History : May-Jun 2016
76 MAY/JUNE 2016 Hamilton’s Troubled Heritage Circa 1729 Rachel Faucette is born on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. After her parents’ formal separation, Rachel and her mother move to St. Croix. Circa 1718 The fourth son of 11 children, James Hamilton is born in Scotland. To find his own fortune, he leaves Scotland for St. Kitts in 1741. 1745 After her father’s death, Rachel marries Johann Michael Lavien and has a son. Unable to endure a miserable marriage, in 1750 she abandons them for St. Kitts. 1750s Rachel and James Hamilton meet and become romantically involved. They move to Nevis and have two sons together, James Jr. and Alexander. 1759 Johann Michael Lavien files a formal petition to divorce Rachel. After the divorce, he may marry, but Rachel is legally prohibited from doing so. 1768 Rachel Lavien dies unexpectedly from a fever, effectively orphaning James Jr. and Alexander, who inherit nothing from her estate. 1760s The Hamilton family relocates to St. Croix. James Hamilton abandons his family. Alexander never sees his father again. TWO ISLANDS, ONE NATION Hamilton’s birthplace, Nevis rises beyond the shores of St. Kitts (above). These tiny Caribbean islands compose one nation, which declared its independence from Britain in 1983 but remains a member of the Commonwealth. M. RUNKEL/CORBIS/CORDON PRESS In contriving the smoothly running machinery of a modern nation-state—including a budget system, a funded debt, a tax system, a central bank, a customs service, and a coast guard, he set a high-water mark for administrative com- petence that has never been equaled. No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America’s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together. To- day, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world. Hamilton’s accomplishments are well docu- mented, but his origins are not as well known. Hamilton was famously reticent about his pri- vate life, especially his squalid Caribbean boy- hood. Taunted as a bastard throughout his life, Hamilton was understandably reluctant to chat about his childhood—“my birth is the subject of the most humiliating criticism,” he wrote in one pained confession—and he turned his early family history into a taboo topic, alluded to in only a couple of cryptic letters.