1 Spring Harvest! The Schuyler Mansion Albany, New York April 1781
Forget Paris. The French could keep their croissants and the Champs-Élysées. Who cares about London? Rome? Athens? From what she’d heard, they were just a bunch of ruins. And what of Williamsburg, Virginia? Charleston, South Carolina? New York City? As far as she was concerned, they could all fall off the map.
In all the world, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton thought there was no place more beautiful than Albany at springtime. Of course, the Pastures was dear to her as her childhood home, and even more so as the site of her wedding to Alexander Hamilton just last winter. Time had done little to dampen their affection, and she was more in love with her husband than ever. Perhaps it was this love that led to Eliza’s delight at anything and everything around her.
But rose-colored glasses or no, it was hard to claim there was anywhere more glorious than late April in her hometown. The air was warm and the sun was mellow. Bare trees had covered themselves in soft green foliage and the sharp, tangy smell of fireplace smoke gave way to the softer aromas of hyacinths and crocuses, lilac and dogwood. Swallows darted through the air, snapping up flies and gnats, and newborn calves, foals, and shoats frolicked about the fields and sties. The mighty Hudson River was wreathed in mist at daybreak and teemed with fishermen’s boats in the afternoon. Their nets hauled in plentiful catches of shad, whose roe had a delicate, almost nutty taste that paired perfectly with a salad of tender mustard greens.
But best of all was the bounty of blueberries and strawberries. All over the estate, hundreds of bushes sagged beneath the weight of thousands upon thousands of red, burgundy, and purple fruit. Every morning for a week, Eliza and her sisters, Angelica, Peggy, and five-year-old Cornelia—joined sometimes by their youngest brother, eight-year-old Rensselaer, known affectionately as Ren—traded in their sumptuous silks and bustles for simple, sturdy muslin skirts that they’d tie up high, showing ankles and calves in a bit of a risqué manner, and joined the housemaids in the fields to pick bucket after bucket of plump, sweet, juicy berries. (Well, not Ren. Ren hadn’t worn a skirt since his christening.)
By noon, their lips were as stained as their fingertips (after all, picking involved a fair bit of “sampling,” as Eliza put it), and the three oldest sisters repaired to the kitchen to do their work. Some of the fruit was packed in ice in the cellar, and some more was baked into pies, but most was simmered in rich syrupy jellies whose tart sweetness would liven up many a winter meal, slathered on fresh bread or griddle cakes or dabbed on turkey or mutton. A portion of the fruit was pickled, making for a delicious snack, salty at first, before exploding in your mouth in a burst of sweetness.
But as tempting as all these rich cooked treats were, Eliza’s favorite way to eat them was also the simplest: fresh and chilled. Each plump fruit tasted like a thimble-size dollop of liquid happiness. That early spring afternoon, standing in the dappled light by the stone counter, Eliza alternated between a basket of strawberries and a basket of blueberries, savoring them one at a time.
“I can’t decide which is more perfect!” she exclaimed to her sisters, who were gathered around the long rustic table that ran down the center of the kitchen, sorting fruit.
“Blech.” Peggy Schuyler pouted with lips that were nearly as fruit-stained as Eliza’s. “If I ever see another strawberry or blueberry again, it will be too soon!” she said as she reached for yet another blueberry and popped it in her mouth.
“Peg’s right,” Angelica agreed. “Sometimes nature’s bounty is too much. A week ago I couldn’t wait for the fruit to ripen. Now all I want are peanuts! What I wouldn’t give for freshly roasted nuts right now!” But before the words had escaped her lips, she was already rolling a red strawberry between her fingers, letting it disappear into her mouth as well.
“With this war, we can’t have peanuts till September anyway,” said Eliza.
“Stephen says the war may be over before fall,” said Peggy, referring to her fiancé, Stephen Van Rensselaer III. “The American coastline is simply too long for even an army or navy as powerful as England’s to cover, and with French forces now fully committed to the cause of our independence, King George’s men will find themselves both outnumbered and outmaneuvered.”
“It is hard to imagine this war being over,” Eliza said. “I feel as though we have grown up with it. But I do hope he’s right! Alex and I have been married for half a year already, but we have yet to establish a household.”
Indeed, as much as Eliza loved the Pastures, she was impatient to move out of her parents’ house and into one with her husband. After their wedding, they’d only had a few blessed weeks together before he had to rush back to General Washington’s headquarters. These days, Alex was chafing at their present living arrangements just as much as she was, and both were eager for more time on their own.
