FROM WHICH ALEXANDER HAMILTON WENT COURTING
New Jersey, which was the scene of so many battles during the Revolution, was also the scene of what was perhaps Washington’s pleasantest winter during the war. From December, 1799, to June, 1780, the Commander-in-chief lived at the Ford Mansion with his ” family,” as he was fond of calling Mrs. Washington and his aides.
During these months he was busily engaged in making plans for the later successful conduct of the war, yet he took time for those social relaxations which were a needed relief from the anxious strain of the long conflict.
Among those who helped to make that winter memorable were Surgeon General John Cochrane and Mrs. Cochrane, who occupied the Campfield House close by, and General and Mrs. Philip Schuyler, who had come down from Albany for a season at headquarters. Mrs. Schuyler and Mrs. Cochrane were sisters. Elizabeth Schuyler had come in advance of her parents, and for a time was a guest at the Campfield House.
Visitors from France were arriving from time to time, bringing word of the alliance that was to mean so much to the Colonies, and conferring as to methods of co-operation.
In one wing of the Ford Mansion lived Mrs. Ford and her son Timothy. In the rooms set apart for the use of Washington’s family eighteen people were crowded. Two of these were Alexander Hamilton and Tench Tilghman, both members of the General’s staff.
Though Mrs. Washington delighted to put on style, on occasion, she could also be plain and simple. There had been times during the war when she was not ashamed to drive to headquarters in a coach and four. But sometimes at Morristown she was in a different moodas, for instance, one day when a number of the ladies of the neighborhood, dressed in their best, called to pay their respects to her. To their surprise they found her sitting in a speckled apron, knitting stockings. If they were ill at ease at first, their state of mind can be imagined when their hostess began to tali to them of the need of care in their expenditures for their country’s sake. After telling them of a dress she had made out of the carefully unravelled upholstery of a set of chairs, she completed their consternation by saying :
” American ladies should be patterns of industry to their countrywomen, because the separation from the mother-country will dry up the source whence many of our comforts have been derived. We must become independent by our determination to do without what we cannot make ourselves. While our husbands and brothers are examples of patriotism, we must be examples of thrift and economy.”
The coming of Elizabeth Schuyler to the Campfield House was the signal for a spirited contest for her favor between two of Washington’s aides. Both Hamilton and Tilghman had met her at her father’s house in Albany, and both called on her. But Hamilton soon distanced his comrade in the race for her favor.
It was not long until everybody was watching developments. Both of the young people were favorites. It is related that even a young soldier on sentry duty late one night was persuaded to a breach of military rules by his interest in Hamilton’s courtship. That night the lover was on his way home after spending an evening with his Betsey. Evidently the young man had been thinking of anything but the countersign, for when he was halted and asked to give the countersign words he cudgelled his brain in vain. Then he whispered to the sentry, ” Tell me ! ” And the sentry did tell. Whereupon Hamilton drew himself up before the soldier, gravely gave the countersign, and passed on to his quarters.
There was no time for long courtship in those days of quick movements in military circles. So, before long, Hamilton was writing to Elizabeth Schuyler such cheering letters as the following :
” I would not have you imagine, Miss, that I write you so often to gratify your wishes or please your vanity, but merely to indulge myself, and to comply with that restless property of my mind which will not be happy unless I am doing something, in which you are concerned. This may seem a very idle disposition in a philosopher and a soldier; but I can plead illustrious examples in my justification. Achilles liked to have sacrificed Greece and his glory for a female captive; and Anthony lost the world for a woman. I am very sorry times are so changed as to oblige me to go to antiquity for my apology, but I confess to the disgrace of the present that I have not been able to find as many who are as far gone as myself in their laudable zeal of the fair sex. I suspect, however, that if others knew the charms of my sweetheart as well as I do, I should have a great number of competitors. I wish I could give you an idea of her. You have no conception of how sweet a girl she is. It is only in my heart that her image is truly drawn. She has a comely form, and a mind still more lovely; she is all goodness, the gentlest, the dearest, the tenderest of her sex. Oh, Betsey, how I love her ! ”
Who could withstand such a lover? Elizabeth Schuyler did not, and her father commended her judgment. For he wrote to Hamilton
” You cannot, my dear sir, be more happy at the connexion you have made with my family than I am. Until the child of a parent has made a judicious choice, his heart is in critical anxiety; but this anxiety was removed the moment I discovered on whom she had placed her affection. I am pleased with every instance of delicacy in those who are dear to me; and I think I read your soul on that occasion you mention. I shall therefore only entreat you to consider me as one who wishes in every way to promote your happiness, and I shall.”
The young people were married at the Schuyler home-stead in Albany on December 14, 1780.
Today the Ford Mansion where Hamilton dreamed of a conquest in which the British had no part is owned by the Washington Association of New Jersey, and is open to visitors. The Campfield House is to be found on a side street; it has been moved from its original site.