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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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

“Such a charge made upon such authority is monstrous”

Yesterday I quoted a passage from Frank Moore’s 1859-1860 compendium The Diary of the American Revolution which stated, among many other things, that Martha Washington had “a mottled tom-cat (which she calls in a complimentary way ‘Hamilton’).”

In 1879, George Shea published The Life and Epoch of Alexander Hamilton: A Historical Study. He cited that page from Moore when he wrote:
Hamilton’s name is not free from reproach for libidinousness. It appears to have been observed afterwards by Mrs. Washington when he was at Morristown.
However, Shea didn’t quote the passage in question.

That left open the door for a person using the name “Columbia” to complain in the Magazine of History the next year:
Judge Shea, in his Life and Epoch of Hamilton, makes an assertion, all the more extraordinary as coming from one whose profession is supposed to train to careful statement and a proper weighing of evidence.

In Moore’s Diary of the Revolution, Vol. II., 250, is published one of the numerous Tory squibs recorded in the manuscript diary of Captain Smyth of the Royal Army. The point is that the number thirteen was peculiar to the rebels. After charging that the army rations were thirteen dried clams per day, that Lord Stirling took thirteen glasses of grog every morning, and in consequence had thirteen rum bunches on his nose, that General Washington had thirteen toes on his feet, and thirteen teeth in each jaw, and other similar absurdities about Putnam, Schuyler and Wayne, he concludes by saying, that “Mrs. Washington has a mottled tom-cat (which she calls in a complimentary way ‘Hamilton’) with thirteen yellow rings around his tail, and that his flaunting it suggested to the Congress the adoption of the same number of stripes for the rebel flag.”
As to Hamilton’s libidinousness, “Columbia” concluded, “Such a charge made upon such authority is monstrous.”

And of course it would be. In fact, given the satirical purpose of the passage and how it was written by a British officer, not confirmed by anyone in the American army camp, to state on that authority that Martha Washington even had a cat is a stretch. Much less to state confidently that she named it after her husband’s lustful aide.

On the other hand, in discussing Hamilton’s “libidinousness” Shea also cited Hamilton’s own confession to his extended extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds. Personally, I find it hard to believe, as some Hamilton fans seem to, that the one time the man had a sexual affair he was caught and forced to confess publicly.

In 1777, Hamilton told Catherine Livingston, “you know, I am renowned for gallantry.” He joked with other officers on Washington’s staff about pursuing women, sometimes in romantic terms (“I have no invincible antipathy to the maidenly beauties & that I am willing to take the trouble of them upon myself”) and sometimes in anatomical terms (“mind you do justice to the length of my nose and don’t forget, that I [cut out by a descendant]”). Some modern biographers even suggest Hamilton had an affair with his sister-in-law, Angelica Church.

So although the passage Moore quoted is weak evidence for the tomcat, and weak evidence that Martha Washington thought Hamilton was anything like a tomcat, there’s other evidence about Hamilton’s libido for historians to consider.

TOMORROW: Who was Moore’s source?


Anonymous said...

Johan Adams seems to have gone down that road-- Adams to B. Rush Nov. 11, 1806

"As the face of nature never produces rain, but when it is overcast and disturbed; So human Understanding, Seated in the brain, must be troubled and overspread by Vapours, ascending from the lower faculties to water the invention and render it fruitful. Two Instances may be produced to prove and explain this Theory. the first is that of Henry the fourth of France, whose whole project of universal Empire, as well as that of subduing the Turk and recovering Palestine, arose from an absent female, whose Eyes had raised a protuberancy, and before emission she was sent into an Ennemy’s country. The collected part of the semen, raised and inflamed became a dust, converted to choler, turned head upon the spinal duct, and ascended to the brain. The very same principle that influences a bully, to break the Windows of a whore that has jilted him, naturally Stirrs up a great Prince to raise mighty Armies, and dream of nothing but seiges, battles and Victories. In this place I cannot avoid introducing a reflection by Way of digression. What a pity it is that our Congress had not known this discovery, and that Alexander Hamiltons project of raising an Army of fifty thousand Men, ten thousand of them to be Cavalry and his projects of Sedition Laws and Alien Laws and of new Taxes to Support his army, all arose from a superabundance of secretions which he could not find Whores enough to draw off? and that the Same Vapours produced his Lyes and Slanders by which he totally destroyed his party forever and finally lost his Life in the field of honor. But to return from this digression."

J. L. Bell said...

As delightful as John Adams invective is, I decided not to include it as evidence of Hamilton's habits because Adams wrote after Hamilton had publicly confessed to his affair with Maria Reynolds and after Adams and Hamilton had fallen out. I've seen too many Adams rants and stories from that period turn out not to be supported by period documentation.