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Hamilton's Paternity Disputed by Historian

Dec. 8, 2007 — Local history buffs who wanted to learn more about Alexander Hamilton stepped into a bit of sexy controversy at the Florence Williams Library Friday. In a presentation on "Young Hamilton," historical preservationist William Taylor argued that the Founding Father's father was not his biological father — that Rachel, his mother, had an affair with a neighbor, Thomas Stevens.
Not everyone in the audience was buying the assertion.
William Cissel, a historian formerly with the National Park Service, questioned whether Taylor was even speaking of the same Stevens that most local historians were familiar with. Taylor had made several references to the Stevens family connections in New York. But Cissel said the Stevens family that lived on St. Croix during Hamilton's time was from Antigua.
Cissel also pointed out that the lot numbers that Taylor used to draw the conclusion that Stevens and Rachel Hamilton were neighbors could be flawed because numbers have changed over the years.
Taylor's talk was the third to be given in conjunction with the traveling exhibition "Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America."
Taylor's question about who was Hamilton's real father has been raised before. Ron Chernow stated as much in his best-selling 2004 biography of Hamilton.
Chernow wrote: "Nevertheless, in the absence of direct proof, the notion that Alexander was the biological son of Thomas Stevens instead of James Hamilton would clarify many oddities in Hamilton's biography. It identified one of the adulterous lovers who had so appalled Lavien that he had hurled Rachel into prison. It would also explain why Thomas Stevens sheltered Hamilton so soon after Rachel's death but made no comparable gesture to his brother James."
Taylor made reference to many instances where Hamilton was described as having the same facial features of his friend Edward Stevens, the son of Thomas Stevens. He also said he thought Hamilton showed the brain power of the Stevens family instead of the Hamilton family where no one was known to be financially keen.
This argument was objected to a couple times from audience members who mentioned that great personages often spring from families whose other members had shown no predisposition toward greatness.
Taylor said he started his research with the question about Hamilton, "What explains his mysterious ascent? "
One problem that frustrates any historian trying to determine the paternity of Hamilton is that no one is sure what year he was born on Nevis. Hamilton claims he was born in 1757. Taylor said, however, that there is evidence he was born in 1755 but that Hamilton misled people because he had gotten a late start in schooling.
Todd Newman, a member of the audience, asked how the historical timeline fit in with his theory. Taylor seemed unable to give him a definitive answer.
According to the National Park Service, Rachel was forced into a marriage with a much older John Michael Lavien on St. Croix in 1745. She walked out on him in 1750. He responded by having her jailed for a few months. Afterwards, she left for St. Kitts where she met and fell in love with a Scotsman, James Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton was their second child.
Hamilton, who later became the first U.S. Secretary of Treasury, left St. Croix in 1773 and arrived in New York on the eve of the American Revolution.
Hamilton authored the opening salvo of the Federalist Papers, and was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr in 1803.
Wallace Williams, retired director of the library and a member of the National Library Association, had planted the seed for the project to come to St. Croix. He ended the program Friday night to the applause of the 40 people attending that research program.
"St. Croix residents should continue to play a key part in research concerning Hamilton's story," Williams said.
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