By Maddie Orton
Fans of the Tony, Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton” can’t get enough of this fascinating chapter in American history. As a result, tourism to New Jersey’s Hamilton-related historical sites is on the rise. NJTV News takes you on the second half of our Hamilton history tour, starting at Morristown’s Schuyler-Hamilton House.
Curator of Collections and Head Docent Pat Sanftner estimates visitation has increased from about four people a month to 15 to 20 people a week — an impressive number for a volunteer-run historic site that’s only open two hours a week.
A major story line in “Hamilton” is his relationship with the wealthy and well-bred Elizabeth, or “Eliza” or “Betsy” Schuyler. This is the house where Hamilton courted his wife and likely asked for her hand in marriage during the winter of 1779-80.
“She was on her way down from Albany where she lived, and they actually met her by a military escort in Elizabethtown — Elizabeth, New Jersey — and brought her here,” explained Sanftner. “Well of course, who would’ve arranged for a military escort? George Washington. Whose desk might it [have] passed over to know that one of those glamorous Schuyler sisters was coming to Morristown? Alexander Hamilton. So even before she set foot into Morristown, he undoubtedly knew that she was on her way.”
Sanftner is a member of Morristown’s Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a Broadway veteran herself in the world of costumes. She admits that Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of “Hamilton” Lin-Manuel Miranda takes artistic liberties with the story. The real Elizabeth Schuyler was in Morristown without her sisters when she met Alexander Hamilton. And older sister Angelica was already married by then. But Sanftner thinks Miranda made the right call with his changes. And, she says, he gets so much of the history right, it’s amazing.
“To get it right in three-quarter time is even more impressive. And I think that the jumps that he makes are to set up character better,” said Sanftner. “It has done a great service in making people think and talk and ask. And that is the best thing that any historian could ask for.”
As visitors pile in from as far as Missouri and California, it’s clear Sanftner is right. Ninet Katoe, her friend, and her daughter are in town from Georgia visiting friends. Fans of the musical, they made touring Hamilton-related sites top of their to-do list, and they’ve taken the Grammy-winning score on the road with them.
“We’ve been visiting a lot of the historical sites, and then we’ve been playing the songs that correlate with each of the historical sites that we’re at,” Katoe said.
Also in Morristown, among other locations, the Ford Mansion where Washington and his “right-hand man” Hamilton stayed that winter. And a statue commemorating a meeting between
Washington, Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette about France’s role in the Revolution.
Over in Paterson, a statue of Hamilton overlooks the Great Falls.
“Right around where we’re standing now is where George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette stopped in 1778 to have what we call the most important picnic in American history,” said Robin Gold, program director of the Hamilton Partnership for Paterson. “They were retreating from the Battle of Monmouth and they stopped to dine along the Passaic River.”
“One can infer that while they were here enjoying this wonderful meal on this beautiful day, that Hamilton may have looked over, seen the falls and said, ‘Wow, water’s powerful,'” explained Ilyse Goldman, supervisory park ranger for Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.
After the war, the young country is looking for ways to become financially stable.
“Hamilton was really the first person in the American government to say, ‘We can’t subsist on foreign imports,'” said Gold.
“And they built a series of raceways through the historic district,” explained Goldman. “And he created the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufacturers or S.U.M. for short.”
Manufacturing mills would rent a space along the raceways to place water wheels, utilizing the power of the water. Why then was this groundbreaking industrial city not named after Hamilton?
“Some people were not necessarily in favor of it,” said Gold, “so he needed to grease the wheels a little bit, and said, ‘How do I get the governor of New Jersey on my side? Well, let’s name the city after him. Let’s name it Paterson. And then he can’t say no.'”
Of course the history of Hamilton in New Jersey ends here in Weehawken July 11, 1804. In the show, it’s Aaron Burr who sets this scene for the audience:
“They won’t teach you this in your classes,
But look it up, Hamilton was wearing his glasses.
Why? If not to take deadly aim?
It’s him or me. The world will never be the same.”
Sitting Vice President Burr fatally shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel. It was at the same location Hamilton’s son, Phillip, died in a duel three years earlier. Alexander Hamilton was just 47 years old.
A bust of Hamilton stands here, near the Weehawken Dueling Grounds, and behind it, the rock Hamilton is said to have laid his head on after he was shot.
Over 200 years later, on July 11, the anniversary of America’s most famous duel will be commemorated by the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society. The Society will host several events this month at various historic locations in New Jersey and New York marking the life and death of one of the nation’s most fascinating founders — providing a way for Hamilton buffs to experience history right here, in the state where it happened.
Check out the first part of the series: Hamilton History Tour of NJ: Part I