This is part of a yearlong series about the early days of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, foundress of the community. In 1850, the Emmitsburg-based Sisters united with the international community of the French Daughters of Charity.
Lin-Manuel Miranda did not include Mother Seton in his smash Broadway hit Hamilton, but be assured that the two of them ran in the same New York society in the early days of the American experiment at the southern tip of Manhattan.
Many of Mother Seton’s surviving letters from this period of her life discuss the social scene, business partners, her friends, and friends and business partners of her husband, William Magee Seton. Among these is a draft of a letter to John Wilkes, a friend and cousin-through-marriage to her husband. Although it is undated, its subject matter reveals that it was written a short time after July 14, the day of Alexander Hamilton’s funeral.
In the heyday of William’s business, the family had lived at 27 Wall Street, a block away from Hamilton’s home and across the street from the office of The Manhattan Company, the predecessor to JPMorgan Chase Bank founded by Hamilton’s dueling partner, Aaron Burr.
At the time of Hamilton’s death, however, John and Charles Wilkes, alongside another related family, were helping Elizabeth (now a widow) and her children through a New York situation that seems highly modern – paying too high a rent on a too-small apartment. Located on N. Moore Street, today in Tribeca, Elizabeth for the first time had to rely on her relatives’ assistance to make it by, and even pushed back on the suggestion to begin taking in boarders.
Hamilton’s funeral was at Trinity Church, at the end of the Seton’s former neighborhood on Wall Street. Fresh from the funeral, Charles stopped by Elizabeth’s Moore Street House:
“He was quite pleased with my little House and my darlings whom he found eating their bread and milk with a very good appetite but I observed that he was really so affected at the tolling of the Bells for the death of poor Hamilton that he could scarcely command himself…how much you will be distressed at this melancholy event – the circumstances of which are really too bad to think of”
Although their paths divided significantly, Hamilton going into government and meeting an untimely demise; Burr to a treason trial, a westward land scheme, and undignified obscurity; and Seton to Catholicism and a small town in Maryland, what we refer to as the “Hamilton letter” helps show how closely Mother Seton’s world was intertwined with the world of the early U.S. government and high society.