The true story behind hip-hop musical Hamilton

The Broadway blockbuster has finally arrived in the West End - here's everything you need to know about the Founding Father who inspired a theatrical phenomenon

Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton

The musical Hamilton opened in London on 6 December, at the refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre, allowing British theatre-goers finally to experience this global phenomenon.

The show follows the remarkable life story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Its creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, retells the tale using rap music and lyrics that tackle even political deal-making: “Two Virginians and an immigrant walk into a room/Diametric’ly opposed, foes/ They emerge with a compromise, having opened doors that were/Previously closed/Bros.”

But the story of that immigrant – Hamilton himself, who was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis – is not all backroom manoeuvring. It has dramatic highs and lows, taking in revolution, a sex scandal, blackmail and death in a duel at the hands of the US vice-president.

Hamilton was an orphan, born out of wedlock to a half-British/half-French mother, who died when he was about 11, and a Scottish father, who had long since abandoned them. His mother was still married to another man, and her estranged husband emerged after her death to seize her estate, leaving young Alexander penniless.

So how did Hamilton make his way? As a teenage clerk, he showed such prowess in writing about a hurricane that struck the island of Christiansted that a group of elders teamed up to send him to King’s College (now Columbia University) in New York. Once there, however, he set his heart on achieving glory in the War of Independence and was soon captaining an artillery division, before becoming aide-de-camp to General George Washington, a non-combat role. But Hamilton insisted on returning to action, and in the last major battle of the war, he led a bayonet charge against besieged British forces in 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia (now about seven hours’ drive from New York), which led to the decisive surrender of General Cornwallis’s army.

In the same period, he co-founded the first bank in North America and married Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of a general, whom he had met the year before the battle. Then, with the war almost over, he resigned his commission to return to New York to join his wife and their son. They would have eight children together.

In New York, he worked as a lawyer, and helped to forge the US Constitution. He also founded the Bank of New York (alongside the man who would later kill him). When George Washington became the first President of the United States, he made Hamilton his Treasury Secretary. In that role, he established a trading relationship with Britain, opposed slavery and created the first national bank.

Obioma Ugoala as George Washington with West End cast of Hamilton; above: Jamael Westman as Hamilton (photos by Matthew Murphy)
Obioma Ugoala as George Washington with West End cast of Hamilton; above: Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton (photos by Matthew Murphy)

But in the same year, Hamilton got involved in an expensive affair with 23-year-old Maria Reynolds, whose husband apparently encouraged the liaison, demanding vast sums in hush money, starting with a payment of $1,000.

Hamilton would later air all his dirty laundry in the first political sex scandal of the new country, detailing the ins and outs of the tawdry business to avoid accusations of embezzlement.

He was busily creating enemies, too. Trading insults with one of his critics, George Eacker, cost the life of his eldest son, Philip, who challenged Eacker to a duel; the 19-year-old was shot and died 14 hours later in the arms of his father and pregnant mother.

The couple would name the new baby Philip, too, and take him home to the newly built family mansion, Hamilton Grange, in Harlem (now relocated to nearby St Nicholas Park and open all year round, from Wednesday to Sunday). But the statesman, though not yet 50, would not live to see his youngest son grow up. In 1804, Hamilton made an enemy of former attorney general Aaron Burr by ruining his chances of winning the governorship of New York.

Hamilton’s refusal to apologise led to a duel between the two men, at which Hamilton announced he intended to fire away from his opponent. On the morning of 11 July, both were rowed across the Hudson from Manhattan to New Jersey (you can still take the ferry across to visit the memorial in Weehawken). Hamilton’s shot hit a tree, Burr’s struck his opponent in the lower abdomen. He died the following afternoon, and is buried, next to his wife Eliza, in Trinity Churchyard, at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street.

Full ticketing information can be found on the official website at hamiltonthemusical.co.uk which includes details of the £10 daily lottery. 

Advertisement