisters who, along with Peggy and Angelica, were feted for their charm, beauty and fortune. Despite several suitors, Eliza fell for the impecunious Alexander Hamilton, a bastard who had been orphaned and then raised by a wealthy merchant in the Caribbean. He came to New York, where he served as George Washington’s aide and as a soldier during the Revolution, and eventually became the country’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

"Tilar J. Mazzeo, who has done careful research for this first full biography of Eliza Hamilton, promotes an interesting theory about her possible role in the 'Reynolds Affair,' where debate still rages as to whether Alexander was having an affair or hiding financial irregularities."

Alexander was a complex character, but despite his many faults, possible infidelities and increasing debts, Eliza was loyal to him in his lifetime and vigilant about his reputation after his death. The famous duel with Aaron Burr that claimed his life (three years after his son Philip had died in a duel in the same spot) threatened Eliza and her family with emotional and financial ruin, but she survived with help from her father and family friends. Eventually she became involved in the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows --- ironically taking the seat held by Elizabeth Seton, until she converted to Catholicism and was asked to step down from the board --- and embraced her new mission. In 1806, the Orphan Asylum Society was founded to create New York’s first orphanage with Eliza as its director.

Tilar J. Mazzeo, who has done careful research for this first full biography of Eliza Hamilton, promotes an interesting theory about her possible role in the “Reynolds Affair,” where debate still rages as to whether Alexander was having an affair or hiding financial irregularities. Some may balk at her mixing scholarship with a willingness to talk about Eliza as though she knows what her every mood was (“…her heart felt so much lighter,” “she smiled to herself,” etc.), but others will applaud her ability to portray Eliza as a three-dimensional character. She certainly was an impressive one: besides raising eight children, running two households and starting an orphanage, she traveled west to see her son, William, when she was in her 80s and moved to Washington, DC at 91 after retiring from the Orphan Asylum Society.

Eliza died at the age of 97, having had dinner with Millard Fillmore at the While House shortly beforehand. By then, she had long since become a legend in her own right.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on September 28, 2018

Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton
by Tilar J. Mazzeo

  • Publication Date: September 18, 2018
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • ISBN-10: 1501166301
  • ISBN-13: 9781501166303