The strong-willed, heroic wife of Alexander Hamilton tells her story in this historical novel by the bestselling author of The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr.
As the daughter of a respected general, Elizabeth Schuyler is accustomed to socializing with dignitaries and soldiers. But no visitor to her parents’ home has affected her so strongly as Alexander Hamilton, a charismatic, ambitious aide to George Washington. They marry quickly, and despite the tumult of the American Revolution, Eliza is confident in her husband and in her role as his helpmate. But it is in the aftermath of war, as Hamilton becomes one of the country’s most important figures, that she truly comes into her own
In the new capital, Eliza becomes an adored member of society, respected for her fierce devotion to Hamilton as well as her grace. Behind closed doors, she astutely manages their expanding household and assists her husband with his political writings. Yet some challenges are impossible to prepare for. Through scandal, betrayal, heartbreak, and tragedy, she is tested again and again. In the end, it will be Eliza’s strength that makes her not only Hamilton’s most crucial ally in life, but also his most loyal advocate after his death, determined to preserve his legacy while pursuing her own path through the nation they helped shape together.
“Scott expertly handles the complex history and complicated romance, moving the personal and political plots briskly. Readers will be captivated by the affecting portrait Scott has painted of Eliza as an American patriot who was witness and counsel to Alexander's enduring legacy.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)“Your next Hamilton obsession.” —Bustle
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About the Author
A frequent speaker at museums, colleges, and historical sites, Susan also maintains a world-wide following on social media through her blog, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. She is a graduate of Brown University, and lives with her family outside of Philadelphia. For more information about Susan and her books, visit her website at www.susanhollowayscott.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Pastures Albany, Province of New York November 1777
I was twenty years of age when I met Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton.
To be truthful, at first I found little that was memorable regarding him that evening. Because our country was mired in war and my father was a major general of the Continental Army, our house was frequently overrun with young officers, and I was hard-pressed to recall one from another.
But no: I shouldn't say that about Colonel Hamilton. He did immediately distinguish himself from the others, though not necessarily for reasons he might have wished.
Before he arrived, my family and our guests were gathered in the front parlor, as was our custom before we dined at The Pastures, our home here in Albany. Evening came early in November, and the candles were already lit, their glow soft against the yellow wool flock-papered walls. Papa was standing before the fireplace, where the heat of the fire would ease the perpetual ache of old wounds and gout in his knees for all that he was only forty-four, while my mother sat in the mahogany armchair beside him, her silk skirts spread gracefully around her as she greeted their guests. My younger sister Peggy and I stood waiting near one of the windows, dressed for evening with silk flowers in our hair and prepared to be charming and agreeable. We knew our roles with company. Our parents were proud of their reputation for hospitality, and Peggy and I were as much part of it as the rich meal and imported wines that would be served at table.
Yet we were also a home suffering beneath a cloud of disgrace. Although my father had served his country and his men with courage and efficiency, his political enemies in Congress had plotted against him, and after the fall of Fort Ticonderoga this past summer — a blow to the cause that even he could not have avoided — he had been removed from his command of the Northern Department. Papa had requested a court-martial to clear his name, but his request thus far had been ignored, and the fact that his replacement, General Horatio Gates, had employed Papa's forces and tactics to defeat the British at Saratoga had been especially bitter for Papa. He had considered his career for the Continental Army to be done, and he'd given up wearing his uniform. Although he spoke little of it to us, we understood the depths of his disappointment, and as a family we defended his reputation however we could.
Little wonder, then, that Peggy and I met the arrival of the aide-de-camp from the army's commander-in-chief with wariness, if not open suspicion. Was he bringing further humiliation to our poor father? Was he the bearer of more ill news from the army, more disgrace to tarnish our family's name?
