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Letters from E. Hamilton (née Schuyler) to J. Laurens, 1776 - 1779. From the collection of Martha Laurens Ramsay


Dear Mr. Laurens,

My sister Angelica has told me that you would be amenable to receiving letters from me, in a purely friendly manner. You expressed no interest, as far as I'm aware, in courting me, and I will be frank and say that while I found you very charming I have no interest in that either. However, you were quite charming and entertaining at the Adams' party, and I would be more than happy to continue our friendship.

Angelica and I have been following the excitement in New York City as the students write pamphlets and advocate for independence. It's thrilling, to be perfectly honest, and I agree heartily with many of the points being made, though Angelica does have to explain some of the more complex issues to me.

One point I am torn on, from both a personal and moral standpoint, is the strong abolitionist sentiments I've run into here and there. I have heard that you are yourself an abolitionist, and I would implore you most sincerely to tell me in detail your beliefs and why you hold them, as I believe it will be enlightening at the very least and I would be glad to expand my education in such things.

I await your letter quite eagerly.


E. Schuyler


Dear Mr. Laurens,

While I greatly appreciate your apologies for the length and passion of your letter, they are entirely unnecessary - I spent many hours reading and considering your words over the past weeks.

I consider my mother and father to be good and moral people, of course, but they do own slaves and, to my knowledge, see no wrong in it. Nor did I, if I am to be frank. With the words I have heard - from you and others like you - I am beginning to reconsider my position on such things.

If it is, indeed, immoral to keep slaves, then I have many things to reconsider. Many heroes and great teachers in the Bible had slaves, after all, and were not condemned by God for it. But I think that perhaps it was a matter of time, and civilization. As we have come further, as humans, perhaps what the Lord asks of us is more complex that it was for those who came before us.

I cannot, sadly, free and thus employ the slaves of my household. I do not know if it would be possible even if I could, as such a thing might bankrupt my family, depending on the wages to be paid and the labor lost. It is, perhaps, a good excuse to avoid doing anything but speak to higher morals, but my family has little children, and if we cannot feed ourselves we cannot hope to help our own slaves survive. I would ideally think that freeing them slowly, beginning with the oldest, would be more beneficial to everyone - the promise of freedom for those we cannot yet free, freedom for those who have worked the longest, and time for us to reacclimate our finances to allow us to do this without unnecessary harm or toil to anyone.

That said, I do not have enough knowledge of politics or economics to feel comfortable in my suggestions, and I am not sure how my father would take such a suggestion, even in a theoretical sense.
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Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

April 2016

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