Were Angelica Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton Actually in Love?

Lauren Puckett
Photo credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

One of the most heart-wrenching (and, admittedly, captivating) narrative threads in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning musical Hamilton (now on Disney+) is that drawn between socialite Angelica Schuyler Church and the scrappy Founding Father. In the fan-favorite number “Satisfied,” Miranda takes extra effort to establish a hypothesis: that Angelica, Hamilton’s future sister-in-law, was in fact secretly in love with him.

Over the course of “Satisfied” onstage, Angelica meets Hamilton at a midwinter’s ball, where they enjoy a short but illuminating exchange. Despite the thrill of meeting an intellectual equal, Angelica decides Hamilton’s lack of fortune is too large a romantic impediment. Her reasoning? Her father has no sons, so as the eldest daughter, it’s her duty to marry rich and climb the social ladder. So instead, she passes Hamilton off to her younger sister Eliza, who’s already smitten. Once Angelica watches the two of them together, she realizes her mistake; she regrets that she “sized him up so quickly,” but dares not get between her gentle sister and the man she loves.

The only problem is that most of this never actually happened, according to historians.

Photo credit: Brad Barket - Getty Images
Photo credit: Brad Barket - Getty Images

Angelica, in fact, was already married with children by the time she met Hamilton. And her father, Philip Schuyler, not only had a son but multiple sons. It’s also unlikely that Angelica introduced Hamilton and Eliza, considering that historians mark their initial meeting a few years prior to the ball. Where Miranda does inject some truth is in the relationship between Angelica and Alexander. It’s possible, though not certain, that each kept a candle burning for the other throughout their respective marriages.

As Ron Chernow wrote in his biography on the Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, from which Miranda’s musical was adapted, “The attraction between Hamilton and Angelica was so potent and obvious that many people assumed they were lovers. Where Eliza bowed reluctantly to the social demands of Hamilton’s career, Angelica applauded his ambitions and was always famished for news of his latest political exploits.”

But did the two have an affair? Accounts differ. Here’s what we know.

Hamilton was, shall we say, very hot.

All we’re saying is, we totally understand if Angelica felt a rush of blood rise to her temples whenever she first met Hamilton. Most historical accounts describe him as outrageously handsome, “the youngest, best-looking, most controversial, and arguably the most brilliant of the major founders,” according to an article in the Journal of American Studies.

We can also safely assume that Angelica shared in the attraction. Per PBS, she wrote to Eliza, who was married to Hamilton at the time, “If you were as generous as the old Romans, you would lend him to me for a little while.”

Photo credit: Roy Rochlin - Getty Images
Photo credit: Roy Rochlin - Getty Images

Angelica was inclined to make grand romantic gestures.

Given Angelica’s history, the thought of her falling in love with her brother-in-law doesn’t sound so shocking. She secretly eloped with her husband, John Barker Church, who was then using the pseudonym John B. Carter to escape those pursuing him for, reportedly, gambling debts and stock speculation. He later settled in Europe with Angelica and paid off his debts, though for a time, her parents did not approve of the marriage and, in fact, acted quite coldly toward the couple, wrote Tom Cutterham, a professor of history at the University of Birmingham.

Although Church was likely neither as dashing nor as witty as Hamilton, you can see how Angelica’s bold, perhaps even reckless, behavior might lead her into all sorts of sticky situations—including, perhaps, pining over her sister’s husband.

They wrote to each other in an unusually affectionate manner.

“Wherever I am believe always that there is no one can pay a more sincere or affectionate tribute to your deserts than I do,” wrote Hamilton to Angelica in December 1787. In that same letter, he expressed, “I seldom write to a lady without fancying the relation of lover and mistress.”

In a separate letter written nearly a decade later, in which Angelica enlisted Hamilton’s help finding a house in New York, she wrote, “I am sensible how much I trouble I give you, but you will have the goodness to excuse it, when you know that it proceeded from a persuasion that I was asking from one who promised me his love and attention if I returned to America.” In the same document, she referred to Hamilton as her “dear and naughty Brother.”

Such was the duo’s normal correspondence. They were blithely flirtatious and tongue-in-cheek, while also boldly affectionate toward one another. However, whether their language traces a pattern between coy friends or secret lovers remains disputed.

“That Angelica was a married woman actually made her friendship with Hamilton safer from public scrutiny, as did Hamilton’s marriage to her sister Eliza in 1780,” explained Cassandra A. Good for Oxford University Press. “Friendships between men and women were subject to public scrutiny and worries about sexual improprieties, so broadening a friendship from a pair to a set of spouses was helpful. These factors may have emboldened both Alexander and Angelica to express affection for one another with more intensity than most friends.”

Some historians believe Angelica and Hamilton conducted an affair.

As we later find out in the number “Say No to This,” Hamilton does commit adultery with Maria Reynolds, an affair that led to the disastrous Reynolds Pamphlet. But historians apparently butt heads about whether Reynolds was Hamilton’s only affair; some believe he also slept with Angelica.

As described in the Journal of American Studies, biographer John C. Miller wrote, “Hamilton felt no overmastering passion for Angelica Church” despite her affection for him. But another biographer, Robert Hendrickson, believed “for Hamilton there would probably never be any sweeter flesh than Angelica’s.”

Then there’s biographer Willard Stearne Randall. Apparently, he shared the latter opinion, writing, “The dashing Hamilton had become a local [Manhattan] celebrity, Angelica his constant elegant companion.” Chernow himself argued that such an affair with Angelica is unlikely, given that it might have destroyed the Schuyler family connection.

The consensus: We don’t know, and we might never know. What we do know, however, is that the pair loved each other deeply, at the very least platonically. And they probably shared an attraction, even if they never acted on it.

Hamilton and Angelica both dearly loved Eliza.

Another argument against the possible Angelica–Hamilton affair is their mutual adoration of Angelica’s sister and Hamilton’s wife, Eliza. That bond would likely have prevented them from breaking her heart with an affair. As Angelica sings in the musical, “If I tell her that I love him, she’d be silently resigned / He’d be mine / She would say ‘I’m fine’ / She’d be lying.”

In one particular letter to Eliza, Hamilton wrote, “I stopped to read over my letter; it is a motley mixture of fond extravagance and sprightly dullness; the truth is I am too much in love to be either reasonable or witty; I feel in the extreme; and when I attempt to speak of my feelings I rave … Love is a sort of insanity.”

And when Hamilton’s affair with Reynolds became a scandal, Angelica wrote to Eliza, according to War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel That Stunned the Nation, “Tranquilize your kind and good heart, my dear Eliza. … Merit, virtue, and talents must have enemies and are always exposed to envy so that, my Eliza, you see the penalties attending the position of so amiable a man. All this you would not have suffered if you had married into a family less near the sun. … With all my heart and redoubled tenderness, Angelica.”

Both letters demonstrate Angelica’s and Hamilton’s devotion to Eliza (or, as they sometimes called her, Betsey). That devotion likely would have kept them from ever acting on their feelings. But Angelica was one of Hamilton’s most important companions and confidantes, his true equal—no matter their passions, that connection remains untarnished.

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