Hamilton – An American Musical: The Facts Behind the Music Part 9: “Dear Theodosia” and “Tomorrow They’ll Be More of Us.”

Part nine will cover songs twenty-two and twenty-three: “Dear Theodosia” and “Tomorrow They’ll Be More of Us.”  The latter song is the only major scene missing from the Hamilton cast recording.  (The lyrics can be found in Hamilton: The Revolution.)

 

Theodosia, the daughter of Aaron Burr and Theodosia Bartow, was born on June 21, 1783.[1]  At the start of the song, Aaron Burr sings, “I’m dedicating every day to you….”  There are a number of examples of Burr’s dedication to his daughter.  I’ll take a page out of James Parton’s Famous Americans of Recent Times as one illustration:

“(In her tenth year.) – I rose up suddenly from the sofa, and rubbing my head, ‘What book shall I buy for her?’ said I to myself.  ‘She reads so much and so rapidly that it is not easy to find proper and amusing French books for her; and yet I am so flattered with her progress in that language that I am resolved she shall, at all events, be gratified.  Indeed I owe it to her.’  So, after walking once or twice briskly across the floor, I took my hat and sallied out, determined not to return until I had purchased something.  It was not my first attempt.  I went into one bookseller’s shop after another….but I could see nothing that I would offer with pleasure to an intelligent, well-informed girl nine years old.  I began to be discouraged.  The hour of dining was come….At last I found it.  I found the very thing I sought.”

During the time Burr was searching through bookshops, he was on the upward arc of his political fame.  He was serving as a U.S. Senator when he took time out of his day to search for the perfect book for his brilliant daughter.

Alexander Hamilton then comes out and sings about his and Eliza’s son, Philip, who was born on January 22, 1782.  He sings, “Look at my son, pride is not the word I’m looking for, there is so much more inside me now.”  Again, there are various examples of the father showing pride and dedication to his child.  Shortly after the birth of his son, Alexander wrote to his former colleague Richard Kidder Meade (they were both aides to Washington) congratulating Meade on the birth of his daughter.  Hamilton wrote, “I can well conceive your happiness upon that occasion, by that which I feel in a similar one.  Indeed the sensations of a tender father of the child, of a beloved mother can only be conceived by those who have experienced them….You cannot imagine how entirely domestic I am growing. I lose all taste for the pursuits of ambition, I sigh for nothing but the company of my wife and my baby.”  (Of course, that last bit wasn’t entirely true.)

As Philip grew older, Alexander shared his feelings of pride with his son.  In a letter dated December 5, 1791, Alexander wrote to Philip (who had recently been sent to boarding school), “Your Master also informs me that you recited a lesson the first day you began, very much to his satisfaction. I expect every letter from him will give me a fresh proof of your progress. For I know that you can do a great deal, if you please, and I am sure you have too much spirit not to exert yourself, that you may make us every day more and more proud of you.”

“Dear Theodosia”  is a short song, and the song following it is much more of a downer .  In “Tomorrow They’ll Be More of Us,” Hamilton learns of the death of one of his closest companions, John Laurens.  Still coming off the high of singing about his son, Hamilton doesn’t realize that a letter from Laurens is actually from Henry Laurens, John’s father.  Eliza alerts Alexander to this fact, and he asks her to read it.  In between the Hamilton’s conversation, John Laurens softly sings parts of “The Story of Tonight,” including the line, “and when our children tell our story.”  John did have a daughter, Frances Eleanor, who was born in February 1777, and who would live long enough to tell his story.[2]

The letter read by Eliza is not from any real letter.  In fact, Henry Laurens was in England working on a peace deal to end the war at the time of his son’s death.  He did not return to the U.S. until the summer of 1784.  The first known letter he wrote to Hamilton after John’s death was on April 19, 1785.  The letter in the musical reads, in part, that John “was killed in a gunfight against British troops retreating from South Carolina.  The war was already over.”  The first part is true.  Laurens died on August 27, 1782.  The war was not yet over, although it was close; the Americans expected the British would evacuate Charleston at any moment, freeing South Carolina from the grip of the British military.  In the meantime, the British soldiers in Charleston had been making raids into the countryside in order to obtain food for themselves.  Laurens and about fifty men in advance of the main American force, fell in with hundreds of British soldiers at the Combahee River.  Lieutenant-Colonel Laurens was killed in the ensuing battle; twenty-six other men were killed, wounded, or missing.  The British eventually retreated.[3]

After reading the letter, Eliza asks, “Alexander, are you alright?”  We don’t know exactly how Hamilton took the news immediately after learning of John’s death.  We do have some insight into how he may have taken the news though.  He wrote to General Nathanael Greene on October 12, 1782, and mentioned the death of Laurens. “The world will feel the loss of a man who has left few like him behind, and America of a citizen whose heart realized that patriotism of which others only talk. I feel the loss of a friend I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.”

Hamilton ends the song by saying, “I have so much work to do.”  In the last letters exchanged by the two men, they shared their lofty goals.  In July 1782, Laurens wrote to Hamilton that his attempt to enlist enslaved men to fight against the British had again been defeated by the legislature of South Carolina, but it did not appear he was prepared to give up.  Hamilton, recently chosen as a member of Congress, wrote back in August, though it is a letter Laurens probably never read.  It read, in part,

“Peace made, My Dear friend, a new scene opens. The object then will be to make our independence a blessing. To do this we must secure our union on solid foundations; an herculean task and to effect which mountains of prejudice must be levelled!  It requires all the virtue and all the abilities of the Country. Quit your sword my friend, put on the toga, come to Congress. We know each others sentiments, our views are the same: we have fought side by side to make America free, let us hand in hand struggle to make her happy.”

We can only imagine, then, Hamilton’s thoughts upon learning of the death of his good friend, a man who he thought would be at his side once independence was won, to fight with him to ensure the ideals of the revolution were brought to reality.

 

In the next part of this series, covering the final song of the first act of the musical, we leave the sadness of this song to find Hamilton carrying out the work he thought he would be doing with Laurens.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Charles F. Pidgin wrote about her life in Theodosia, the first gentlewoman of her time.
[2] See note number nine at this link.
[3] Pennsylvania Packet, October 3, 1782.  “Extract of a Letter Dated Camp, Ashley-Hill, South-Carolina, August 30, 1782,” p3 and Pennsylvania Journal, or, Weekly Advertiser, October 5, 1782.  “Extract of a letter from South Carolina, dated Camp, August 29, 1782,” p3.  Also, a “Sketch of the Character of Col. John Laurens, Who Fell Gloriously in the Defence of His Country, August 27, 1782” was printed in Freeman’s Journal; or, the North-American Intelligencer, Nov. 6, 1782, p1.
Image credit: Alexander Hamilton, painted by John Trumbull. National Portrait Gallery

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