A Look At Alexander Hamilton's Unstable Childhood

While history remembers Alexander Hamilton as a great man, he's even more impressive considering the hardships he faced growing up. Born on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies in 1755 or 1757, he was the second illegitimate son of James Hamilton and Rachel Faucette Lavien (via The New York Times). His parents' relationship was mired in scandal since his mother was still married to another man when Hamilton was born, according to History. Even though her first husband eventually divorced her, Hamilton's mother never married his father. Hamilton lived with the stigma of being illegitimate all his life, which was a huge issue for anyone living in the 1700s.

After moving with his family to St. Croix in 1765, Hamilton soon found himself in a dire situation. His father abandoned him, his brother James, and his mother. His mother went to work to support her two sons, starting up a business selling dry goods (via History Today). Hamilton also finds work as a clerk at a local firm the following year, according to PBS' American Experience. Two years later, both Hamilton and his mother became severely ill. His mother died, and Hamilton was left with lifelong health issues.

Young Alexander Hamilton struggles on St. Croix

Now orphaned, Hamilton soon experienced another loss. His cousin, who served as a guardian to Hamilton and his brother, committed suicide only 18 months after Hamilton lost his mother. He is separated from his brother, who found work as an apprentice to a carpenter. Hamilton was taken in by a merchant and worked for the import-export firm of Beekman and Cruger (via The New York Times). He was bright and ambitious, and his talents were noticed by his employers (via Britannica). While he did earn a promotion, Hamilton still hungered for bigger things. 

As a teenager, Hamilton seemed to hit his breaking point when disaster struck again. A terrible hurricane devastated the island of St. Croix in 1772, and he wrote a letter about the terrible incident to his father. He captured the event vividly, writing about "the roaring of the sea and wind, fiery meteors flying about it in the air, the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning, the crash of the falling houses, and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed." His father never received these words, and the letter ended up being published in a newspaper (via National Archives). This impressive piece of writing demonstrated Hamilton's intellectual gifts and helped inspire some locals to collect funds for Hamilton's education (via History Today). In 1774, Hamilton set sail for New York to study at King's College (now Columbia University) and his new life in America.