Theatergoers have been dazzled by the new Broadway hit Hamilton, and not just by its titular lead: the Schuyler women often steal the show. While Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton provides heart and pathos, her sister Angelica Schuyler Church is sassy, witty, and flirtatious. Ultimately Angelica is the more interesting, complex character in both the musical and the historical record. Her loving friendship with Alexander Hamilton, not to mention other leading men of the era, offers a window into the workings of mixed-sex friendships in America’s founding era.
Hamilton writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda draws on both Ron Chernow’s biography and Angelica’s letters to paint a largely accurate picture of her. Even the rosy pink gown that actress Elise Goldsberry wears in the musical mirrors the 1785 John Trumbull portrait of Angelica. Miranda does take some license, however: we never meet Angelica’s British husband, John Barker Church, nor does her elopement with him in 1777 come up. She was married, to a man both rich and dull, when she first met Hamilton.
That Angelica was a married woman actually made her friendship with Hamilton safer from public scrutiny, as did Hamilton’s marriage to her sister Eliza in 1780. Friendships between men and women were subject to public scrutiny and worries about sexual improprieties, so broadening a friendship from a pair to a set of spouses was helpful. These factors may have emboldened both Alexander and Angelica to express affection for one another with more intensity than most friends.
Their relationship as siblings-in-law also allowed for more fulsome language, since such in-laws were treated in many ways like blood relations—who often expressed love for one another without generating any suspicions. Angelica wrote Alexander affectionate letters and joked with Eliza that she should share her husband. “I love him very much and if you were as generous as the Old Romans,” she wrote Eliza in 1794, “you would lend him to me for a while.” In the musical, Miranda riffs on this line by having Angelica sing to Eliza, “I’m just sayin’, if you really loved me, you would share him.” While Angelica’s letters to Alexander are not any more affectionate than other letters between sisters and brothers-in-law, it’s possible that Angelica had romantic feelings for him. Miranda imagines this to be the case, and Angelica sings that “when I fantasize at night/It’s Alexander’s eyes…”
Alexander’s letters to Angelica are clearly flirtatious, but whether this was playful or a sign of romance is impossible to know. He wrote to her in 1787 that “I seldom write to a lady without fancying the relation of lover and mistress,” which was not standard fare in letters between friends or siblings. In one song, “Take a Break,” Miranda plays with this uncertainty as Angelica asks Alexander whether he had romantic intent behind a phrase in letter. While Angelica and Alexander may not have had this precise conversation, many friends of the opposite sex were confused about their feelings for one another.
The close relationship between Angelica and Alexander did generate gossip that the two were having an affair, and the musical avoids a clear answer here. An earlier version of the musical script, according to Miranda’s twitter, had Thomas Jefferson teasing Hamilton about Angelica. Jefferson asks Hamilton to pass along greetings to Angelica, then in England, “since you’re so interested in foreign affairs…” The final musical, however, likely comes very close to the historical reality: Angelica and Alexander were dear friends and may well have been in love. It’s unlikely, given Eliza and Angelica’s lifelong closeness, that Angelica and Alexander had an affair. We can never know for sure: either way, sexual intimacy was not the defining characteristic of their relationship.
Angelica Schuyler Church was a well-traveled and intelligent woman who befriended many men in her lifetime, including Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. Jefferson told her that if their artist friend John Trumbull were to paint their friendship, “it would be something out of the common line.” It is only fitting that her life, feelings, and friendships would be key to telling her friend and brother-in-law Alexander Hamilton’s story on Broadway today.
Featured image: “US 10 Dollar Bill – Series 2004A.” Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.