Alexander Hamilton - His stay at The Wallace House in Somerville
Visits to small towns by famous historical figures are usually well documented in the local history publications of those towns. But Alexander Hamilton and his stay in Somerville in the winter of 1778/79, and his later role in 1791 of planting the seed to develop Raritan, has up to now only been partially told, and scattered among various historical publications.

This is probably because until recently Hamilton was just what this author will call a secondary historical figure. There was not much interest in what he did here. But with his recent rise to Rock Star status due to the release of the award-winning Broadway Play Hamilton The Musical the full story of what he did locally should now be told.
The guy on the $10 dollar bill had an amazing life and was quite a patriot who played a tremendous part in the development of this country.

In this article, we tell the story of the time Hamilton spent in Somerville. The next issue of the Breeze will tell about his role in developing Raritan.
Alexander Hamilton, born in the Caribbean Islands, came to the U.S. at age 17 in 1772. The community leaders on the island had seen the potential of this exceptional young man and raised money to send him to the U.S. to attend college. He arrived in the U.S. just as the fever for the American Revolution was brewing.
A few years later, as a leader of a local militia fighting the British in the Battle of Princeton, his bravery caught the attention of General George Washington. At the time Washington was in need of an aide who could think and strategize with him.

In March of 1777, Washington offered Hamilton a position as his aide, which Hamilton gladly accepted. His talents of writing, communicating, vision, along with his tireless work ethic resulted in him quickly becoming the Chief of Staff for Washington.

Often when Washington would read a letter about an important development in the Revolutionary War he would immediately call for Alexander Hamilton. Washington eventually assigned Hamilton to be in charge of prisoner exchanges with the British. A task requiring a delicate touch indeed.
Hamilton was Washingtons Right Hand Man
during the Revolutionary War
During the war the main army under the command of George Washington traveled quite extensively. In December of 1778 Washington and his troops chose to camp for the winter in Bridgewater in a section known as Middlebrook.

There was no adequate house for Washington in the camp area, but he found a large house three miles west in Somerville that was owned by John Wallace. (The house still stands today.)
Wallace House today
Washington liked to have his aides close by at all times. They usually lived with him. Sometimes several aides were cramped into one bedroom and even two in the same bed.

Historical records state that at the Wallace House Alexander Hamilton shared a small bedroom with two other aides.
Jefferson, Hamilton, and Washington
So, what went on while Hamilton stayed at the Wallace House in Somerville. The stay was December 10th 1778 through June 1779, with a six-week excursion to Philadelphia from December 21st through February 5th 1779.

In the winter months there was almost no fighting between the U.S. and the British as armies back then usually stayed in camp as Mother Nature had the upper hand on mankind rendering troops immobile in the cold.

As the spring came, the American troops played a cat and mouse game with the British as the U.S. forces watched them from the mountain tops daring them to attack them on their well defended position on a hill.
The tasks for the officers at the Wallace House was securing supplies, planning strategy, and seeing that the troops were kept warm. Supplies were difficult to obtain. Not just from the lack of them, but also from the inability to transport them over the dirt roads of the era.
One military campaign was planned at the Wallace House of which Hamilton played a major role.

Indians known as the Six Nations Iroquois in West New York State had aligned themselves with the British. They had raided many white settlements where they pillaged, burned, and killed.

In an attempt to prevent future attacks by the Indians, U.S. Troops led by Major John Sullivan were sent to destroy the Indian villages to force them to move north toward Canada. This military offensive has come to be called The Sullivan Campaign.
At the Wallace House there was a revolving door of visiting commanders and distinguished guests.

These included Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, and the infamous Benedict Arnold. The daily dinner was an affair of ceremony and importance. Washington took these dinners seriously. He did not tolerate lateness. Surviving letters tell of his requests to obtain formal dinnerware for these dinners. Playing the gracious host Washington was said to play equal attention to everyone at the table.

At these dinners it was usually Hamilton who was called upon to say grace.
The Dining Room today at the Wallace House
So what was Hamilton like while at the Wallace House ? A description survives in the book Lessor Crossroads.

Hamilton was a bright star, barely 22 years old he was appointed aide-de-camp to Washington, owing to his intelligence, soon gained the full confidence of his chief. His amiability and agreeable presence inspired in all with whom he came in contact.

Many ladies were entertained at the Wallace House. Alexander Hamilton, single at the time, was ever enchanted with them and the ladies with him.
Drawing of Wallace House
A picture of the good moral character of Hamilton can be seen in a letter that he wrote while at the Wallace House to John Jay. Hamilton, who saw much slavery as a boy growing up in the Caribbean Islands and, of course, in the U.S., was a firm abolitionist and quite vocal about it. He wrote:

I have not the least doubt that the Negroes will make excellent soldiers. Their natural faculties are probably as good as ours. The contempt we have been taught for the blacks makes us fancy things that are unfounded in reason. An unwillingness to part with property so valuable will furnish a thousand arguments. Give them their freedom with their muskets.
Hamilton would meet his end
in a duel with Aaron Burr
On June 3rd 1779, the American Troops along with Washington and Hamilton packed up, paid Wallace $1000 for the use of the house, and marched out of the Bridgewater/Somerville area. While Washington would return for two days in March of 1782, no records show that Hamilton ever returned.

But Hamilton did remember the area when 12 years later it was time to plan for industry for the newly freed country. That story will be in the next issue of the Breeze.
Hamilton The Musical
Click to view the letters written by Alexander Hamilton