Colonel Hamilton himself did little to dispel our suspicions. When his name was called by one of our footmen, he remained standing alone in the room's arched doorway for a moment too long, appraising the room and all of us in it, before striding forward to present himself to my parents. It was rude, that pause, especially to my father, still his superior in rank, and it clearly appeared to be born of a surfeit of confidence and perhaps an arrogant desire to be noticed. As unmannerly as such a gambit might be, however, it was also effective.
"Look at that cocky fellow!" Peggy said to me from behind her spread fan, adding a shocked little hiss for emphasis. "You know who he is, don't you?"
"Colonel Alexander Hamilton," I said, letting contempt curl through my pronunciation. He wore the elegant blue uniform of an artilleryman, with buff facings, brass buttons, and buckskin breeches, yet it fit him ill, the wool coat hanging loosely about his frame, the cuffs threadbare, and the green sash of an aide-de-camp slung across his chest like an afterthought. No wonder, really: he was slight for a soldier, slender and boyish, with a wind-burned face and reddish-gold hair.
"I cannot fathom why he is here," Peggy said. "Aside from the fact, of course, that Papa invited him to join us, but then Papa invites everyone. They already met together this afternoon. What could Colonel Hamilton possibly have left to say? One would think a gentleman officer would have declined such an invitation under the circumstances, simply to be respectful."
I sniffed with disdain. "I doubt Colonel Hamilton has considered respect."
Peggy nodded, her gold earbobs swinging against her cheeks. "But Papa is smiling at him, and so is Mamma."
It was true. Our parents were conversing with the young colonel as if he were the most honored of guests. On the other hand, appearances could be deceiving where Papa was concerned. Our father was so much a Christian gentleman that if he chanced to step upon a den of copperheads in the forest, he'd bow and beg their pardon for having disturbed their rest with his boot.
"You can't deny that the colonel's a favorite of General Washington," Peggy continued, clearly persuading herself as much as she was me of the colonel's character. "Perhaps he's brought good news from His Excellency, not bad. Papa said Colonel Hamilton has come to Albany on an important military errand, which must be a great honor for a gentleman of his years."
"And how many years has the colonel seen?" I asked wryly. "Fifteen? Sixteen?"
"Hush," Peggy scolded. "Colonel Hamilton is twenty. Nor does he have a wife, which you know is why Mamma is now greeting him so warmly."
That went without saying. Although Peggy and I had always been expected to wed gentlemen from among the wealthy Dutch New York families much like our own, the war had changed everything. The times had become so unpredictable and unsettled that no one was marrying anyone (except, of course, my older sister, Angelica, who had impetuously eloped with an Englishman the year before). All the gentlemen from Albany who ordinarily would have considered courting Peggy or me had joined the army instead, and thus Mamma wasn't above widening her nets for our matrimonial sakes. Twenty in an unmarried woman was a great deal older than twenty in a bachelor, and Mamma made sure that presentable young officers were always welcome at our house.
Including, it appeared, Colonel Hamilton. I cautiously continued my own appraisal, still unwilling to abandon my earlier grudge against him. I supposed he was considered handsome, with regular features and a manly jaw. But he also possessed a longish nose that he held raised like an eager hound sniffing the air for a scent, and so intense a gaze that he was almost scowling as he listened to my father. Yet he was listening, respectfully, and not attempting to force his own opinions on Papa the way so many other young officers did. That was in his favor; perhaps he had brought Papa good news, and reluctantly my opinion of him rose a fraction.
"Papa said Colonel Hamilton was attending King's College before the war interrupted his studies," Peggy was saying. "He must be vastly clever. I wonder what his prospects might be."
While I knew Peggy meant his prospects for inherited property and wealth (considerations we'd always been taught to value), I could only think instead of the colonel's prospects for survival in the army, and the war. I'd already seen too many gentlemen march away to battle and not return, and from unhappy experience I'd learned not so much to harden my heart, as to guard it against sorrow and loss. Given his size and stature, I doubted Colonel Hamilton's prospects in this way were very promising at all.
