Hey Hamilton fans! You might have heard of a little thing called Hamiltines, AKA Hamilton Valentines. My set of 6 postcard valentines is available at The Casey BarberSHOP, along with pins, greeting cards, and stickers inspired by the musical.
Hamilton might be a Broadway musical with a one-man title, but it’s far from a one-man show. Every single one of characters telling the story of America’s 10-Dollar Founding Father is a captivating, strong, and fascinating personality on their own. And while that’s easy to say when there’s big-name historical figures like Washington and Jefferson playing supporting roles, three of the cast’s biggest show-stealers are the Schuyler sisters: Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, and her sisters Angelica and Peggy.
Along with being the emotional backbone of the musical, the characters of Schuyler sisters underscore what The New Yorker succinctly calls “the larger problem of women’s history: the public records are thinner, the milieu is mostly domestic, and there’s more need for speculation.” Despite the prevailing social attitude toward women±as feminist Angelica wryly notes, “I’m a girl in a world in which my only job is to marry rich”—each of these real-life women are complex and intelligent enough to receive more than a passing line in a history book. (To Eliza and Angelica’s credit, they’ve received a fair share of due in recent years, though inevitably their accomplishments are tied to those of the powerful men they knew and loved.)
Historical note: Though the Schuyler sisters did have three brothers and two other younger sisters who lived to adulthood, Lin-Manuel Miranda omits these characters from the musical, as well as the fact that Angelica was already married when she and her sisters met Alexander Hamilton–she had eloped with her husband, John Barker Church, in 1777. (As Miranda admits, it was more expedient plot-wise to streamline and omit certain historical facts.)
These women were individuals who deserve credit for all the credit they gave others, and it’s time to tell the Schuyler Sisters’ stories the best way I can—by creating a cocktail that alludes to their individual temperaments and personalities.
ANGELICA! Angelica Schuyler Church
The first of all the Schuyler siblings, Angelica was the quintessential first-born. A charmer by all accounts and a voracious networker, she was a woman who would have been on par with any Founding Father had she not been, well, a woman, and relegated to a social role. Angelica became something of an ambassador in her own right after she moved back to London with the British-born Church in 1783 after the Revolutionary War ended. Once there, she settled into her milieu, traveling between London and Paris, and became friends not only with the artistic movers and shakers of the day—artist John Trumbull, actress Maria Cosway, playwright Richard Sheridan (“The School for Scandal”)—but with political visionaries: names you might know like Jefferson, Talleyrand, Rochefoucauld, and Lafayette.
She might have been looking for a mind at work, but Angelica had a fine mind of her own and, along with her sister Eliza, served as sounding board for Hamilton while he worked through his complex economic plans intended to shore up the new nation. In her letters from Europe, Angelica inquired frequently about the latest maneuvers within Congress and offered help as Hamilton worked to pass his public debt plan. From the National Archives:
“I shall send by the first ships every well written book that I can procure on the subject of finance. I cannot help being diverted at the avidity I express to whatever relates to this subject. It is a new source of amusement or rather of interest.”
Her relationship with Hamilton was always an overtly flirtatious one by all accounts. Though there’s no smoking gun to definitively conclude that the two had an affair, it’s well established that a deep bond existed between the two. He met both Angelica and Eliza during the Continental Army’s 1779-80 winter sojourn in Morristown, and henceforth referred to the two as “my dear brunettes.” The letters passed between Angelica and Alexander are filled with amorous bons mots (and are worth a read), yet with nearly as much tender talk between Angelica and her sister Eliza. The three really did form something of a harem, a #squad, mutually validating and affirming each others’ affections.
Angelica finally returned to New York in 1797, and she must have been pretty well satisfied by this event—in many of her letters to Alexander and Eliza, she laments the fact that she’s stuck in Europe while the rest of her family and loved ones are back in the nascent United States of America. She was with Eliza at Hamilton’s deathbed and remained her constant emotional wingman until she died in 1814. Yes, Angelica is buried in the north end of the Trinity Church graveyard (Alexander and Eliza are on the south side along the high wall of Rector St.), though she is part of a family vault and doesn’t have a headstone of her own.
By the by, there really was a discussion between Hamilton and Angelica regarding a comma, only the “misplacement” of the comma came from Angelica’s end and was not as scandalously amorous as the musical makes it to be. Take a look at this letter where she writes “Indeed my dear, Sir”. Alexander’s response is: “You ladies despise the pedantry of punctuation. There was a most critical comma in your last letter. It is my interest that it should have been designed; but I presume it was accidental. Unriddle this if you can. The proof that you do it rightly may be given by the omission or repetition of the same mistake in your next.”
In cocktail terms, Angelica is a sparkling rosé wine (preferably one from France): a little Continental and cultivated, seductively fizzy, charms everyone it meets–you can’t not love a sparkling rosé.
