New Yorkers dedicate statue in Nevis, West Indies 250 years after Alexander Hamilton left the Caribbean for the Empire State
By Alexander Britell
“Hamilton, you are back!”
Under a sunbeam on the water’s edge in Charlestown, Nevis, historian Harvey Hendrickson reads his ode to a still-shrouded sculpture on the lawn.
A few minutes later, the bronze is revealed, and Alexander Hamilton is finally back in the place of his birth nearly 257 years after his family moved to St Croix.
It was in Nevis that Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States, must have dreamt and aspired and “as a consequence, achieved great things,” Nevis Premier Mark Brantley said.
Hamilton, whose towering life returned to the public consciousness with the launch of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-sweeping musical in 2015, was born on the Eastern Caribbean island in 1757, spending his early years in Nevis and then periods of his youth in St Croix and Statia.
Hamilton’s extraordinary career included being the first secretary of the treasury, founder of the Federalist Party, founder of the US Coast Guard and arguably the father of the United States’ financial system, among other achievements.
Today, Hamilton’s birthplace is a centerpiece of downtown historic Charlestown, Nevis‘ capital, home to a museum and, on the second floor, the site of the Nevis Island Assembly.
And Hamilton remains a major draw for the island, which has seen a wave of new tourism interest driven by the reinvigorated public curiosity about Hamilton; the island’s top resort, the Four Seasons Nevis, has an Alexander Suite, for example; there’s even an Alexander Hamilton Rum on sale in the museum shop.
Because it all truly did begin in tiny Nevis, and Hamilton’s Caribbean contribution was the subject of a thoughtful ceremony at the Alexander Hamilton Museum in Charlestown this past weekend, one that included a moving appearance by Hamilton re-enactor Scott MacScott.
“We, as I like to say, must agree that the United States owes Nevis a debt of gratitude,” Brantley said.
In a world where statues and their place are the subject of sometimes tumultuous conversations, the bigger purpose of the Hamilton work is “not to glorify but to recognize the impact that individuals from small island states can have,” said Jahnel Nisbett, director of the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society.
The idea is for visitors to come to learn about Hamilton “and leave knowing more about Nevis itself and its rich history,” she said.
More broadly, the hope is to inspire young people in Nevis “of the contribution of a Nevisian, that an island this size could have contributed so much to a country the size of the United States,” Brantley said.
The life-size bronze statue, donated by Robin Sommers, is part of a series of statues by American sculptor Benjamin Victor, whose first Hamilton statue debuted at the US Coast Guard Academy in 2018.
Hamilton, set on the grass in front of his onetime home, is portrayed as a younger man to represent his youth in the Caribbean, carrying a scroll – a symbol of his skills and knowledge, said Nicole Scholet, president of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society.
The series will also include statues in Statia and St Croix, Hamilton’s other stops in the Caribbean.
And now in Nevis, Hamilton is back, peering out at the sea and the streets of Charlestown, the place that by the caprice of history drove him to one day help forge the American Republic.
“It’s a welcome addition,” Brantley said. “It reminds us that we are never limited by the station of our birth, only by the extent of our ambition and imagination.”
A limited edition Alexander Hamilton rum was created to memorialize the occasion.
The Burning of the Gaspee 250
The Gaspee was a British revenue cutter that was burned by colonists in 1772 in what is now known as the Gaspee Affair. The ship, under the command of Lieutenant William Dudingston, had been enforcing trade regulations in the colony of Rhode Island and had seized several colonial vessels. In June 1772, a group of colonists, led by John Brown, attacked the Gaspee and set it on fire. The incident was one of the early acts of rebellion against British rule in the colonies and was an important event leading up to the American Revolution.
Rhode Islanders commemorated the 250th anniversary of the burning of British customs ship the Gaspee with a recreation of the scene on Sunday, June 12, 2022.
The Boston Massacre 250
The Boston Massacre was commemorated with an evening lecture by historian and author Serena Zabin at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The presentation explored the events leading up to the Boston Massacre of 1770, in which British soldiers killed five colonists during a confrontation in Boston. Zabin provided a detailed account of the social and political context of the time, drawing on primary sources such as court records and newspapers. One of the main focuses of the discussion was about the victims of the massacre and their families, and how they were connected before the outbreak of violence and how they coped with the tragedy. She also explored the role of the press in shaping public opinion and the aftermath of the massacre and its impact on the colonies' relationship with Great Britain.
On the morning of March 5, 2020 the Daughters of the American Revolution hosted a ceremony at the Old Burying Grounds.
by Johanna Porr Yaun
New York City, the American Revolution, and the Significance of the Number 45
After the end of the French and Indian War, there was tension over King George and Parliament’s plan to tax the Colonies to pay off the war debt. John Wilkes, editor of “The North Briton” newspaper and a member of Parliament, opposed the King in his publications. Wilkes’ most critical editorial was printed in 1763 in Issue # 45, a number highlighted to evoke memories of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745, commonly referred to as “The 45 Rebellion” or simply “45” in political culture. The King was personally offended and issued a warrant for Wilkes’ arrest. As a result, “Wilkes, Liberty, Number 45” lived on as a rallying call against unlawful imprisonment.
