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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Hamilton on Wall Street

courtesy of the New York Public Library

Yesterday, January 11, marked Alexander Hamilton's birthday. He was born either in 1755 or 1757, the "bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar" (in President John Adams's low estimation) on Nevis in the Caribbean. As a child, he moved to St. Croix and then, as a teenager, to New York, where he enrolled in King's College (later Columbia University) in downtown Manhattan.

Of course, you can read all about Hamilton's extensive life in New York in Footprints in New York (or see that impossible-to-get-tickets-to musical on Broadway).

For decades after Hamilton was killed in a duel by Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804, he was memorialized around the city, perhaps no place more famously than in the Merchants Exchange on Wall Street. In the spring of 1835, a group of traders erected a fifteen-foot marble statue (shown above) of Hamilton that had been sculpted by Robert Ball Hughes. The former Treasury Secretary's republican values are symbolized by the toga he wears over his suit. The scroll in his hand may be one of the many laws Hamilton helped pass that created the American financial industry.

This statue was destroyed just eight months after it was unveiled in the Great Fire of 1835. As we write in Inside the Apple:
On the night of December 16, 1835, a gas line broke in a dry goods store near Hanover Square in the Financial District; the gas, ignited by a coal stove, caused the store to explode and the ensuing fire quickly fanned southward along Stone Street and northeast toward Wall Street. Not only was it the worst fire in New York’s history, it wiped away almost all of the remaining traces of the old Dutch and British colonial city.... 
The blaze raged for over a day, destroying over 600 buildings in about 50 acres of the old city, including the home of the New York Stock Exchange, the old city post office, and many warehouses and counting houses on which the city depended. Though the neighborhood was still a mix of commercial and residential structures, fortunately only two people died.
Alexander Hamilton in Central Park
Despite a valiant attempt to save the marble Hamilton statue, it was destroyed along with the Merchants Exchange. Forty-five years later, a new statue was paid for
by Hamilton’s youngest son, John C. Hamilton, and it stands in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This remarkable in that it is made entirely of granite—not the easiest stone to carve—and it has long been thought that John C. Hamilton commissioned the work out of this durable stone so that no matter what calamities might befall Central Park, his father’s statue would endure.

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