Though she loved her husband dearly, and knew he loved her, they had spent more time apart than together during the course of their brief romance and even briefer marriage. The flame that burned between them was bright, but they had yet to live alone as husband and wife. In many ways Alex was still a stranger to her. Their lives were mediated by family and servants and soldiers, and as such, their private lives were not as private as they would have preferred.
At least he’d been home now for a spell, although he was scheduled to leave again in a few days. Missing him was the lot of a soldier’s wife, and instead of weeping and worrying, Eliza endeavored to be brave. Still, it was difficult, even in the midst of so much beauty, not to feel bereft. When Alex was gone, she felt his absence as a physical ache. She chided herself for being so selfish. While she was his wife, he was a man of the world, of the state, and she owed it to her country to share, didn’t she?
Her own parents had endured many long separations during their marriage. Even so, General and Mrs. Schuyler had at least had a few years to establish themselves and start their family before their first parting.
Since Alex was leaving soon to report back to duty, festivities had been planned for later that evening. She didn’t want to surmise how long he’d be gone, but hoped when he returned they would finally be able to settle down on their own. “I am ready to live under my own roof,” Eliza declared.
“Hear, hear,” Angelica seconded. “I have been married a year longer than you, and my husband and I see less of each other than when we were courting. Tell me: Do you know yet where he plans to make his residence?”
Eliza shook her head. “It will probably be New York City, which is most conducive to a career in law. But if he is lured into politics, we may well end up in Philadelphia or perhaps someplace farther south, if all this talk of creating a capital in the midpoint of the country comes to pass.”
” The sisters’ conversation was interrupted by a low moan from a corner of the kitchen, where Cornelia was sprawled across a stack of burlap bags filled with rice. Her face from nose to chin to plump cheeks was painted dark purple from greedily consumed berries. “Too—much—fruit.”
“I told you, Cornelia,” Eliza said, laughing in sympathy. “You must pace yourself or you’ll give yourself a bellyache.”
“Too—late,” Cornelia moaned, rubbing her aproned stomach with fingers that were as dark as her mouth. But even as she did, she sat up and was soon shuffling toward the buckets brimming with fruit.
“Wait till tea, dear, and you can have scones with fresh jam and cream,” Eliza said, catching her sister and turning her around. “Please head inside now and have Dot give you a good scrub. We can’t have you looking like a harlequin at the party tonight.”
Eliza expected Cornelia to protest being handed over to their ladies’ maid. Instead, a piercing scream filled the sweet-scented kitchen. “Party!” the little girl screeched gleefully, running toward the door. “Dot! Dot!” she could be heard yelling as she disappeared into the courtyard. “Eliza says you must give me a bath RIGHT NOW!”
Eliza stared fondly after her youngest sister, then returned to Angelica and Peggy. Just two and a half years separated all three older girls. Though quite distinct in appearance, they were nevertheless so close that they were often referred to collectively as “the Schuyler sisters,” as if they were triplets.
“Speaking of husbands: Will Mr. Church will be joining us this evening as well?” she asked Angelica.
“Oh, Eliza, don’t be so stuffy! We have been married for ages, you can call him John!”
“Ha!” Peggy laughed. “I heard her talking to her husband the other day. Do you know she still calls him Colonel Hamilton in public?!”
“Peggy!” Eliza exclaimed. “You ought not to eavesdrop.”
“It’s not eavesdropping when all three of us are in the same parlor,” Peggy said with a smirk. “Tell me, sister dear. Do you always
address your husband so formally? I hope there are times when your discourse is more . . . intimate!”
Eliza felt a deep blush color her throat and cheeks. She did call him Alex when they were alone, but in public, she followed her mother’s model and addressed him by his proper title. Fortunately, the hot kitchen was filled with steam from pots of stew and consommé for the party, and she hoped her sisters wouldn’t notice. Still, she found herself helplessly tongue-tied.
“Oh, Peggy,” Angelica said. “Always the provocateur!”
“Me?” Peggy laughed. “I am but an unmarried maiden, whereas you two are worldly wedded women. How could I possibly provoke you
Angelica couldn’t help but grin. “I suspect that our polite Eliza will continue to address him as Colonel Hamilton among company even when they have been married as long as Mama and Papa.”
“Unless he gets promoted like Papa,” Eliza said, finally finding her voice. “In which case, I’ll call him General
Hamilton. And you never answered my question. Will John be joining us this evening?”
“I believe so. He accompanied your colonel and Papa when they went into town this morning to attend to some work of his own, and told me he expects to finish by early evening. And Stephen?” Angelica continued, turning to Peggy. “Will your young man be there as well?”
