After the Duel

I’m a day late to commemorate the infamous duel which took place on July 11, 1804 between sitting Vice President Aaron Burr and the first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, resulting in the latter’s death.  Better late than never, however, as this was a shocking and momentous moment in the new nation’s history.  If you just run a cursory search in a digital database such as Early American Imprints, you can easily uncover a litany of literary tributes to the martyred Hamilton, in the form of eulogies, sermons, letters, poems and accounts of the dreadful event and its aftermath published in newspapers all over the country in the summer of 1804.

With time came more deliberative reactions to the Duel and attempts to memorialize it, in the form of historical accounts, prints of the scene (Weehawken, New Jersey) and even souvenir plates and historical romances (after all, what is more romantic than a duel?)The first marble statue to be produced in the United States, sculptor Ball Hughes’ Statue of Hamilton, was erected in the Grand Rotunda of the New York Merchants Exchange in 1835, only to be destroyed six months later in the Great Fire that swept the city later that year.

Print illustration of the Hughes Hamilton Statue, NYPL

1830 Print of Caleb Wheeler Etching, NYPL

Booth's History of New York, 1886

Duel Souvenir Plate, Collection of the New York Historical Society

Cover of Blennerhassett, or the Decrees of Fate. A Romance founded upon Events in American History by Charles Felton Pidgin, 1901

Salem was no exception in the expressed immediate outpouring of anger and grief at the killing of Hamilton, but the most lasting tribute the Federalist icon was built of bricks, not words:  the soon-to-be completed “new” Assembly House on Chestnut Street, designed by Samuel McIntire, was named Hamilton Hall in his honor.  For me, this building is quite literally the monument next door.  I enjoy seeing the aged russet bricks and McIntire’s spectacular carved eagle and swags every day, but I must admit that I don’t immediately think about Hamilton when I do so.

Hamilton Hall in 1940, HABS, Library of Congress

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