Yet even as these gloomy thoughts filled my head, the colonel bowed and turned away from my parents. His gaze met mine, and held it. He bowed in acknowledgment. At once my face grew hot — what lady wishes to be caught boldly staring at a gentleman? — yet like a deer trapped frozen in a lantern's light, nothing could induce me to look away. His eyes were an unexpected blue, as bright as the summer sky, and at once bold and enticing, with more than a bit of sly humor besides.
And it was that humor that finally released me, too, for as soon as I saw the smile that began to play across his lips, I suddenly was able to shake myself free of his spell. I was no longer captivated; I was mortified. I'd already been shamed, but I needn't be laughed at as well, and swiftly I looked away before he'd find further amusement at my expense.
Flustered, I wanted nothing to do with the colonel now. To my relief, one of my mother's friends came sailing toward me on waves of taffeta and indignation, and for once I gratefully gave myself over to listening to her complaints about how the cobbles in the street before her house had made her carriage late.
At dinner, too, I was mercifully spared. We were short of ladies that night, and at the table I was surrounded by older gentlemen and gloomy talk of the war. Colonel Hamilton, however, had been granted the choicest chair beside my father, and whenever I dared glance their way, the two seemed thoroughly fascinated with each other's opinions. I wasn't exactly jealous, but I did wonder what they discussed, and how much more interesting their conversation must be than those around me.
After dinner the party returned to the sitting room, where I played several pieces on the fortepiano and Peggy and I sang together, as we always did. Polite applause followed our performance, and as I rose from the bench, I knew the evening was mercifully nearly done. Soon carriages would be sent for and our guests would say their farewells, including Colonel Hamilton. Soon he would be gone, and with luck I'd never see him again.
But tonight luck was with him, not me. I'd scarcely stood from the fortepiano's bench when he appeared beside me.
"I must thank you for the pleasure of your songs, Miss Elizabeth," he said, bowing in a way that neatly blocked my escape. "You rival Calliope herself."
I busied myself with the sheet music to hide my discomfort. "You are too kind in your praise, Colonel Hamilton, too kind indeed."
He had appeared small when he'd stood next to my father, but here beside me I had to raise my gaze to meet his. Now his smile seemed warm and genuine, and without the mockery I'd been so certain I'd seen earlier, which confused me even more.
"So you know my name, Miss Elizabeth," he said, "even without an introduction. I am honored."
I blushed again, and hated my cheeks for betraying me.
"You are a guest in our home, Colonel Hamilton," I said briskly, squaring the edges of the sheet music into a tidy stack. "I would be remiss not to know your name."
But he was looking past me, to the window behind the fortepiano. "Your father told me I should admire the view from here, from the southeast."
Of course, the view was familiar to me, but I turned about anyway, seeing it anew through his eyes. Our house overlooked the part of Albany set aside for grazing cattle, with an unimpeded view of the surrounding lands. Above the dark hills, the night sky was pierced by only a handful of stars and a shivering new moon. As if to answer, the lanterns on the sloop tied to my family's dock in the river offered their own meager light, reflecting and dancing across the inky water.
"Your father is a fortunate man," the colonel said softly beside me, his hands clasped behind his waist as he considered the landscape. He didn't say it as a mere pleasantry, but as a definitive statement, and with a touch of wistfulness that clearly encompassed far more than the view alone.
"Papa chose this site himself for the house," I said, deciding to ignore whatever strange mood possessed the colonel. "He is so partial to how the lands slope away to the river that he won't permit the shutters to be closed against the windows at dusk. That's the North River, as we call it, though you likely know it as the Hudson, having sailed along it from New York to Albany."
"But I didn't," he said, turning to look back over his shoulder to me. "I rode directly from Valley Forge. Sixty miles, some days."
I frowned, skeptical. That was hard riding for any man. "Sixty miles in a single day?"
"For five days," he said, smiling again to take away any hint of boastfulness from his claim. "When His Excellency's orders require haste, they must be obeyed. Duty forbids me from saying more, Miss Elizabeth."
