Peggy's Romantic Life
February 22, 2018
Think researching primary documents is boring? HA! That’s where you get the good stuff!
Take Peggy’s romance with a daring 31-year-old French soldier and nobleman: Marquis Francoise-Louis Teissedre de Fleury. Nowhere is that mentioned in any history books. I stumbled onto it by reading all the love letters Hamilton wrote Eliza, because every once in a while, he dropped a little gossip about his soon-to-be-little sister, whom he instantly claimed as “My Peggy.” Like this, on September 3, 1780:
“When your sister returns home, I shall try to get her in my interest and make her tell me of all your flirtations. Have you heard any thing more of what I hinted to you about Fleury? When she returns, give my love to her and tell her, I expected, she would have outstripped you in the Hymenal line.”
WHAT? I thought. Who’s Fleury? And is “Hymenal line” what I think it is—an overly fancy way of saying…mmm, marriage????
That’s the only mention of Fleury+Peggy by Hamilton. So I doubled checked in founders.archives.gov/ to see if Hamilton or Fleury ever wrote each other. And there, on October 20, 1780 was this from Fleury to “his dear friend:”
“…Mrs. Carter told me you was soon to be married to her sister, Miss betsy Schuyler. I congratulate you heartyly on that conquest; for many Reasons… The third (this one is not very Certain) that we shall be or connect’d or neighbors. For you most know, that I am an admirer of Miss Pegguy, your sister in Law… this Litle jest is between you & I. It woud be very improper for anybody else.”
That was it! Well, those two little mentions sent me scurrying to learn more!
It took some digging, but it turns out Marquis de Fleury, like Lafayette, left France to join our patriot cause. He showed such valor at the Battle of Stony Point that he was one of only 8 people awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor during the Revolution. (He was the first to scramble up a sheer cliff studded with spears to leap over British embattlements under heavy fire in a do-or-die midnight attack.) Also like Lafayette, Fleury seems to have been very enthusiastic! He wrote George Washington in broken English about self-propelled, exploding boats he wanted to build to launch at the British fleet to take it down.
Researching Stony Point, I found a comment from a British officer about Fleury’s remarkable clemency in the battle, shouting at his men to “give quarter” when the surprised Redcoats surrendered—unlike recent British victories in which Patriots had been executed AFTER giving up, something the English letter-writer said with some shame. Also, Fleury evidently shared his $500 reward money for that daring act with the privates who followed him into the fray, fixed bayonets only.
So Fleury was brave, chivalrous, humane, and generous. Plus, I was able to dredge up memoirs of Rochambeau’s stay in Newport and a one-sentence mention by the Rhode Island man who housed Fleury, who described him as “sociable, jocose, and very agreeable in conversation, of a free, liberal turn of mind.”
Totally Peggy’s kind of guy!
With that backstory research on Fleury—and Hamilton writing Eliza on October 2, 1780:
“How is your little sister? Is she as sprightly as ever? Does she set so much value upon a certain kiss as she seemed to do as we entered the carriage at Hartford?”
Ooh la la, right? I had enough to let my imagination run on all manner of plausible scenarios!
I must warn you that historical fact requires a bittersweet element to Peggy and Fleury’s romance. But I’ll let you find that out for yourself as you read!