ELIZA! Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton
If Angelica was a sparkler, Eliza (or Betsey/Betsy, as she was often referred to in letters) was a slow burn; no less impactful, but more of a subtly influential and memorable presence in life and influence. In his book The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton, Allan McLane Hamilton (a grandson who never had the chance to meet his grandfather) calls Eliza, his grandmother, a woman “who possessed a quiet charm of her own.”
Often described as self-effacing and modest, Eliza exerted her own kind of magnetism, not only over her husband, but among all she came in contact with. She is, by her own terms, defined in comparison and contrast to the man she married—though according to the Chernow biography, Eliza never ever considered herself as part of the narrative, she nonetheless was witness to–and at times an active participant in–the endeavors of Hamilton’s top-notch brain, for instance sitting with him as he wrote George Washington’s Farewell Address. “You are my good genius of that kind which the ancient philosophers called a familiar and you know very well that I am glad to be in every way as familiar as possible with you,” Hamilton wrote in 1798.
Though she, as Angelica, played a crucial role as focus group and muse for Hamilton’s ambitious life and legacy goals, Eliza was tasked with the act of raising the couple’s eight children for most of her married life. From Philip, the eldest and all-around acknowledged star and hope of the family until he was killed in a duel in 1801, to “Little Phil,” the youngest son born in 1802 and named after his recently deceased brother, she had her hands literally full for the majority of that time.
Throughout her life, Eliza was a stand-by-your-man type of woman. Whatever private humiliations she suffered as a result of the Maria Reynolds affair–and it’s true, we have no evidence via letters to support anything that was said, the fact remains that she and Alexander remained a united front after the scandal. Eliza didn’t come into her own until after she was widowed, the duel spurring her to take on projects that would eventually give her a legacy of her own as well as redeem and defend the tarnished legacy of her husband. The wrenching final moments of the Hamilton musical give the spotlight to her accomplishments in the subsequent 50 years: cofounder and longtime director of New York’s first private orphanage, founder of the first school in Washington Heights, unwavering abolitionist, and steward of Hamilton’s vast reams of correspondence. Her dream of seeing the publication of Hamilton’s writings was realized a few years before her death in 1854.
(And can we all agree that “best of wives, best of women” is one of the most devastatingly romantic phrases ever to be sprung from a pen? Oh, Hamilton, you blow us all away.)
In cocktail terms, Eliza is a sugar cube splashed with absinthe: on its own very traditionally sweet, familiar, and dependable–yet bringing an element of unexpected complexity and depth to an otherwise standard accompaniment.
AND PEGGY! Margarita Schuyler Van Rensselaer
As in the musical, there’s less historical information on Peggy than on her sisters (#andpeggy forever!). However, in real life, Alexander Hamilton and Peggy Schuyler were closer companions than her smaller role in the Hamilton musical would have you believe. “Peggy confides in me,” Hamilton sings, and they did become affectionate pen pals—though he did his share of confiding. The only letters that seem to have survived are from Hamilton to Peggy when he was confessing his love for her sister during their courtship and early days of marriage.
She was described by a French friend of the family, the Vicomte de Chastellux, as a woman “whose features were animated and interesting”; however, the gal clearly had a Mean Girls streak that was noticed by a few people. In his Hamilton biography, Chernow calls her “very beautiful but vain and supercilious.” In a letter to Hamilton, his friend James McHenry notes that “Peggy, though perhaps a finer woman [than Angelica], is not generally thought so. Her own sex are apprehensive that she considered them poor things, as Swift’s Vanessa did, and they in return, do not scruple to be displeased. In short, Peggy, to be admired as she ought, has only to please the men less and the ladies more.”
Hamilton teasingly called Peggy “Mrs. Patroon” because she married Stephen Van Rensselaer, who was one of the last patroons, or deeded landowners, in New York State (a holdover title from when the state was under Dutch rule)–but she could give as good as she got, teasing Hamilton about his flirtatious nature.
As Mrs. Patroon, she lived close to the Schuyler family homestead in Albany, and so she had ample opportunity to see Eliza when she stayed there with various Hamilton children. When poor Pegs died at age 42 in March 1801 after a two-year illness, it was Alexander and not Eliza who was with her; he sent the sad news to his wife, who had stayed in Manhattan with the Hamilton kids.
In cocktail terms, Peggy is a lemon twist: a little sour, but in small doses, provides an essential element of brightness and vivacity to the drink.
And so we get the Schuyler Sisters Cocktail: a perfectly matched trio of tastes that, when paired, is far more than the sum of its parts. Each element harmonizes with the others to make a memorable (and, dare I say, satisfying) drink. I’m just saying if you really love them, you should share them.
- 1 1/2 cups (12 fluid ounces) sparkling rosé wine, divided
- 3 sugar cubes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons absinthe or green Chartreuse, divided
- 3 lemon twists
- Pour 1/2 cup wine into each of 3 Champagne flutes or coupes.
- Hold a sugar cube over each glass.
- Carefully pour the absinthe over the sugar so it absorbs the liquor, then gently drop the sugar into the glass.
- Garnish each glass with a lemon twist.
- Serve immediately and be satisfied.