What happened here:
Place Name: Christiansted, St. Croix
Location: Virgin Islands, Caribbean
Event in Hamilton’s life:
Alexander Hamilton lived on the island of St. Croix between 1765 and 1772 (age 8-15). Hamilton's mother Rachael died in 1768, within a year or two after his father James had left the island. Hamilton gained invaluable experience working as a clerk for the mercantile firm of Nicholas Cruger and his partners. Recognizing his diverse talents, his employers and perhaps additional supporters provided young Hamilton with funds to attend college on the North American mainland. He left St. Croix in the fall of 1772, eventually settling in New York just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
Get the details:
Alexander Hamilton, along with his mother, father, and older brother, moved from the British island of Nevis to the Danish island of St. Croix sometime between May and July of 1765. The reason for this move was because Hamilton's father James was sent to St. Croix to collect a debt on behalf of his employer back on St. Kitts. While waiting for the court proceedings to conclude, the Hamilton family settled in the city of Christiansted, where family of Hamilton's mother Rachael also lived.
The debt was finally settled in January of 1766, and James Hamilton left St. Croix sometime between July of 1766 and the end of 1767.¹ Alexander Hamilton would not see his father again after that, though they did maintain a correspondence until James passed away on the island of St. Vincent in 1799. There remains much speculation about why James left the family; Alexander Hamilton's explanation many years later to his uncle (his father's brother) was that "my fathers affairs at a very early day went to wreck; so as to have rendered his situation during the greatest part of his life far from eligible. This state of things occasionned a separation between him and me, when I was very young, and threw me upon the bounty of my mothers relations, some of whom were then wealthy." ²
The wealth of Rachael's family soon declined. To support herself and her two sons, Hamilton's mother ran a small store from the ground floor of her two-story rented home. In early February 1768, Alexander and Rachael both caught a tropical fever. Though Alexander survived, his mother passed away on the night of February 19th.
Since all of Rachael's possessions went to the son from her first marriage, Alexander Hamilton and his older brother James moved in with their cousin Peter Lytton for seventeen months until the cousin committed suicide. Their uncle James Lytton passed away shortly thereafter. From there, they moved in with the Stevens family.
Hamilton had likely begun working either at his mother's store or for Nicholas Cruger by age 9 (a typical age to begin working at the time). After his mother's death, he continued to work for Cruger, where he gained invaluable experience in trade, economics, and finance. He would later refer to being a clerk as "the most useful part of his education,"³ though at age 12 he wrote to his friend Ned Stevens: "I contemn the grov’ling and condition of a Clerk."ª
Bright, hard-working, and determined to improve his lot in life, Hamilton persevered in self-education. His employers recognized and appreciated these traits, providing money for him to travel to to go to college on the "mainland," where he would eventually study at an academy in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, followed by a college education at King's College in New York.
Just before he left St. Croix, however, a devastating hurricane hit the island on August 31, 1772. Hamilton wrote to his father about surviving the hurricane, and the poetic letter was published in the local paper the Royal Danish American Gazette.
¹ See Newton, Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years
² Alexander Hamilton to William Hamilton, May 2, 1797
³ Cissel, "Alexander Hamilton: The West Indian 'Founding Father'," pg 15
ª Alexander Hamilton to Edward Stevens, November 11, 1769
Links to related websites:
How to visit:
There are multiple sites within Christiansted and the surrounding area that are associated with Alexander Hamilton, some whose structures are still existing and others not.
Sites of Interest In and Near Christiansted:
- Christiansted Wharf - The principal port for ships; Alexander Hamilton likely spent a great deal of time here overseeing cargo unloaded from ships and instructing their captains on behalf of Cruger's mercantile company.
- St. John's Anglican Church - This is most likely the church that Alexander Hamilton worshipped in, considering his relatives, employers, and the Stevens family (that took in Alexander and his brother James for several years) all attended this parish. The church that existed during Hamilton's time was destroyed in the 1772 hurricane that Hamilton survived. The church building that currently stands was built in 1780.
- Fort Christiansvaern* - Used for the city's defense; also where Hamilton's mother Rachael was imprisioned by her first husband in 1750 to convince her to return to him
- Danish West India & Guinea Company Warehouse* - The yard was a main location for slave auctions
- Steeple Building* - The first Danish Lutheran church on St. Croix
- Dutch Reform Church* - Today better known the Lutheran Church
- Estate Grange - Home of Hamilton's aunt and uncle, James and Ann Lytton. The estate was sold shortly before the Hamiltons moved to St. Croix, so it is unlikely Hamilton spent much time there himself. It is believed that Hamilton attended his mother's funeral in 1768; if so, it is likely that he visited the property for her burial in the Lytton family cemetery. Though the location of the cemetery is unknown today, a granite momument was placed on the estate in the 20th century to honor Rachael Fawcett. (Private residence; read about the house here)
Visiting Information: Plan Your Visit with the National Park Service (Christiansted National Historic Site)
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