Hamilton – An American Musical: The Facts Behind the Music, Part 3: “The Schuyler Sisters”

The fifth song of the Hamilton musical is “The Schuyler Sisters.” This song introduces us to Hamilton’s future wife and her two sisters.

Aaron Burr opens the song singing

There’s nothing rich folks love more than going downtown and slummin’ it with the poor. They pull up in their carriages and gawk at the students in the common just to watch them talk. Take Philip Schuyler: the man is loaded. Uh-oh, but little does he know that his daughters, Peggy, Angelica, Eliza sneak into the city just to watch all the guys….”

The College – Kings College – was one block from the Common, which was the site of public speeches and debates. (See “A plan of the City of New York” from the larger map “The provinces of New York and New Jersey…” from 1776.)  Hamilton and other students, as well as anyone else who wished to speak in public, could do so at the Common.

05.1 The provinces of New York and New Jersey; with part of Pensilvania, and the province of Quebec. (excerpt - NYC map for commons & college)

Philip Schuyler was a prominent member of New York society. Born in Albany, Schuyler inherited extensive lands in that area and along the Hudson River.  He was involved in the commercial development of New York City and State.  He was also a military man, serving as a major during the French and Indian War and a General during the Revolution. Schuyler’s wealth and connections also allowed him to be politically active; he was a delegate to the Continental Congress, and a State and U.S. Senator.  In his early forties at the outset of the Revolution, Schuyler’s oldest child, Angelica, was twenty years old; Eliza was nineteen; and Peggy was eighteen.  Miranda does not mention any of the other Schuyler children, of which there were at least eleven in all.  Five children other than the aforementioned sisters were born to Philip and his wife Catherine before the Revolutionary War started (2 died as babies), and would have been between the ages of 11 and 3 in 1776. The three surviving children were males.

Later in the song, Peggy sings, “It’s bad enough daddy wants to go to war,” but her father was already at war.  He was appointed one of four major generals in the Continental Army in 1775, and served as the commander of the Northern Department. He planned the invasion of Canada in 1775, but did not take the field due to ill health.[1]

Historical references in the song include Angelica singing, “I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine” and all three sisters singing together, “We hold these truths to be self-evident That all men are created equal.”

Common Sense was originally published anonymously in January 1776.  In this pamphlet, Paine called for complete separation between the colonies and Great Britain.  His argument used both moral and political justifications.  Common Sense was one of the best-selling and most widely read pieces of the time period, going through twenty-five editions in 1776 alone.  Before the pamphlet, not many people publicly spoke of independence, but that changed afterwards.  Gordon Wood, in his book The American Revolution: A History, stated that Common Sense was “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era.”[2]  It can be easily imagined that the Schuyler sisters had, at the very least, heard of the ideas espoused in the work, if they didn’t read it (or have it read to them).

The second quote above comes directly from the Declaration of Independence.  Angelica follows up by singing that when she meets Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, she was going to “compel him to include women in the sequel.”  Angelica did actually meet Jefferson, in Paris in 1788.  They continued a correspondence for many years, including during the period of time when Jefferson and Angelica’s brother-in-law, Alexander Hamilton, were fierce political rivals.  There was no sequel to the Declaration, however, for Angelica to discuss with Jefferson.

 

The next part in this series will focus on the sixth and seventh songs of the musical – “Farmer Refuted,” and “You’ll Be Back,” the latter in which King George III makes his first appearance in the musical.

 

 

[1] Schuyler did not resign his commission until April 1779.
[2] Wood, Gordon. The American Revolution: A History. New York: Random House, 2002.
Image credit: Alexander Hamilton, painted by John Trumbull. National Portrait Gallery

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s