All three Schuyler sisters portrayed by Leslie Goddard from Chicago, IL
The Schuyler sisters, Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy – daughters of the wealthy Philip Schuyler, Revolutionary War general and later U.S. senator – were high society women. They dressed in the latest fashions and were courted by the most powerful men. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, amidst the powder keg of the early days of the Revolution, the Schuyler sisters are at the center of it all – including political treachery and scandal.
They and our other Founding Mothers could not vote or own property, but they were fervently patriotic and passionate women whose tireless pursuits on behalf of their families – and their country – proved just as crucial to the forging of a new nation as the rebellion that established it.
Although best known by the men they married, Hamilton’s wife and sisters-in-law were unmistakably Revolutionary.
Leslie Goddard portrays all three very different women – without ever leaving the stage.
Leslie Goddard, Ph.D., is an award-winning actress and scholar who has been presenting history lectures and portraying famous women in history for more than ten years. Each year, she presents more than 250 programs, appearing at public libraries, museums and historic homes, professional associations, colleges and universities, and corporations.
Leslie has previously performed in Greenville Chautauqua as Amelia Earhart, Bette Davis and Mary Pickford. A resident of the Chicago area, she holds both a master’s degree in theater and a doctorate in American studies and women’s history. A former museum director, she is the author of two books on Chicago history and currently works full-time as a public speaker, living-history presenter, and author. www.lesliegoddard.info
About Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (wife,) Angelica Schuyler Church & Peggy Schuyler VanRensselear (sisters-in-law)
Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton is back in the public eye.
Hamilton’s roles as a soldier in the American Revolution and as a Founding Father of the United States are being discussed on a scale not seen since his lifetime. Many who barely knew his name ten years ago now talk about his work fighting in the war as a soldier, establishing our national financial system, writing the Federalist Papers, and butting heads with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe, among many others.
But the musical is also about history and how it gets written. That part of the story can’t be told without women, and Miranda brings women in. He makes Hamilton’s wife Eliza and her sisters Angelica and Peggy integral to Hamilton’s biography.
That’s no small achievement. The women themselves put the spotlight firmly on men. After her husband’s death in a duel in 1804, Eliza spent the rest of her life recovering the stories of his achievements, but keeping herself out of the limelight. Information on her is disappointingly scarce. Almost none of her own correspondence survives. Early biographers of her husband barely mention her.
That omission is unfortunate, because she was a remarkable woman. Good-natured and devout, she spearheaded the building of the Washington Monument, opened the first private orphanage in New York City, and raised seven children on her own.
The record isn’t any better when it comes to her sisters. The brilliant and witty Angelica Schuyler Church married a wealthy British politician and moved in high political and social circles in both Europe and America. One admirer called her “muse, confidante, and thief of hearts.” Yet until the musical, she was barely remembered.
Peggy Schuyler Van Rensselaer fares worse. Beautiful but supercilious, she married her cousin, a deeded landowner of staggering wealth. During a Tory raid on the Schuyler mansion in Albany in 1871, she left the family’s hiding spot to rescue her infant sister, left behind in her cradle. A gouge in the banister at the Schuyler mansion was allegedly left by a tomahawk thrown at her during that rescue.
There are big gaps in our knowledge of these women. What, for example, did Eliza think of her husband’s scandalous affair with a woman named Maria Reynolds, an affair that ruined his reputation? We don’t know. She left no evidence of her reaction. The most we know, and it is significant, is that she did not leave her husband.
Lack of information is a problem in women’s history in general, but the challenge of returning these women to the narrative is rewarding. Putting the Schuyler women back in this story transforms our understanding of the American Revolution, revealing that the struggle for independence was as much the story of women as well as men. Women were just as committed to revolution as men, sometimes through their own acts and sometimes by preserving the stories of men’s deeds.
It is significant – even, dare I say it, revolutionary – that Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton ends with Eliza’s life after the duel, those fifty years when she was working tirelessly, interviewing all those who knew her husband, hiring and firing biographers, and burnishing his glorious legacy.