“He said he is bringing half the Rensselaer cousins with him,” Peggy replied with a nod, though she didn’t sound happy about it.
“Is Mother Rensselaer still refusing to allow him to propose?” Eliza asked.
“I’m afraid so.” Peggy sighed. “She says he is too young, but I don’t believe it. When we first began courting, she was eager for us to marry immediately, but after what happened with Papa, she grew noticeably less enthusiastic. It’s almost as if she thinks I am after him for his money!”
It was true that the Schuyler fortune wasn’t what it once was. Four years ago, General Schuyler had been unceremoniously replaced by Horatio Gates as commander of the northern army, at about the same time that the Schuylers’ Saratoga country estate was burned to the ground by British forces, destroying the better part of the Schuylers’ income. Between the loss of funds and the cost of rebuilding, it had been a lean couple of years. But the family coffers had begun to recover at last, especially after Angelica’s and Eliza’s marriages. John Barker Church, Angelica’s husband, had a booming business in trade, and Alexander Hamilton, though far from rich, was well provided for by the Continental army, and everyone said he had a bright, indeed limitless, future ahead of him.
Alas, that did not seem enough for the snooty Rensselaers.
“She is being absurd!” Eliza scoffed now. “It is Stephen
who chased you
. Why, that boy has been in love with you since he was in short pants!”
“Oh, has he started wearing trousers at last?” Angelica quipped, to a swat from Peggy.
Eliza laughed, then patted her younger sister’s hand. “The Rensselaers wouldn’t dare forever object to joining their family with ours. We are already cousins on Mama’s side, and for all their money and land, they haven’t nearly the prestige we do.” She sighed. “Well, it sounds like dinner will be a full house. I look forward to seeing all three of our lads in the same room. It’s so rare these days.”
“I know!” Angelica said. “And soon enough the war will be over and you will be moving to New York City or Philadelphia or, heaven forbid, Virginia. John has been talking about returning to England, and I’m sure Stephen will want to build Peggy a house on some plantation-size corner of his vast holdings. This may be the last time we’re all together for who knows how long!”
“Well then, let’s make it the best party ever!” Eliza said. She stood up and grabbed a pie from the cooling rack, placing it in a basket. “And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take Mama a snack. Peggy, please don’t wear the crimson silk Stephen gave you,” she joked. “I cannot bear to be eclipsed by your radiance yet again.”
“Ha!” Angelica laughed. “Telling Peggy not to dress up is like telling a goldfinch not to shine. Face it, Eliza, you’re going to have to cinch tonight.”
“And put on a wig!” Peggy added with a laugh. “Dot was teasing mine up for an hour last night, and it is at least
three feet high!”
Eliza groaned, dreading the pinch of a corset and the itchiness of a wig, then reached for one last berry.
Springtime! In Albany! Not even the thought of all the painstaking effort that would go into looking presentable could ruin her day. 2 Allies and Conspirators Schuylkill Tavern Albany, New York April 1781
Colonel Alexander Hamilton leaned against the nearby open window and drew in a few deep breaths. Both his father-in-law, General Philip Schuyler, and his brother-in- law, John Barker Church, were inveterate smokers, and after four hours, the small room in the back of Schuylkill Tavern was suffused with smoke. He desperately needed some fresh air. Yet the atmosphere outside was hardly more pleasant than that in the room. The tavern’s back side (all puns intended) opened onto a narrow, muddy alley into which the local innkeepers regularly tossed their garbage and scraps, not to mention the contents of their guests’ chamber pots. But as long as Alex inhaled through his mouth rather than his nose, he was all right. At any rate, he was at least not tempted to retch.
He scolded himself for complaining, for surely the price of inhaling a little smoke was nothing compared to now being part of Eliza’s family—the Schuylers were one of the oldest and most prestigious clans in all of New York to be sure—but more important, Alex had been folded right into the middle of its loving arms. The family was even throwing him a good-bye party tonight before his imminent return to duty. Speaking of loving, the last six months had been the very definition of wedded bliss, as yearning for Eliza from afar did not hold a candle to the very happy reality of being her husband. Just the thought of his dear chestnut-tressed maid brought a warm smile to his face. He couldn’t wait to see her later that evening.
The orphan in him also thrilled to think that he now had a father, a mother (although to think of the intimidating Catherine Schuyler as his mother was perhaps too large a leap, even if she seemed adequately fond of him, he did not want to overstep), sisters (how he loved to tease and spar with those girls) and now brothers as well. He spared a thought for his own lost brother, left behind in the Caribbean colonies, and turned his attention back to the matter at hand.
