66 pages 2 hours read

Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 2004

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Prologue-Chapter 4

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Prologue Summary: “The Oldest Revolutionary War Widow”

The prologue gives a brief account of Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler Hamilton’s efforts to protect her husband’s reputation. Eliza would remain committed to Hamilton’s legacy, both during his life and after his death. Chernow also discusses the reasons for writing this particular biography when books about Hamilton already exist. 

Chapter 1 Summary: “The Castaways”

Alexander Hamilton claimed to have been born in Nevis, in the British West Indies, but there are no records that prove this. The sugar boom in the late 17th century led the British government to import many slaves and indentured servants there to work in the industry, leading to high populations of criminals, vagabonds, and unsavory people. Hamilton grew up there, unlike other founding fathers raised in aristocratic conditions on Virginia plantations.

After Hamilton’s father—James—deserted the family in 1765, his mother married John Lavien. Lavien was a selfish, cold man who later divorced Rachel for alleged infidelities, resulting in her being imprisoned for months. After getting out, she left with Alexander for St. Croix.

It does not appear that Alexander was formally schooled, but probably had private tutoring. He later told one of his sons that he had been tutored by a Jewish woman and maintained a reverence for Jews throughout his life.