As Michael Schulman notes in an article for the New Yorker, the musical ends not with Hamilton’s death but with Eliza stepping into the spotlight after that death.
“You’re left,” writes Schulman, “wondering whether the ‘Hamilton’ of the title isn’t just Alexander, but Eliza too.”
- 1756 – Angelica Schuyler (Church) born, eldest of 15 children (8 would survive childhood) of Philip and Catherine Schuyler
- 1757 – Elizabeth “Eliza” Schuyler (Hamilton) born
- 1758 – Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler (Van Rensselaer) born
- 1780 – Eliza, age 23, marries Alexander Hamilton at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany
- 1781 – The Schuyler Mansion raided, Peggy rescues her infant sister Kitty
- 1782-1802 – Eliza gives birth to 8 children over a span of 20 years
- 1801 – Peggy, aged 42, dies. Eliza and Alexander Hamilton’s eldest son Philip dies after a duel
- 1804 – Alexander Hamilton dies on July 12, the day after a duel with Aaron Burr.
- 1806 – Eliza founds New York City’s first private orphanage
- 1814 – Angelica dies, aged 58
- 1854 – Eliza dies in Washington D.C., just months after her 97th birthday
- If it had been possible for me to avoid this duel, my love for you and the children would have made me. – Alexander Hamilton to Eliza Hamilton
- Adieu, best of wives and best of women. – Alexander Hamilton to Eliza Hamilton in a letter delivered after his death
- … by ‘my Amiable,’ you know that I mean your Husband, for I love him very much and if you were as generous as the old Romans, you would lend him to me for a little while. – Angelica Church to her sister, Eliza Hamilton
- Whatever pain she suffered, however, Eliza never surrendered her conviction that her husband was a noble patriot who deserved the veneration of his countrymen and had been crucified by a nefarious band. – Biographer Ron Chernow
- My beloved, sainted husband and my guardian angel. – Eliza Hamilton describing Alexander Hamilton after his death
- I am much more in debt to you than I can ever pay, but my future life will be more than ever devoted to your happiness. – Alexander to Eliza Hamilton after the death of their son Philip
- I have my fears I shall not obtain my object. – Eliza Hamilton to her daughter in 1832, on the project to produce a biography to glorify her late husband’s memory
- A brunette with the most good-natured, lively dark eyes that I ever saw, which threw a beam of good humor and benevolence over her whole countenance. – Military Officer Tench Tilghman on Eliza Hamilton
- In short, she is so strange a creature that she possesses all of the beauties, virtues, and graces of her sex without any of those amiable defects which … are esteemed by connoisseurs necessary shades in the character of a fine woman. – Alexander Hamilton on his wife Eliza in a letter to Peggy Van Rensselear
- I meet you in every dream and when I wake I cannot close my eyes for ruminating on your sweetness. – Alexander Hamilton to Eliza Schuyler during their courtship
- I have had a double share of blessings and I must now look forward to grief. – Eliza Hamilton after her husband’s death
- Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (2005) The masterful, exhaustively researched biography that inspired the musical Hamilton. Brilliant, insightful, and really long. The definitive work, not only on Alexander but on Eliza as well
- Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation by Cokie Roberts (2009) Entertaining survey that sheds new light on the heroines, reformers, and visionaries who helped shape our nation. Includes Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Church.
- Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph H. Ellis (2003) Pulitzer-prize winning history of the gifted but flawed men who shaped America’s early years, including Alexander Hamilton. Not an easy read, but richly rewarding.
- Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life by Jeff Wilser (2016) A light-hearted biography that tells Hamilton’s life through lessons to be learned from his life. Funny, smart, and a surprisingly complete short biography.
- The Duel by Judith St. George (2016) A dual biography of Hamilton and Burr aimed at grades 5-9 but suitable for any age. Well-researched and entertaining