Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-award winning musical, Rae and I have been flat-out obsessing over the incredible life story of Alexander Hamilton for the past couple of years. And you know us… when we get into a story, a movie or a musical, we GET INTO it down to the destinations we visit, too. (See past pop culture pilgrimages: Jane Austen, Downton Abbey, Napoleon Dynamite, The Office.)
Alexander Hamilton was born into shame and poverty in 1755 (or 1757), survived hurricanes, immigrated to the U.S., became George Washington’s right-hand man, fought in the Revolutionary War, was the first Secretary of the Treasury, founded the New York Post and the Coast Guard, and died much too young in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. Just a blip in my U.S. History class in high school, but as it turns out, Alexander Hamilton’s impact on our country echoes to this very day.
Want to walk in the footsteps of the 10-dollar founding father? Let’s start at the beginning.
Nevis – Alexander Hamilton’s Birthplace
Nevis might never have popped onto our travel radar if not for one special Hamilton lyric.
Dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean…
Alexander’s story begins on lush, quiet Nevis, an island often overlooked among its Caribbean neighbors. Given the stateside fever pitch of Hamilton’s popularity, I expected much more fanfare when Rae and I visited Nevis last year. We learned that Nevis is low key about just about everything – from tourism to Hamilton. You get the idea no one paid Hamilton any mind at all until the musical came and put Nevis on the map for a new (old) reason.
Book a Nevis History and Heritage Bike Tour here.
Around town, there are references to Alexander Hamilton here and there, including a modest museum built on the foundations of the house where he was believed to have been born. Also interesting to check out are the ruins of the old Hamilton plantation, which we happened upon during a Funky Monkey ATV tour. Hamilton was the only founding father born outside of the colonies, giving him a very different perspective than his peers.
St. Croix – Alexander Hamilton’s Childhood Home
Most folks think Hamilton’s West Indian roots start and end in Nevis, but that’s only half the story. At some point before his mother died in 1768, she took Alexander and his brother James to St. Croix, then a Dutch-controlled island.
In 1772, Hamilton experienced the eye of a hurricane, and an impassioned, poetic letter he wrote about the experience made it to the newspaper. Local leaders took notice and took up a collection to send him to the mainland. You know the rest.
Can you imagine being orphaned, surviving a devastating hurricane, immigrating to the U.S. and fighting in the Revolutionary War within 10 years? And using all that pain to keep striving and pressing on? A. Ham did.
When you visit St. Croix, check out Christiansted National Historic Site, a public park featuring the town’s oldest buildings, including the Customs House, the Danish West India and Guinea Company Warehouse and Fort Christiansvaern. While Hamilton’s residence on Company Street and his employer’s office on King Street are long gone, you can get still an idea of colonial Christiansted’s historic quarter. Just watch out for wild chickens!
Yorktown – A Battle to Remember
How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower somehow defeat a global superpower?
There’s no way, absolutely no way, the unprepared, hungry, dirty, diseased colonial army should’ve been able to defeat the British army. And yet, here we are.
We filmed one of our favorite episodes of The Jet Sisters in Williamsburg, Virginia, last year, and we went absolutely crazy over our visit to Yorktown Battlefield, where Hamilton commanded the army, eluded the enemy, captured soldiers and helped bring about the British surrender. The museum is fantastic but the best part was listening to the recounting of the siege by a park ranger.
After a week of fighting, a young man in a red coat stands on a parapet.
We lower our guns as he frantically waves a white handkerchief.
When the ranger got to the parapet part of the story, I was choking back tears. IT WAS TOO MUCH. Immediately after, we hopped in the rental car, drove over to the battlefield where it all happened and jammed out to Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down).
You want history to come to life? It did for us in that moment.
Just up the street is the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Check out the immersive exhibits featuring the the end of the colonial period to the Constitution, and a “The Siege of Yorktown,” a film with dramatic special effects.
For more information on visiting the historic triangle, including our day dressed up like the Schuyler Sisters, check out our guide to Williamsburg. You can book an excellent historic triangle day tour here.
Philadelphia – Defending the Constitution
I was chosen for the Constitutional Convention!
If you want a deep dive into American history, don’t miss Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While the musical doesn’t mention the city by name, Hamilton stayed in the City of Brotherly Love on and off throughout his career, most notably for musical fans as part of the 1787 Constitutional Convention at Independence Hall.
Fun fact: Hamilton was the only one of NY’s delegates to sign the U.S. Constitution. (He was in New York fighting alongside Washington when the Declaration of Independence was signed there in 1776.) Arguments were heated, as was the room – no A/C in the middle of summer, but Hamilton helped convince other delegates to support the Constitution. (So it needs amendments!)
We all know how Hamilton’s story ends, but did you know he participated in quite a few duels in his day? His first experience with dueling took place in the Port Richmond area of Philadelphia, where he served as John Laurens’ second in his duel with Charles Lee. He’s a “…general! Wheeee!”
The house where he lived with Eliza and the kids is gone, but there’s a plaque at 226 Walnut Street marking the location where they lived from 1790 to 1795. And spoiler alert: this is the site of America’s first sex scandal. Despite an extraordinary life of public service, Hamilton had his flaws. This location is where Maria Reynolds entered the picture and since Hamilton couldn’t say no to this, he blew up his chances for a future presidency. His poor wife.
Don’t miss the Museum of the American Revolution, where you can see Washington’s authentic Headquarters Tent, the one where Hamilton and the boys strategized to win the war. Book a skip-the-line ticket here.
Albany – Home of the In-Laws
Corruption’s such an old song that we can sing along in harmony, and nowhere is it stronger than in Albany.
