Alexander Hamilton Scholars Slam Back Over Unverified Slavery Claims

alexander-hamilton
America's Greatest Immigrant, Caribbean-born, Alexander Hamilton. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
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By NAN Staff Writer

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Weds. Nov. 11, 2020: A long-time advocate of Americas’ Greatest immigrant and US founding father, Caribbean-born Alexander Hamilton, has slammed the New York Times, following a report Tuesday that cited new unverifiable research claiming the former Secretary of the Treasury was a slave owner.

Chairman of the Bowling Green Association, Arthur Piccolo, a Hamilton specialist who has for decades led an annual remembrance and wreath laying ceremony for Hamilton at this gravesite at Trinity Church, Lower Manhattan, called the article by Jennifer Schuessler, “embarrassing.”

The article, titled, ‘Alexander Hamilton, Enslaver?,’ cites “new” research by Jessie Serfilippi, who is listed as a “historical interpreter” at the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, N.Y.

Serfilippi claimed in the paper, titled “‘As Odious and Immoral a Thing’: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden History as an Enslaver,” that she examined letters, account books and other documents and came to the conclusion that “not only did Alexander Hamilton enslave people, but his involvement in the institution of slavery was essential to his identity, both personally and professionally.”

But Piccolo called the article on the man who has gotten new found fame in the award-winning, hit musical ‘Hamilton,’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the claim, a hack job.

“Shame on the New York Times for this lack of journalistic integrity,” he said. “With your full front page display you made a very specific decision not only to legitimize her claims and her CONCLUSIONS but to herald them as absolute truth. The kind of research and sourcing required for the way you presented this material is completely missing. How could you print the following statement … without seeking specifically any counter-claims to her following statement?”

Piccolo further stated that the claim by Serfilippi of the Nevis-born Hamilton, is completely “unsubstantiated.”

“If that were true, how is it possible (that) while Hamilton was alive, he was the constant target of blistering attacks by his detractors for his active rolling in ending the legality of the international slave trade,” Piccolo said.

Rand Scholet, Founder of The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, agreed to some extent, noting that assertions such as the ones made by Serfilippi deserved more thorough vetting by Hamilton scholars prior to publication. 

The Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site was aware of ongoing work made available and responded to by Philo Hamilton but chose not to engage them, Scholet told News Americas, adding that such claims would earn more initial respect if the author fairly included the numerous factual initiatives that Hamilton undertook to expedite the emancipation of slaves, including co-founding of the New York Manumission Society and African Free School, as well as the elimination of the practice of slavery in the state of New York.  

“Not to mention, available quotes by Hamilton respecting blacks and slaves having capabilities equal to whites,” he added. “Quite enlightened thinking for that time period.”

Philo Hamilton, for his part, also slammed the research, noting on Twitter that it is “riddled with errors, omissions, assumptions, speculations, and misrepresentations.”

He also refuted the author’s slave ownership claims as follows:

“The Schuyler Mansion essay claims that Alexander Hamilton was “required” to purchase a slave for his new bride in 1781. In fact, Hamilton could not afford to buy a slave and had recently asked Eliza, “Do you soberly relish the pleasure of being a poor man’s wife?

“The Schuyler Mansion essay claims that Alexander Hamilton did indeed purchase a slave in 1781. In fact, he had hired a woman from Governor George Clinton’s wife. It is not known whether this woman was white, a free black, or an enslaved person.

“The Schuyler Mansion essay claims that Alexander Hamilton in 1783 wrote to support the return of enslaved person who had been freed by the British during the American Revolution. Hamilton said no such thing and “always” opposed such a move.

“The Schuyler Mansion essay claims that Alexander Hamilton sold a slave named Peggy in 1783. To the contrary, Hamilton’s sister-in-law Peggy sold a slave and he merely acted as her banker.

“The Schuyler Mansion essay claims that Alexander Hamilton omitted entries regarding slave transaction from his cash books. This is untrue. All the entries are there and accounted for.

“The Schuyler Mansion essay claims the 1790 U.S. Census record for Alexander Hamilton is incorrect. In reality, they were looking at the wrong Alexander Hamilton.

“The Schuyler Mansion essay claims that Alexander Hamilton was an expert on legal matters regarding slavery. In fact, out of hundreds of cases, only a handful dealt in any way with slavery, and many of those were actually about the ownership of ships rather than enslaved persons.

“The Schuyler Mansion essay claims that Hamilton had enslaved persons listed among his property upon his death. AH did not include any enslaved person among his assets in his will or other final papers. Only a mistaken record by someone else listed such an asset & it was exed out.”

Hamilton was an abolitionist as stated in Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, “Hamilton,” which Miranda made into a Tony Award-winning show.

Chernow questioned Serfilippi’s claim that slavery was “essential” to Hamilton’s identity, and said she omitted information that would contradict her conclusions.

“Had she tried to reconcile these important new findings with a full and fair statement of Hamilton’s anti-slavery activities, we would have gotten a large and complex view of the man and her paper would have been far more persuasive,” Chernow told the Associated Press via email.

Miranda declined to comment to the AP through his publicist.

The research comes amid a renewed focus on systemic racism in America and its racist past, especially 400 years of slavery, following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement globally.

Hamilton died in July 1804 but continues to attract interest to this day.