“We seem to have reached a deal then,” General Schuyler said to his other son-in-law. “You shall provide five hundred rifles, twenty barrels of powder, and two tons of shot to General Washington at Newburgh, and the Continental army will pay you one thousand pounds sterling
John Church smiled wryly. “I am aware of the irony of paying for arms to fight a war with currency from the very nation you are trying to defeat. But until the United States has a money of its own, British pounds remain far more fungible paper.”
Alex listened to the men talk with one ear. The problem had come up countless times in the five long years of war: Thirteen colonies, each with its own currency, plus the bills issued by the Continental Congress. What it added up to was a mess, and the only thing that was going to fix it was a single currency issued by a central United States government. But if overthrowing British rule was a difficult task, getting the deeply independent-minded citizens of thirteen distinct polities stretching along a thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline to agree on one currency was almost impossible to imagine, let alone achieve.
Still, one of Alex’s great gifts was his ability to plan for the new nation to succeed and as well as to focus on immediate needs. Even so, these were problems for the future. The war for independence had to be won first.
He nodded to his brother-in-law. “Dear Mr. Church, I would like once again to convey General Washington’s appreciation for all your efforts in support of the American cause. There are men in the far north who are still firing matchlocks, and I’ve even heard that some of the forces in the far south-west are armed with arquebuses that date back to the Spanish conquest.”
John laughed. “I wish you were joking. Nevertheless, it is my honor and privilege to assist the Continental army. If only I could declare my support for the cause of independence more openly.”
“It is a terrible burden, I am sure,” General Schuyler assented. “A man wants to be judged based on his principles rather than rumors. But if your support for our side were more widely known, it would not be half as effective. The British would be seizing or sinking any ship that carried your ‘linens’ and ‘teas’ upon it, just as they do with those from our French allies.”
“Yes, and they’d be seizing you, too,” Alex said with a grim smile. “And I would simultaneously lose a brother-in-law and
a contented wife. Angelica would be heartbroken without you, and if one of her sisters is sad, then my Eliza is equally miserable.”
John smiled. “It is an honor for me to call both of you family as well as allies. Still, I do
wish that I could tell my wife what it is that I actually do.”
A chuckle from General Schuyler, accompanied by a cloud of smoke. “As Hamilton says, my daughters are inordinately close. It is excellent for family solidarity but not so good for state secrets. But never fear,” Schuyler continued, clapping his eldest daughter’s husband on the back, “one day you will be celebrated as a true supporter of our nascent country.”
“It is only too bad that you will not be present to enjoy your acclaim,” Alex said. “You remain determined to return to England once the war is over?”
“What can I say?” John shrugged. “I love this country and its people, not least my beautiful and brilliant wife, but I am an Englishman. I believe that a man should mind his own country and not meddle too long in the business of others. And Angelica is more European than she realizes. She will thrive in London society, as well as Paris and Berlin and Rome and all the capitals of Europe.”
“It saddens me to imagine one of my daughters on the other side of the ocean. Yet it excites me to think of the Schuyler name and legacy extending even to European shores.” General Schuyler turned to Alex. “Only don’t you get any ideas about spiriting my Eliza off to the Indies. The Caribbean colonies may have better weather and more money than their North American counterparts, but my Eliza is as American as Mrs. Washington, and would not be at home anywhere else.”
Alex laughed. “You shall not lose sleep over it, I guarantee. The Indies might have been where my body was born, but my mind did not fully awaken until I came to this country. This is my home as much as it is your lovely daughter’s, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else.”
The general nodded, but his expression seemed unsettled. “Aye,” he said finally, the old-fashioned word harkening back to his Dutch roots. “You and my daughter are as well matched a couple as any parent could hope for.”
Alex’s brow knitted. “Your words are complimentary, yet your tone is clouded. Have I done something to offend you, sir?”
“What?” Schuyler started. “Oh no, no. I have two such fine sons-in-law of whom I am very proud.”
“But?” Alex prompted.
Schuyler waved a hand at the munitions contract on the table. “These guns are destined for Yorktown, Virginia. General Cornwallis is gathering the bulk of his forces, and General Washington seems determined to cripple the British army and end the war in a single stroke. I take it that when you return in a few days you are still keen to accompany General Washington to the battlefield?”
Now it was Alex’s turn to fall silent. He could feel his father- and brother-in-law’s eyes boring into him. “Not exactly.”
“Not exactly?” John repeated, taking a puff from his cigar. “That sounds rather ominous.”
