While writing the blog on Chanukah in Colonial America, I came across some lectures and articles by Andrew Porwancher, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, who has an interesting hypothesis. It seems that while researching the early life of Alexander Hamilton, Porwancher uncovered some interesting facts.
Alexander Hamilton is the son of Rachel Faucette Levine and James Hamilton on the island of Nevis, but he was born out of wedlock because at the time of his birth, Rachel was married to Johann Levine, a “rich Danish Merchant” on St Croix and this is where the plot gets interesting. Now, if Rachel Faucette was a Jew, she may have been divorced as there is a record of her fleeing St. Croix after being imprisoned at the insistence of her husband for “whoring.” Under Danish Law in the 1740’s, Christians and Jews were not permitted to marry so while there is no direct evidence Rachel Faucette was a Jew, it is likely. Furthermore, there are records of young Hamilton being sent to a Jewish School on Nevis and not record of his baptism which would have been legally required of all Christian children born on Nevis.
Of course, this is really sketchy evidence, but it makes for an interesting debate. Consider the following:
- Both Hamilton and Burr were strong supporters of Jewish Merchants and Bankers in New York, successfully prosecuting several cases of cases against known anti-Semites who violated British Law to intimidate and abuse these businessmen.
- Hamilton, as an alumnus of Kings College (later Columbia) successfully argued for changing the admissions employment rules of the college, enabling non-Christian attendees, faculty, and members of the board of trustees. Eventually, Hamilton was able to have Rabbi Gersham Seixas appointed to the faculty and the board.
- Despite Washington’s strong insistence that his staff attend “Divine Services” as part of the daily agenda of his headquarters, Hamilton is noted to have always demurred. Furthermore, Washington NEVER challenged this.
- When Washington visited Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, the only member of his staff to accompany him was Hamilton.
Still pretty thin evidence. So, what do we say to those who point out to Hamilton not being overtly Jewish? Well, that should be obvious. Jews were not treated as equals, EVER, in the British Empire. Most colleges, including Kings College, did not admit Jews, and Jews were prohibited from holding political office. While life in the Colonies was much more equitable and safer than in Europe, its important to remember that most of the Colonies had religious charters, even though we Freedom of Religion today. Alexander Hamilton stopped identifying himself as a Jew sometime before he turned 17 so that he could achieve his social, political, and economic ambitions.
So, was Alexander Hamilton a Jew? Maybe, maybe not. The Jewish Founding Founder: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden Life, by Andrew Porwancher is expected to be published soon by Harvard University Press. Perhaps when this comes out, we will know.
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