UNION COUNTY, NJ — Three discoveries have been made at Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University surrounding the history of Alexander Hamilton this year. An event that featured author Michael E. Newton and his book, “Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years,” took place at Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University on Thursday, July 7 at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. People gathered to hear the truth about Hamilton and learn about the most recent discoveries made about him.
“This is a unique spot because of the connection between the Kean family and Alexander Hamilton,” said Director of Museum Operations, Bill Schroh. “Hamilton settled in Elizabethtown, and John Kean was a patriot of Alexander Hamilton. Kean worked as a cashier at the first banking institution where he met Hamilton, who worked in the treasury.”
For the very first time in history, a public viewing of many documents was held, including the original copy of Hamilton’s half brother, Peter Lavien’s will; as well as letters written about Hamilton; and his wife, Susan’s response to his outbreak of yellow fever. Kean was the executor of the will. Vice President of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, Nicole Scholet Villavicencio spoke about the yellow fever epidemic that plagued Philadelphia in 1793. Hamilton was afflicted with the condition, for which the cure eventually became a political issue.
Perhaps the biggest myth that has prevented Hamilton from being fully appreciated is the one exposed by Newton in his recent book. He was presented with an award for his discovery, as he told the myth of Martha Washington’s tomcat, named Hamilton. It was once believed that Hamilton was very popular with the ladies, and that he possessed the same qualities as the feral cat Washington named after him.
“Several sources state this fact is indeed true,” said Newton. “Hamilton was considered ‘lusty’ and ‘amorous,’ which tarnished his reputation throughout history. It is because of this that Hamilton never got the recognition he truly deserved. If you’re saying Hamilton was this scoundrel, all of a sudden it colors your view on his position on politics and economics.”
As Newton digs deeper into the meaning of the word “tomcat,” he discovers that the definition stated prior to 1927 was merely that of a male cat. He also exposed the original documentation of the description of Hamilton. It was never published in a book or newspaper, but it was documented in a private journal written in 1780.
“The myth surrounding the tomcat is completely untrue,” Newton told audience members. “Author Steven Knott even states this is ‘clearly a joke.’ There are many myths surrounding the number 13 throughout history, and most, if not all of them, are clearly false. The myth involving the number 13 involving Hamilton is that the 13 stripes on the tail of Martha Washington’s tomcat became the inspiration for the 13 stripes on the flag. It’s highly doubtful Martha Washington even owned a tomcat, let alone that it was named ‘Hamilton’ and it was meant to describe his character as a womanizer.”
Throughout history, people were reluctant to dismiss the words of Martha Washington, which is why this myth has stood the test of time. As the event came to a close, some books were recommended to the audience, including Ron Chernow’s 740-page book titled, “Alexander Hamilton,” which inspired the Tony-award winning musical.
“Be very alert about what you read,” warned Scholet. “Hamilton is often mischaracterized.”