Alex summoned a breath. “I have decided to ask General Washington for my own unit to command.”
It would not be accurate to say that General Schuyler goggled at him. The old Dutchman was too reserved in both life and command to ever betray his thoughts so openly. Still, there was a discernible straightening of the older man’s spine. The thick wool of his uniform strained a bit, and his voice, when it came, was tight. “Patriotism and bravery are two of the finest qualities a man can possess. But there is a fine balance between zealousness and, dare I say, foolhardiness.”
Alex opened his mouth to protest but his father-in-law—who was also his superior officer—spoke over him, so he held his tongue.
“You have been on the field of battle precisely once,” said the general. “At Monmouth, where it is my understanding from General Washington himself that you acquitted yourself with valor, but also with what amounted to a reckless disregard for your own well-being. Washington said it was almost as if you wanted to die on the field of battle like some modern-day Norse warrior, as if only death by bullet or saber could assure you a place in Asgard.”
“Sir, I can assure you,” Alex began, compelled to explain. “There were no such thoughts in my head. Indeed, if there had been any thoughts at all, I do not remember them. I desired only to drive the enemy off the soil of my beloved country, and gave no regard to my safety whatsoever.”
“This is exactly my point,” General Schuyler said. “The difference between a commander and a soldier is that the commander fights in a cooler state of mind. He considers not just the individual skirmish or even the battle itself, but the course of the entire war, his own place in it, and that of all the men serving under him. If all our commanders fell to the bloody earth with their soldiers in each battle, we would have none left to lead the army. It would be a melee of undisciplined men mobbing about the field to be exterminated by the enemy.”
Schuyler’s words cut Alex to the core. Even General Washington had told him that his bravery at Monmouth was impressive, but his bloodlust to fight until he was struck down had made the general loath to send him back into battle. “You serve your country better intact,” he had said. And in a rare show of personal attachment, he added, “I’d prefer you to live.”
Alex had been flattered, in a way. He knew he was indispensable to Washington’s office. But if the signs were reading true, the war was winding down. If the battle at Yorktown was successful, the British army would be decimated, and it was highly likely the overseas empire would at last concede that the American colonies were more trouble than they were worth, and surrender.
But Alex didn’t care. He had come north as a teenager, brilliant but unworldly, and this country had embraced him and given him a chance to make a man of himself, and hopefully a fortune, too. How could he face his future children and tell them that he had spent the war in a paneled office with a pen in his hand and a warm fire at his back? When his future sons asked him how many battles he had won, how could he answer, “I did not fight. I was a secretary.” His blood boiled at the thought.
“The counsel of very few men is of more value to me than yours, General Schuyler,” Alex said. “And you may be assured that I will keep it in mind, just as I will keep my beloved and precious Eliza in my heart when I make my decision.”
“She knows of your ambitions then?” General Schuyler asked pointedly.
Alex’s words caught in his throat. He could not lie to his father-in-law. “We have not discussed it yet, but I know she will understand. She has your own bravery as a prior example, after all.”
“Hamilton,” John said sharply. “She will be crushed.”
Again, Alex paused before speaking. He knew his brother-in-law spoke the truth. The reality of Eliza’s tears—of her fear on his behalf—had kept him from sharing his plans with her until the last minute. He’d been determined to shield her from the news until it was inevitable, not wanting to break her heart just yet. After all, they had been discussing their own dreams for the establishment of their own home, and this would delay it indefinitely. Putting himself in the line of fire would also mean allowing for the possibility of a final separation between them, and the thought of his dear love as a grieving widow when their story had just begun was almost enough to dissuade him.
Yet—he had to put aside these fears for now. He would have a command; he would be part of this Revolution, if it was the last thing he accomplished.
Finally, he drew himself up straight. “Be that as it may,” he said in the distant tone of a statesman or a commander rather than a husband, “I fight not just for myself now, nor even for my country, but for my wife and the family we will raise, and for the legacy of our name, which is yours as well. You must remember that I have studied war at the side of the man whose genius, bravery, and, dare I say, calculated patience has guided this country from bondage to freedom. If five years under General Washington has not prepared me to lead our brave boys into battle, nothing will.”
General Schuyler said nothing for a long moment. Then he nodded. “I will speak on this matter no more. I do not wish to insult your honor or impugn your motives. And now, my dear boys, we have concluded our business and must rejoin our women. They do get upset when we are late for a party, especially one they are throwing in your honor, Hamilton.”
Copyright © 2018 by Melissa de la Cruz. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.