The Tragic Death Of Alexander Hamilton's Son

Alexander Hamilton had a notoriously difficult life right up until he was killed after a duel with Aaron Burr at the age of 47 or 49 (his exact birthdate remains unknown). What makes his death particularly bizarre and sad is the fact that his oldest son also died after a duel three years before. Philip Hamilton was born to his father and mother Eliza Schuyler Hamilton on January 22, 1782. Alexander was particularly hopeful for the future of his oldest son. Per American Experience, he wrote that the birth "was attended with all the omens of future greatness" and later lovingly described the infant's arm movements as "a method of waving his hand that announces the future orator." Philip grew up to be a smart, handsome, charismatic young man who graduated from Columbia University and began studying law, much to his father's delight. 

The events that would result in Philip Hamilton's death started with a seemingly innocuous trip to New York's Park Theater with his friend Richard Price. Per Mental Floss, the two men ran into George I. Eacker, a lawyer who was an avid supporter of Thomas Jefferson and had previously given a Fourth of July speech in which he'd harshly criticized Alexander Hamilton. According to Ron Chernow in his 2004 biography "Alexander Hamilton," the younger Hamilton and Price barged into Eacker's theater box and harassed him about the Fourth of July speech. Eacker asked Hamilton and Price to step into the lobby, muttering, "It is too abominable to be publicly insulted by a set of rascals."

Did the word 'rascal' lead to Philip Hamilton's death?

Per "Alexander Hamilton," calling someone a "rascal" at this time was a particularly incendiary insult that was associated with duels, and Hamilton and Price yelled back, "Who do you call damn'd rascals?" After nearly coming to blows in the lobby and absconding to a tavern where once again the term "rascal" was thrown around, Price sent Eacker a letter challenging him to a duel, which Eacker accepted.

As reported by Mental Floss, Eacker and Price met in New Jersey that Sunday, fired four shots at one another, and considered the matter done. Unfortunately, Eacker and Hamilton couldn't reach a truce and so arranged to duel the next day in Jersey City, New Jersey. The elder Hamilton advised his son to cut the fight short and waste his first shot by waiting for Eacker to shoot first or by firing into the air. However, shortly after the duel began, both men raised their pistols. Eacker shot Hamilton in the arm and Hamilton shot back. Eacker's bullet lodged in Hamilton's arm, and he died early the next morning on November 24, 1801.

Per American Experience, Alexander Hamilton was so upset at his son's funeral that he could barely stand; a friend wrote that he'd never before seen "a man so completely overwhelmed with grief." Nearly three years later, using the very pistols his son had brought to his own fatal duel, Alexander Hamilton received a fatal wound from Aaron Burr and died the next day, July 12, 1804.