Hamilton’s in-laws built the Schuyler Mansion in the 1760s, and it was there he spent hours strategizing with his father-in-law Philip Schuyler, a member of the Continental Congress, a war general and eventually U.S. Senator. There’s still a statue of the statesman at Albany City Hall, should you like to say hello.
Back at the mansion, the family entertained Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, the Marquis de Lafayette and many other luminaries of the day in the house. It can’t be overemphasized how unusual it was for a nobody like Hamilton to marry into one of New York’s most illustrious families. The wedding took place in 1780 at the mansion and today you can tour the room where it happened.
Hamilton fans are known to leave coins, flowers and mementos at Albany Rural Cemetery, where Peggy Schuyler and other relatives are buried.
Heading to Albany? Check out my girl Alex in Wanderland’s hometown posts here.
New York City – History is Happening in Manhattan
In New York, you can be a new man…
If you visit only one location on this list of Hamilton sites, New York City is the best bet for your money. Not only can you see Hamilton the musical anytime you want (if you’ve got enough Hamiltons, that is), but it’s chock full of Hamilton history. It makes me just a little crazy to think I lived there for so long and never really appreciated the history from the Revolution, particularly now that I’m so interested in Hamilton. It truly is the greatest city in the world!
New York City was home for Alexander, from his college years at King’s College to his quieter, final years in the section of Harlem now known as Hamilton Heights.
Book a Hamilton Haunts and Hangouts Walking Tour with Viator here.
Must-see Hamilton highlights in NYC
Hamilton Grange National Memorial
It’s quiet uptown…
Hamilton’s family home in New York City, a little yellow house now sitting in St. Nicholas Park, is open to the public. The house, completed just two years before Hamilton’s death, is a short walk from the 145th Street A train station. Note: the house has been moved twice, so it’s not in the original location. Now you can find it at West 141st Street and Hamilton Terrace.
After Philip died in a duel defending his father’s honor, the Hamiltons moved uptown – a 90-minute carriage ride from the financial district, taking solace in what then would be considered a country home. They named the home The Grange, for Hamilton’s grandfather’s Scotland estate.
Inside, you can see colonial-era rooms and decor, featuring Eliza’s serving tray, the family piano from Eliza’s sister Angelica and a replica of Hamilton’s writing table.
Columbia University (formerly King’s College)
When Hamilton first arrived in NYC at age 17, he studied law at King’s College, which was renamed Columbia to reflect America’s new freedom as an independent nation. Four of his sons also graduated from his alma mater.
While Hamilton studied on Park Place in Lower Manhattan, now of course the university is stationed in Morningside Heights. On campus, check out Hamilton Hall (1130 Amsterdam Ave.) – there’s a lovely statue of Alexander out front.
Welcome to the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest remaining home in Manhattan and a true Hamilton hotspot! Alexander Hamilton was once a guest there, of course, but there’s more. Georgia Washington briefly stayed there while planning the Battle of Harlem Heights, which Hamilton fought in.
At one point, the house was converted into a tavern called Calumet Hall, site of several cabinet meetings during Washington’s presidency – possibly the site of some famous Cabinet battles? Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Henry Knox were all in attendance. Oh, to be a fly on the wall!
Later, Aaron Burr lived at the mansion for a time after he married widow Eliza Jumel (his second wife, after Theodosia), but it was short-lived. They filed for divorce after just three months. And can you even guess who her divorce attorney was? ALEXANDER HAMILTON, JR. You can’t make this stuff up.
With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote parts of Hamilton at the house in Aaron Burr’s former bedroom. I can’t think of any place more inspiring!
Fraunces Tavern Museum
In lower Manhattan, near Battery Park, check out the Fraunces Tavern, another hotbed of Revolutionary War fraternizing. It’s said that the tavern hosted the dinner Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton attended just one week before the duel that changed history. Today, Fraunces Tavern is a museum and a bar and restaurant.
Technically, this tragic spot is in New Jersey (everything is legal in New Jersey). Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr would’ve been able to see the shores of Manhattan as the sun rose over the Weehawken dueling ground that fateful morning of July 11, 1804. Then stand, Alexander Weehawken, dawn Guns drawn His son had been killed in a duel just three years prior in the very same spot, so I imagine the ride across the Hudson was emotional. (When I lived in NYC, I unknowingly looked across the river at Hamilton Park from my favorite bench in Hell’s Kitchen.)
Interestingly, the pistols used in the duel are displayed privately at JP Morgan Chase headquarters in the city. Burr founded The Manhattan Company, which became Chase Manhattan Bank, which became JPMorgan Chase.
Today, the dueling grounds in Hamilton Park are marked with a bust of Hamilton and a placard commemorating the duel.
William Bayard’s House
After Burr shot Hamilton in Weehawken, it’s said they rowed him back across 82 Jane Street in the West Village, where he died the next day at his friend William Bayard’s house, with Eliza by his side. There’s a plaque outside marking the site, though it’s been suggested that the actual home was a block north on Horatio Street.
After learning how many impossible feats Alexander Hamilton was able to accomplish in his short life, you’ll want to pay your respects at the original site of Trinity Church, at 74 Trinity Place at Wall Street and Broadway. The original church burned down during the Revolution, but the churchyard where Hamilton, his wife Elizabeth and her sister Angelica are buried, remains, surrounded by skyscrapers and city sounds.
You can still attend services onsite today, and the grounds and churchyard are open to the public.
Most people won’t have the time to follow in Alexander Hamilton’s footsteps in chronological order, and that’s ok. He lived, he died and we’re telling his story – I hope you’re satisfied. There are many more monuments and sites than just these, and I’ll endeavor to add more as time allows. But this will certainly get you started and serve as a guide just in time for Hamilton to premier on Disney Plus July 3, 2020.