The Hurricane that gave us Alexander Hamilton
May 14, 2018
As I prepare my power-point talk for our fundraiser for Puerto Rico hurricane relief next week, I am struck by the irony that it was a hurricane that brought Alexander Hamilton to us. Had a terrible tempest not hit St. Croix in 1772, had the poetic 17-year-old Alex not written such an evocative account of it, and had a local minister who also happened to edit the local gazette not been so moved by his vivid descriptions and sense of horror, the course of American history might have been very different.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song “Hurricane” recounts the thread of destiny: the orphaned young Hamilton managed to survive “one of the most dreadful Hurricanes that memory or any records whatever can trace,” and wrote about it to his father (who had deserted him and his brother before their mother died and was living on another island). Hugh Knox printed the letter. Affluent islanders were so impressed by the teenager’s lush, pictorial language and raw outcry about the helplessness of man against an angry sea or God that they raised a fund to send him to Boston for an education.
With these words, Hamilton wrote his “way out of hell” and into a Revolution:
The roaring of the sea and wind, fiery meteors flying about it in the air, the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning, the crash of the falling houses, and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed, were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels. A great part of the buildings throughout the Island are levelled to the ground, almost all the rest very much shattered; several persons killed and numbers utterly ruined; whole families running about the streets, unknowing where to find a place of shelter; the sick exposed to the keeness of water and air without a bed to lie upon, or a dry covering to their bodies; and our harbours entirely bare. In a word, misery, in all its most hideous shapes, spread over the whole face of the country.
You can see his entire Gazette article here: https://blogs.loc.gov/catbird/files/2017/09/rdag-oct-3-1772-p-2-full.jpg?loclr=blogpoe
Or for an easier-to-read digitized version: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-01-02-0042#ARHN-01-01-02-0042-fn-0002
Seeing how young Hamilton was when he endured this hurricane and came to the mainland is heart-wrenching:
I can’t help but wonder if there is another teenage, unknown “Alexander Hamilton” struggling in the destruction left by Hurricane Maria, who needs our help. All proceeds from our Hamilton and Peggy for Puerto Rico will go directly to the Hispanic Federation Relief Fund. If you’d like to donate through our event, see https://bit.ly/2qhurF5