"Recall that I'm the daughter of a soldier, Colonel Hamilton," I said. I liked his smile, and I realized I wanted to hear more from him. "Discretion, even secrecy, are imperative for the security of the country. I know to respect the confidence of your orders."
He nodded, his expression stoic, while the candlelight from the sconce to his left turned his hair bright as flames around his face. I might not be entitled to learn the reasons for General Washington having sent him racing here at breakneck speed from Pennsylvania, but I could see the toll that that haste had taken upon the colonel. Now I saw the weariness around his eyes, and understood why his clothes hung loosely about his shoulders. To ride nearly three hundred miles in five days meant he'd barely paused to sleep, let alone eat. I respected him all the more for it.
"I can tell you that His Excellency regrets the accusations that have been made regarding your father, Miss Elizabeth," he continued, still lowering his voice so none of the others might overhear. "There's no secret to it. Congress should not dictate military decisions tainted by politics. Nor does His Excellency find General Gates a particularly trustworthy successor."
"He isn't," I said, indignation welling up on my father's behalf. "The country, and the army with it, deserves much better than General Gates's self-righteous conniving. The man has merely reaped the success of what my father worked so hard to put in place. He has shown no regard for honor, or for the brave men from this state who fought for the cause of liberty, and not for him. Yet he was praised as a hero after Saratoga, an honor he'd no right to claim. None at all!"
The colonel's jaw tensed and he frowned, as if there was much he wished to say but couldn't. "You speak with passion, Miss Elizabeth."
"Pray do not forget that I am a Schuyler, sir," I declared fervently. "I know the cost of liberty, and victory besides."
He cocked a single brow with interest. "Those are brave words for a lady."
"Brave words born of truth, Colonel," I said, "and from what I have witnessed. Ill and in pain, my father insisted on his duties where others would have taken to their beds. When all others were fleeing Saratoga and the coming British, my mother bravely went toward them, to our farms and property there. With her own hand she set fire to the entire season's crops, acres of wheat and corn, to keep from feeding the enemy. Still, General Burgoyne and his officers commandeered our house in Saratoga as their own, and when they had drunk all my father's brandy and plundered my mother's goods, they burned our house, our barns, our mills to the ground for sport before they surrendered to General Gates."
It had been a shocking, sorrowful day when the news of that destruction had reached us. Our family had spent more time in that house in Saratoga than this one here in Albany, and I'd only but the sweetest memories of sleeping with our bedchamber windows open in the summer. I'd hear the breeze in the trees, and gathered berries in the fields, and danced with my sisters out of doors beneath the stars. Now that home and the trees and the berry fields were burned and blackened by war and my father's name cast into disgrace, and with it all had gone much of my childhood innocence, too.
Yet the colonel said nothing in return, and I feared I'd prattled on too much. Many other families had lost their homes to the British, and most did not have a second house in which to live, as we did. Doubtless I sounded spoiled and indulged, a rich man's daughter and nothing more. I tried to smile, tried to explain, tried to make light of what still hurt.
"There was an old tabby-cat at the house who always slept with me on my bed," I said foolishly, unable to help myself. "Her name was Sally, and she had only one eye and a crooked tail, but she was the sweetest cat. The servants told me that one of the officers thought she was an ugly nuisance in the house, and had her thrown into the river to drown. And when afterward those same Englishmen — Burgoyne and his men — came to stay here in this house for ten days as prisoners-of-war, Papa obliged us to be as gracious to them as we would to any guest. He called it the fortunes of war, and said we must do it for the sake of liberty. Yet each time I dined with the English officers, or sang songs for them, all I could wonder was which one of them had drowned poor Sally in the river."
I bowed my head, looking down at the ivory fan in my hand. I'd only made things worse, not better, and I blushed again from misery.
Excerpted from "I, Eliza Hamilton"
Copyright © 2017 Susan Holloway Scott.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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