History Has Its Eyes on You: Glossed-over Historical Events in HAMILTON
Interesting History,  Musings

History Has Its Eyes on You: Glossed-Over Historical Events in HAMILTON

If you’re as obsessed with Hamilton as I was when it first came out, you might’ve watched interviews with the cast, picked up that famous biography by Ron Chernow, or geeked out when Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared on Drunk History. (Note to self: I need to write an entire blog post on that show…)

You probably also know that Hamilton has inaccuracies, and that some major historical events were left out altogether. Far too many blogs and news outlets have reported on this to list here. You couldn’t have missed them.

And I understand the frustration. Though details are left out—intentionally or unintentionally—every time a story is retold, their absence is particularly noticeable in a musical that asks who will tell these stories. But there is no medium (short of scores of history books) that could possibly explore every detail and nuance of the founding of the United States of America.

But we always want more than we can be allowed to have, right?

Below, I’ve listed a few points I wish Hamilton had touched on, or elaborated on. No disrespect to Mr. Miranda, of course. Bear in mind that this blog post will contain spoilers!

The show dances around the United States’s most atrocious realities.

To begin with, only three of the ten Founding Fathers—John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Marshall, George Mason, and George Washington—didn’t own enslaved people, yet only Jefferson is called out for this practice. (Those three were Hamilton and the two Adamses, though no hands were completely clean.) How Hamilton portrays its slave-owning characters is perhaps the biggest criticism of the show, and for good reason. It is hardly touched in the grand scheme of things.

And Hamilton doesn’t remark once on the devastating effects the country’s founding had on the First Nations.

Benjamin Franklin isn’t mentioned at all.

Benjamin Franklin seemed to do everything an American could do during colonial times—he was an inventor, a Freemason, a scientist, a writer, a publisher, and a diplomat.

Really, his contributions to the young, scrappy, and hungry United States are seemingly endless, not the least of which was having a hand in writing the Declaration of Independence. That’s why it’s so surprising that he has one single mention in the whole show—when Angelica compares the sparks between her and Hamilton the night they met to “Ben Franklin with a key and a kite.”

Luckily, we don’t have to wonder what Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version of Benjamin Franklin would sound like because he did, in fact, write a song for him. It just didn’t make it into the show.

Sally Hemings had a larger role than opening letters.

In the delightfully jazzy number “What’d I Miss,” Thomas Jefferson sings, “Sally, be a lamb, darling/Won’t you open [this letter]?” It’s an easy line to miss, especially if you’re watching the musical on Disney+ or YouTube and entranced by the spectacle.

Sally Hemings, one of hundreds of enslaved people at Monticello, did what I’m sure would’ve been considered impossible and unthinkable at the time—at sixteen, she negotiated with her owner, Jefferson. This was done while in France, where Sally was technically free, and she only agreed to return with him after getting him to swear she’d have special privileges and freedom for her children.

The very idea of such a conversation sends chills down my spine. I strongly encourage looking up the history of the enslaved people at Monticello.

There were more than three Schuyler sisters.

In the aptly named song “The Schuyler Sisters,” we’re introduced to the Schuyler sisters—Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy—who make no mention of having any siblings other than each other. Later in the show, during show-stopping “Satisfied,” we’re told that their father has no sons.

Well, that just plain wasn’t true! Of course, narratively speaking, it only makes sense to cut the rest of the Schuyler siblings for time. But know that Eliza had seven siblings—Angelica, Philip, John, Cornelia, Catherine, Rensselaer … And Peggy! Whose full name was Margarita.

Aaron Burr is a villain in our history for more than one reason.

Yes, Aaron Burr did seal his fate when he famously shot Hamilton during their duel, but that was far from his only misdeed.

After the duel shattered his political career, Burr set his sights on a far bigger prize than being in “The Room Where it Happens”—he wanted to rule over the Territory of Louisiana and the West as its emperor.

He and his co-conspirators sought assistance from Spain and Britain to claim the land in his name, but it never got that far. Instead, the inevitable rumors that Burr was up to no good were printed in newspapers, and he faced a grand jury. Burr was acquitted thanks to Supreme Court Justice John Marshall’s love of sticking to the letter of the Constitution, but he never recovered from the blow to his social standing.

Also, he did all that while serving as the vice president.

Theodosia Burr, like Philip Hamilton, was taken before her time.

In the song “Dear Theodosia,” Burr and Hamilton sing about their respective children, born around the same time.

We watch Hamilton’s son Philip grow up and die during the show, but we never hear about Theodosia again until “The World Was Wide Enough,” when Burr swears Hamilton will not make an orphan of his daughter by killing him in a duel. Of course, we know that’s not what happened.

I truly wish Theodosia had gotten time to shine because she led quite the life. She was gifted with not only a breathtakingly beautiful name, but also charm and intelligence, and her father made sure she had plenty of opportunities to cultivate both. And Theodosia, like Phillip, lost her life too soon. She was lost at sea at only a decade older than Philip Hamilton was when he died in his duel with George Eacker.

(And oh, do I ever have a story in the works for her! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to work on it for a year or more. If I may, I suggest subscribing to my newsletter if you’d like to be kept in the loop about my Theodosia project and all the other stories swirling around in my brain.)

What historical figures or events do you wish were given time to be addressed in Hamilton?

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