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Saturday, July 30, 2016


You’d never know, at first glance, that Mrs. Hamilton was a Leo. When you first learn of a shy girl, “the best tempered girl in the world,” -- an 18th Century way to praise one who is not a great beauty – you can’t imagine any sort of classic Leo female. Such women radiate energy, flaunt their good looks and always have something clever to say.

Still, according to General Washington’s ADC, Tench Tilghman, who met Betsy Schuyler during a war time visit to Albany, she was “…A Brunette with the most good-natured dark lovely eyes that I ever saw, which threw a beam of good temper and Benevolence over her entire Countenance…” Later, during that same visit, three ladies and three gentlemen took a picnic “of Sherbet and Biscuit" to the Falls at Cohoes, north of Albany.

The Falls at Cohoes, low flow
They went for a climb up the rocks in order to get a better view—or at least, Betsy and Tench Tilghman did—and she astonished the Marylander by climbing unaided right alongside him, for “she disdained all assistance and made herself merry at the distress of the other Ladyes.”  This gives us a far more Leonine, picture of Miss Betsy—of a healthy, able-bodied creature, who was used to and thoroughly enjoyed physical activity—even if it wasn’t  considered “ladylike.”   

And she could fascinate in a Leonine way, too, when it suited her. Here follows a sweet story told by one of the elder children of the Ford Mansion, the stately home where Washington’s military family was housed for the winter. In order that teen-age Timothy might go see his friends in the Village of Morristown, he was given the nightly countersign so that he could pass the sentries posted around the house after dark. One night, as he approached the sentinel, he heard the call for the countersign, but the young officer who’d been trudging ahead of him through the snow couldn’t seem to remember it. The sentry, following orders, presented his bayonet.

The absent-minded officer was Alexander Hamilton, who had been leaving headquarters almost every night to spend time with Miss Betsy, now staying with her Aunt and Uncle Cochran at a farmhouse nearby. Timothy and the sentry both knew Lieutenant Hamilton, of course, but the sentry didn’t dare disobey orders. In the end, Hamilton took Timothy aside and asked for the password, which he then presented to the still dubious guard. This is the only story concerning absent-mindedness I’ve ever read about the sharp-as-a-tack Hamilton, and I give the Leo in Miss Betsy all the credit.

Later on in the marriage, after her husband's sordid affair with Maria Reynolds, nosy biographers as well as novelists like me, would love to know how Eliza reacted.  (As they grew older, Hamilton's pet name for his Elizabeth changed to one more dignified.) However, with the strong desire for privacy evidenced by many 18th Century wives of famous men, Mrs. Hamilton, like Konstanze Mozart and Martha Washington, two other notable contemporary examples, doubtless burned any and all written evidence of recrimination. To quote the astrologer, Linda Goodman, on the bravery of Leo* "...there's no one who can bear more in stoic dignity, or adjust more courageously to depressing conditions with sheer faith and optimism...". 

This perfectly describes Elizabeth. She lived for more than fifty years after her "dear Hamilton" had died and never ceased to love him and defend his memory. She worked to preserve his vast, scattered written legacy, and fought to maintain his reputation in the face of his longer lived, formidable (Adams, Jefferson) but relentlessly jealous enemies.

Although she had to scrape to raise her children, Elizabeth made her mark in the world, being one of the co-founders of the first orphanage in NYC, a project dear to her heart because through this she honored her husband, who'd also been a fatherless child.

The train of disasters, financial and emotional, which beset this lady never kept her spirits down. Quoting Linda Goodman once more on Leo: "It's hard to sway them from a set path...They accumulate only so they can distribute to others...when a real emergency falls on Leo's strong shoulders..." they will "never shirk ... duty...they will help "the defenseless" and "protect the frightened."   

@ New York Historical Society

For information and inspiration for this blog, I am indebted to:

*Women of Colonial and Revolutionary Times by Mary Gay Humphreys 
*Life of Major General Schuyler by Bayard Tuckerman
*Sun Signs by Linda Goodman

~~Juliet Waldron ~ All my historical novels :  http://amzn.to/1UDoLAi

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