J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

“I have found a wealthy husband”?

Folks who spotted the name of Angelica Schuyler in yesterday’s posting might immediately have thought of last year’s Broadway sensation Hamilton.

Angelica is a major supporting role in the play. Renée Elise Goldsberry first played the role and won a Tony Award for it. (Another notable performance came from Joshua Colley in the “Miscast” benefit concert, shown here; click on the picture for the video.)

In that show, Angelica is the first Schuyler sister to meet Alexander Hamilton in 1780. She steps away when she realizes her younger sister Eliza is more interested. As she explains in a number titled “Satisfied”:
I’m a girl in a world in which
My only job is to marry rich
My father has no sons so I’m the one
Who has to social climb for one
So I’m the oldest and the wittiest and the gossip in
New York City is insidious
And Alexander is penniless
Ha! That doesn’t mean I want him any less
Later Angelica marries a rich, boring man, though she’s full of silent regrets about not pursuing Hamilton. In “Non-Stop” she sings:
I am sailing off to London
I’m accompanied by someone who always pays
I have found a wealthy husband
Who will keep me in comfort for all my days
He is not a lot of fun, but there’s no one
Who can match you for turn of phrase
My Alexander
So if that’s Angelica Schuyler’s story, her elopement with the mysterious English adventurer “John Carter” (actually John Barker Church) couldn’t have lasted, right?

In fact, Schuyler family is one of the parts of history that Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda took the most liberties with. To begin with, Gen. Philip Schuyler had three sons. All three married into other wealthy, politically active Dutch New York families—the Van Rensselaers, the Ten Broecks, and the Rutsens. One became a U.S. Congressman. The family fortunes didn’t depend on Angelica’s marriage.

In notes on “Satisfied” Miranda wrote:
I actually forgot that Phillip had 15 children. But I think that my brain wanted me to forget because it’s stronger dramatically if societally she can’t marry you. And in reality, she was married when they met.

She was married when Hamilton came into the Schuyler sisters lives. Moreover, “Helpless” and “Satisfied” are a microcosm for the whole story which entirely depends on who tells it.

To me, it’s extremely effective to see the courtship from Eliza’s perspective, then rewind the whole thing and then tell it again. Angelica, while she and Hamilton are soul mates, she reads him in a second and knows she can’t marry him so she lets her sister marry him to keep him in her life. I definitely had to take a dramatic license.
But here’s the rub: In a world not centered on Alexander Hamilton, one could hardly find more drama than Angelica Schuyler deciding to run off with John Barker Church in 1777. His past was even more shadowy than Col. Hamilton’s, his behavior more dangerous, and his prospects more dubious.

TOMORROW: So will that marriage be saved?

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