Lot 1044
  • 1044

Alexander Hamilton

8,000 - 12,000 USD
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  • Autograph fragment of a will, evidently written in anticipation of a duel with James Nicholson
  • Paper, ink
Portion of a leaf (5 1/8 x 7 7/8 in.; 132 x 198 mm), [New York, July 1795]; trimmed at top and bottom, still secured to its full integral leaf; fold separations repaired, some small stains.


Portion of a leaf (5 1/8 x 7 7/8 in.; 132 x 198 mm), [New York, July 1795]; trimmed at top and bottom, still secured to its full integral leaf; fold separations repaired, some small stains.
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Catalogue Note

A previously unrecorded and unpublished fragment of a 1795 will in favor of "my beloved wife Elizabeth Hamilton."

The enmity that the Jay Treaty—or, properly, the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America—engendered between the Federalists (who supported it) and the Democratic-Republicans was exemplified by the experiences of Alexander Hamilton. At a public meeting to discuss the Treaty in July 1795, the former Secretary of the Treasury was not simply shouted down but actually stoned. On his way home, the infuriated Hamilton got into an argument with one James Nicholson, who called him an "abettor of Tories." 

As a result, Hamilton sent the following letter to Nicholson on 20 July: "The unprovoked rudeness and insult which I experienced from You on Saturday leaves me no option but that of a meeting with You, the object of which You will readily understand" (Papers, ed. Syrett, 18:471–472). Five days later, in anticipation of a duel with Nicholson, he wrote a lengthy letter of instructions to Robert Troup, his roommate from King's College, commencing "Confiding in your integrity and friendship to me, I have made you Executor of my Will. My concerns are not very extensive and of course will not give you much trouble. Indeed I might have dispensed with the ceremony of making a Will as to what I may myself leave had I not wished that my little property may be applied as readily and as fairly as may be to the benefit of my few Creditors. For after a life of labour, I leave my family to the benevolence of others, if my course shall happen to be terminated here" (Papers, ed. Syrett, 18:503–507). Ron Chernow refers to this missive as "a letter that would serve as a revised will" (Alexander Hamilton, p. 491). But the present fragment, previously unrecorded and unpublished, shows that Hamilton did write an actual will in 1795:

"in manner following (to wit) I give devise and bequeath unto my friend Robert Troupe of the City aforesaid Esquire and to his heirs and Assigns all my estate real and personal whatsoever and wheresoever upon Trust, first, to sell and dispose of the same or of so much thereof as shall be necessary and out of the proceeds of the sale or sales to pay my funeral expenses and just debts and that payment being completed, then, secondly, upon this further trust to pay or convey and assure unto my beloved wife Elizabeth Hamilton and to her heirs and assigns all the rest residue and remaindr of my said estate, or of the proceeds thereof. And I do hereby constitute and appoint the said Robert Troupe to be the Executor of this my Will, revoking by these presents any every former or other Will by me."

The situation with Nicholson was defused when the two men were able to agree on the language of an apology. Hamilton's final will was drawn up on 9 July 1804 in anticipation of his duel with Aaron Burr; the executors were John B. Church, Nicholas Fish, and Nathaniel Pendleton. In this will, Hamilton refers to Elizabeth as "my excellent and dear Wife. (See Papers, ed. Syrett, 26:305–306, for full text of the 1804 will.)