‘The first of their fellow citizens’

The life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Treasury Secretary, has penetrated the wider public consciousness ever since the release of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical.

The musical touts Hamilton’s connection to his adopted home, New York City, and in truth his name is found on streets and buildings across Manhattan. Meanwhile, though Boston was a stronghold of his fellow Federalists, Hamilton did not spend much time in the city during his lifetime. As such it is peculiar that his statue can be found on the Commonwealth Mall in Boston’s Back Bay.

The statue was a gift to the city from the prominent Boston merchant, Thomas Lee, in 1865; he commissioned the work from local artist, sculptor, and doctor William Rimmer. Thomas Lee and a dozen other prominent residents of Commonwealth Avenue in the new and fashionable neighborhood of Back Bay lobbied to the City Council that the statue be erected between Arlington and Berkeley Streets facing the Public Garden, where a large equestrian statue of George Washington was to be erected. The proponents of the Hamilton statue felt that “perhaps no better site could be selected” with its proximity to the memorial to George Washington, his closest friend and confidant.

The two statues may be seen in the upper right-hand corner of the photo, showing the extent of the area’s development in 1869.

Boston can boast other connections to Alexander Hamilton. In 1773, Hamilton first arrived in the American colonies via Boston Harbor after a wealthy Caribbean businessman saw promise in the adolescent orphan and, with the help a public drive, funded his passage from St. Croix to the American mainland. (It proved to be an eventful journey. Hamilton’s ship caught fire during the three-week voyage and crew members were forced to climb down ropes to the sea to fill buckets of seawater to douse the flames.)

Hamilton’s arrival in Boston came months before the infamous Boston Tea Party, which occurred as he was beginning his studies at King’s College in New York. In his first (of many) outspoken political essays, published anonymously, the young Hamilton, as a former clerk familiar with import duties and British trade policies, defended the destruction of the tea and offered impassioned support of the embargoed Boston, arguing “that the destruction was both necessary and politic.”

In 1800 Hamilton took a three-week tour of New England to feel out support for the Federalist presidential candidate Charles Pinckney, as opposed to the incumbent President, Massachusetts native John Adams. While in Boston, Hamilton was honored at a dinner which was attended by many of the most powerful members of his party. As Hamilton was enjoying his time in Boston that summer, in nearby Quincy Abigail Adams scorned Hamilton as “the little cock sparrow general.”

After Hamilton’s death in an infamous duel with political rival Vice President Aaron Burr on 11 July 1804, a local minister wrote that the streets of Boston were full “with those who carry badges of mourning because the first of their fellow citizens has sunk in blood.”

Danielle Cournoyer

About Danielle Cournoyer

Prior to NEHGS, Danielle worked as an Interpretation and Programming Fellow for The Church of the Presidents where she lead guided tours of the historic church and the Adams crypt. Additionally, Danielle has worked as a Historic District Research Aid for the Arlington Historical Commission. She most recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston with a Masters of Arts in History in May 2016. Her interest include urban development and history focusing on Boston and New York.

5 thoughts on “‘The first of their fellow citizens’

  1. Bravo! I will definitely check out the statues when I’m in Boston this fall. Thanks for sharing Hamilton’s associations with your fair city…and his too-exciting trip to America as a young man.

  2. I find the view fascinating. My grandfather and his family lived at 379 Commonwealth. It is now ten apartments, somehow. Have sent the blog to my sister who lives in a suburb.

  3. Fascinating information about one of the most important men in American history. Your article shows that poor and humble beginnings don’t have to affect the rest of your life.
    It’s what’s in the heart that makes a man…or woman.
    Thank you for your time and research to bring this information to us!

  4. Docents on the tour of the Public Garden point out the Hamilton statue on the Mall facing the Washington Statue in the Public Garden if there is time.

  5. An editing technicality: Danielle Cournoyer “led” guided tours, not “lead” guided tours. And her “interest(s) include…”

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