Hamilton Wasn't Quite the Man We Thought He Was

Alexander Hamilton's 'abolitionist' reputation takes a knock
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 11, 2020 6:05 PM CST
Hamilton Wasn't Quite the Man We Thought He Was
In this Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, file photo, a statue of Alexander Hamilton stands in Central Park in New York.   (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

(Newser) – Alexander Hamilton, "uncompromising abolitionist"? Not according to a new research paper that depicts the celebrated Founding Father as a slaveholder for much of his life, the Guardian reports. "When we say Hamilton didn't enslave people, we're erasing them from the story," the paper's author, Jessie Serfilippi, tells the New York Times. "The most important thing is they were here. We need to acknowledge them." Serfilippi based her work on documents at the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, NY, the former home of a slaveholding family Hamilton married into in 1780. She argues that Hamilton not only helped clients and family members buy slaves—which is already well-documented—but owned enslaved people in his home.

Serfilippi points out mentions of slave-holding in Hamilton's correspondence and his cash books. In one case, Hamilton appears to have paid $250 for "2 negro servants purchased ... for me," while another cash-book entry refers to Hamilton getting $100 for the "term" of a "Negro boy"—which "absolutely indicates that Hamilton enslaved the boy," writes Serfilippi. Not all her evidence is new, but it's turning heads at a time when America is reckoning with its painful legacy of slavery. Serfilippi's work also contradicts more recent depictions of Hamilton: Ron Chernow, whose Hamilton biography inspired the hit musical and called him an "uncompromising abolitionist," said Serfilippi's research was "terrific" but omitted "all information that would contradict her conclusions." (Read more Alexander Hamilton stories.)

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