"Where" Tells Your Story: A Hamilton Tour, Act One
"Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" may be the final line of the hit musical "Hamilton," but preservationists know that sometimes who tells your story isn't, in fact, a who, but a where.
It will come as no great shock when I say there are a lot of self-described history nerds working at the National Trust for Historic Preservation—but that there are also a substantial number of musical theater enthusiasts might be more of a surprise.
This overlap in interests has become very clear over the last several months, as an obsession with the hit Broadway musical "Hamilton" has overtaken our headquarters. On most days, eavesdropping in the lunch room will reveal at least one conversation about the show, in which creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has fused the historical information of Ron Chernow's biography Alexander Hamilton with hip-hop, rap, and show tunes.
Many of these lunchtime chats center around “How can I get tickets without having to sell a kidney/my house to pay for them?” But because we’re preservationists, we also discuss the places referenced in the show, and wonder which we might be able to visit—and if visiting is too nerdy (or just nerdy enough).
Assuming we can’t be the only building-huggers out there thinking about Hamilton pilgrimages, the idea for this story was born. Or shall I say, these stories, as the places mentioned in Act Two will be covered later this week (wait for it!). For—despite the fact that his life was significantly shorter than many of the Founding Fathers—Alexander Hamilton really got around.
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
Impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
Hamilton House—Charlestown, NevisThe “forgotten spot in the Caribbean” is, in fact, so sufficiently forgotten that the building on Nevis known as the Hamilton House is no longer believed to be the actual structure in which Alexander Hamilton was born. It is, however, on the same property, so likely as close as one can get.
I’m ‘a get a scholarship to King’s College
I prob’ly shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish
The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish
I gotta holler just to be heard
With every word, I drop knowledge!
Hamilton Hall—Columbia University, New York City
Though Alexander Hamilton did not finish his degree* at King’s College—now known as Columbia University—he has a building on campus named for him. It was designed by McKim, Mead, and White and built in the early 20th century, and features a statue of Hamilton out front.
* Columbia’s wiki notes that it wasn’t really Hamilton’s fault he didn’t graduate, as a little thing known as the Revolutionary War closed the college for a time, putting an end to A. Ham’s studies.
"Right Hand Man"
Any hope of success is fleeting
How can I keep leading when the people I’m
Leading keep retreating?
We put a stop to the bleeding as the British take Brooklyn
Battery Park and Governors Island National Monument—New York City
The Battle of Long Island—depicted throughout “Right Hand Man”—was an early defeat for the Colonial army, ultimately leaving New York City in the hands of the British. Chernow's biography mentions that Hamilton was stationed at the Battery, which suggests the site of Battery Park, named for the early American artillery batteries stationed there. There’s no Revolutionary War-era interpretation there, however, so Governors Island, which also played a role in the Battle of Long Island, might be a more educational choice.
"A Winter’s Ball/Helpless"
I have never been the type to try and grab the spotlight
We were at a revel with some rebels on a hot night
Laughin’ at my sister as she’s dazzling the room
Then you walked in and my heart went “Boom!”
Ford Mansion—Morristown, New Jersey
As an aide-de-camp to George Washington, Hamilton was staying with him at the Ford Mansion during the time "A Winter’s Ball/Helpless" is set. And though he had, in fact, briefly met Elizabeth Schuyler previously according to Chernow, it was during this period in Morristown that they fell in love, so humming “Helpless” while touring the mansion would be entirely appropriate. Opening hours vary, so check the website or call before visiting.While you’re in Morristown, you can also swing by the Campfield House, where Eliza—then apparently known as Betsey, if the historical marker is to be believed—was living during their courtship. And you can also visit the statue at the top of this story, depicting a conversation between the Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington, and Hamilton on the Morristown Green.
Alright, alright. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Now everyone give it up for the maid of honor
Schuyler Mansion – Albany, New York
While the site where Eliza and Alexander wed is not mentioned explicitly in the song that celebrates their nuptials, it is known to have been at her family’s home in Albany, New York. Regular tours are offered, should you want to toast to the groom (To the groom! To the groom! To the groom!) and to the bride (To the bride! To the bride! To the bride!) in the room where it happened.
Instead of me
Makes him second-in-command
(I’m a General. Whee!!!!)
Yeah. He’s not the choice I would have gone with
He s***s the bed at the Battle of Monmouth
Monmouth Battlefield State Park—Monmouth, New Jersey
Monmouth Battlefield State Park is open to the public daily, but if you want to get the best look at exactly how General Charles Lee was ... unsuccessful at the Battle of Monmouth, there’s a reenactment annually in late June. If you’re too far away from New Jersey for this to be feasible, there are videos online. Think of it as a non-musical #Ham4Ham clip!
"Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)"
We negotiate the terms of surrender
I see George Washington smile
We escort their men out of Yorktown
They stagger home single file
Tens of thousands of people flood the streets
There are screams and church bells ringing
And as our fallen foes retreat
I hear the drinking song they’re singing…
The world turned upside down
Yorktown Battlefield—Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown, Virginia
The National Park Service describes the surrender at Yorktown as “spectacle incredible to all who witnessed it,” with the line of General Cornwallis’ vanquished army, flanked by American and French soldiers, stretching more than a mile. The site of the siege and home where the surrender was negotiated are part of the park, which is open year-round, with the exception of some holidays.
Hamilton, at the Constitutional Convention
(I was chosen for the Constitutional Convention!)
There as a New York junior delegate
(Now what I’m going to say may sound indelicate…)
Independence Hall—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
When the Constitutional Convention was held, the building that hosted it was still known as the Pennsylvania State House, though we know it today as Independence Hall. The Constitution was debated—and signed—by Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers in the Assembly Room, which was also the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence a little over a decade earlier. Independence Hall is open year-round, but timed tickets are required.
With that, it's time for intermission in our tour of all places "Hamilton," but we know you'll be back for places related to Act Two in a few days. And if not, we'll send a fully armed battalion to remind you!