Hamilton – An American Musical: The Facts Behind the Music Part 19: “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”

Part nineteen will cover the final song of the musical: “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”

Washington starts singing this song, but it is with Jefferson that we have our first real historical reference.  He sings, “I’ll give him this: his financial system is a work of genius. I couldn’t undo it if I tried. And I tried.” In his reminiscences, James A. Hamilton, son of Alexander, recalled a conversation with Albert Gallatin, Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury.  Gallatin is supposed to have said:  “Mr. Jefferson after my appointment said to me: Gallatin your most important duty will be to examine the accounts and all the records of your Department in order to discover the blunders and frauds of Hamilton and to ascertain what changes may be required in the system.”  To do this, Jefferson told Gallatin he “may employ whatever extra force you may require.”  Gallatin told James Hamilton that “the task was performed thoroughly – occupying much time.  All the accounts and correspondence were looked into, and thus I became a master of the whole system and all its details.”  When Gallatin approached Jefferson to deliver his verdict, he said, “I have found the most perfect system ever formed – any change that should be made to it would injure it – Hamilton made no blunders – committed no frauds.  He did nothing wrong.”[1]

Madison then credits Hamilton for raising up the country from bankruptcy to prosperity, before Eliza puts herself back in the narrative.  She sings, “I interview every soldier who fought by your side.”  Chernow wrote that in the first decade after Alexander’s death, Eliza “embarked on a single-minded crusade to do justice to her husband’s achievements….She turned to her son, John Church Hamilton, to edit Hamilton’s papers and produce a massive history that would duly glorify the patriarch.”  Chernow wrote that Eliza bothered politicians “with detailed questionnaires, soliciting their recollections of her husband.”  She even travelled to Mount Vernon to borrow letters that Alexander wrote to Washington.[2]  He does not mention, however, Eliza interviewing soldiers specifically. John Church Hamilton’s work was finally published in 1879.[3]

Eliza also sings of Angelica helping to tell Hamilton’s story, and then sings, “She is buried in Trinity Church near you.”  Although Angelica and Alexander are buried in the churchyard of Trinity Church, they are not near each other.  Hamilton is buried with Eliza and Philip at his side, near the fence on Rector Street.  (Hercules Mulligan is close by.)  Angelica, though, is on the opposite side of the church, near Trinity Place, in a vault purchased by the sons of Robert Livingston. (Or so it is believed.)[4]

Continuing Eliza’s story, she sings, “I raise funds in D.C. for the Washington Monument.”  Chernow wrote, “Eliza aided her friend Dolley Madison in raising money to construct the Washington Monument.”[5]  Her name, along with Mrs. Madison, Mrs. Adams, and Mrs. Polk were listed as “Lady Patronesses” for a “National Birth-Night Ball,” the proceeds of which were “to be applied to the erecting of the proposed Monument to Washington.”[6]  Eliza was also present, “in a conspicuous position” with Dolley Madison, at the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone of the monument on July 4, 1848.[7]

Eliza says, “I speak out against slavery.”  Chernow wrote that Eliza was a “committed abolitionist,” and after she moved to Washington, D.C., in 1848 (at age 91!) she “delighted in entertaining slave children from the neighborhood, and she referred derisively to the slaveholding states.”[8]

Eliza then asks if she can show what she’s proudest of and sings, “I established the first private orphanage in New York City,” continuing, “I help to raise hundreds of children.”  This actually happened shortly after Alexander’s death.  In 1806 Eliza co-founded the New York Orphan Asylum Society with a group of Evangelical women.  It was the first private orphanage in New York City, and Eliza sat on the board and was a director (second diresctress) for a number of years.  From 1821 until 1848 she was “first directress with the chief responsibility for the 158 children then housed and educated at the asylum….She oversaw every aspect of the orphanage work.”[9]

Eliza was praised during her lifetime, as well as after her death, and rightfully so.  One obituary author wrote of her, “Her benevolence was most exemplary, and one of the finest manifestations of it was her habit, to within a few months of her death, of making occasional visits to all the schools of the city, and she never did so without imparting some moral lesson which showed how deep an interest she took in the welfare of the country which her husband had contributed so largely to make free and independent.”[10]

The last line of this last song is “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” Ron Chernow is a wonderful storyteller, and each biography he has written is well worth reading.  I don’t have to speak of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s talents; his musical has given life to historical figures both large and small, and he has told their stories, however briefly or detailed.  And I hope that I’ve done a good job presenting some extra facts behind Chernow’s and Miranda’s amazing works.  I thank you for taking your time to read this history.


[1] p 23
[2] Chernow, 727.
[3] Letters to and from Alexander (as well as other Founders) can be found at the site Founders Online, administered by the U.S. National Archives.
[4] Robert Fulton of steamboat fame is also buried in this vault (he married into the Livingston family), although he also has a monument on the opposite side of the church.  The aforementioned Albert Gallatin is buried near Angelica.  Unsurprisingly, Angelica’s death did not receive the same attention as her sister and brother-in-law.  A paper in her hometown, the Albany Register, noted her death: “Died – At New-York, on Sunday evening last, Mrs. Angelica Church, wife of John B. Church, Esq. and daughter of the late Gen. Philip Schuyler, of this city, in the 58th year of her age” (Friday, March 11, 1814, p. 3).  This was copied in a number of other papers, including some in New York City.
[5] Chernow, 730.
[6] Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), February 21, 1848, p1.
[7] Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), July 6, 1848, p. 4.
[8] Chernow, 730.
[9] Chernow, 728.  He wrote, “She raised money, leased properties, visited almshouses, investigated complaints, and solicited donations of coal, shoes, and Bibles.”  The orphanage still operates today under the name Graham Windham.
[10] Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), November 11, 1854, p. 3.
Image credit: Alexander Hamilton, painted by John Trumbull. National Portrait Gallery


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s