In New York City, the Sons of Liberty had a tradition of erecting “Liberty Poles” to voice opposition to British oppression. In 1766 they erected a pole in City Hall Park to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act. British soldiers chopped it down, the Sons of Liberty put a second one up, and it was chopped down again. The third pole went up and remained unchallenged until a year later in May 1767 when British soldiers noticed the townspeople gathering at the Liberty Pole to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. They destroyed it once again. Undaunted, the Sons of Liberty erected the fourth pole, defiantly larger and wrapped in iron bands.
Soon after, the Quartering Act passed, requiring colonists to provide housing to British soldiers. The New York Provincial Assembly refused to support it, so they were prorogued, and the new Assembly approved public funds to be allocated for quartering troops.
In response to the Assembly’s reversal, an anonymous broadside began circulating in December of 1769 titled, “To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York.” The British soldiers reacted by setting off explosives at the Liberty Pole and leaving the splintered wood on the steps of Abraham Montayne’s Tavern and Coffee House which was located on Broadway, just across from the City Hall Park.
On January 19, 1770, the tension erupted into violence when a leader of the Sons of Liberty, Isaac Sears, interfered while British soldiers were posting broadsides of their own at an outdoor market by the East River wharves. Sears captured the offending soldiers and began to march them to City Hall. Other soldiers in a nearby barracks sounded alarm and then pursued the men, but crowds gathered to protect Sears. The crowd overwhelmed the soldiers and the soldiers fired shots into the crowd. Several people were injured. The incident took place in a small patch of grass known as “Golden Hill,” which is today visible only as a slight incline towards the intersection of William and John Street in the Financial district.
The Governor of New York offered 100 pounds in cash to anyone willing to reveal the name of the person who wrote the anonymous broadside. After three weeks passed without a response, the Governor ordered all printers in the city to be arrested and jailed. This led to printer James Parker being identified as a person of interest in the case. Parker then revealed that the author of the broadside was a man named Alexander McDougall.
A Fifth Liberty Pole was raised on February 6, 1770 on a plot of land owned by Isaac Sears. The next day, McDougall was accused of seditious libel against the Crown and coincidentally, his arrest warrant was number 45. In playing on this numerical association, McDougall became known as “the Wilkes of the Colonies” and demonstrators kept up a constant watch.
Every day, supporters appeared at his jail cell to cheer 45 times. Food and drink was shared, including 45 shots of rum, 45 pounds of beef, etc. On the 45th day, the Sons of Liberty brought 45 virgins dressed in white to sing Psalm 45. Newspapers humorously debated if there were really 45 virgins in the whole city to make up such a gathering, and one commenter joked that it was not possible since they were all 45 years old.
Because no one wanted the unpopular task of prosecuting McDougall, his confinement and the theatrics of his supporters lasted for three months. McDougall was ultimately released because the sudden death of James Parker, the printer, left the prosecution without any witnesses in the case.
The clash between the Sons of Liberty and the British soldiers that led to McDougall’s imprisonment is referred to as The Battle of Golden Hill. It is often considered by scholars to mark the “first bloodshed” of the Revolution. The second violent clash, known as the Boston Massacre, occurred six weeks later March 5, 1770 and resulted in five deaths.
For a brief time, during the years leading up to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the number 45 was understood as a symbol the American spirit in favor free speech and in condemnation of unlawful use of arrest to silence an opposing voice.
For this and many other contributions that Alexander McDougall made to the Revolutionary War, MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village/Soho was named in his honor.
All over the former colonies the symbol of the liberty pole persisted for a generation or more. In Newburgh, the population remained in close association and loyalty to George Washington and John Adams during their Presidential administrations. There was even an strong effort to rename the whole Precinct as the “Village of Washington” but it never fully stuck. The revolutionary spirit lived on in other ways too. In the 1793, editor Lucius Carey took over the old printing press that had been set up at the Fishkill Supply Depot to print General Orders for distribution, he established Newburgh’s earliest newspaper called the Newburgh Packet, then in 1798 a second local publication was introduced. The Mirror was edited by Philip Van Horne. Van Horne, a transplant from New Jersey, wrote avidly against the Federalist party and when the Sedition Act of 1798 was passed by Congress, Van Horne was among those arrested for his politics. In response, recalling the traditions of revolutionaries in the pre-war period, his local supporters erected a liberty pole in Newburgh. Not too much is known about the circumstances, but locals viewed it as a sedition pole and called it such, appearing as a mob to tear it down.