August 4, 2017—by Jonathan
Judge it merely by the consensus of Broadway critics. Judge it solely by box office returns. Judge it by the passion of its audience, the immense interest of the aspirationalwould-be audience who hasn’t yet had the opportunity to see it yet, the unit sales of its soundtrack, companion hardcover, sale of movie rights, and on and on.

By almost any yardstick you might choose to measure it, Hamilton: An American Musical is, incontrovertibly, a remarkable achievement. 

There is no small number of serious historians who likewise have radiated affection and even respect for the show. One particularly notable Alexander Hamilton scholar in academia has marveled that even for a stage play (which must by definition 
subtly, or not so subtly, tweak elements of the truth like the timing and setting of certain events) Hamilton “contains a remarkable amount of historical fact.” She is absolutely correct.

Others are less sanguine. A few have made the provocative argument that what audiences really love is not Hamilton the historical figure but, instead, Lin Manuel-Miranda’s performance and stylization of him.

Historian Nancy Isenberg, who is a biographer and admirer of Aaron Burr (and has interesting arguments for that), writes in her essay “Make ‘em Laugh: Why History Cannot Be Reduced to Song and Dance”:

"One reason why Hamilton is so popular is its powerful mixture of innocence and recklessness as channeled through Hamilton’s character. The theatergoer is treated to vigorous youth, brazen sex appeal, macho brashness—and it is all somehow completed in an ingenious mind. It’s an endearing and whimsical portrait of a Hamilton who “tells it like it is” in the pounding, non-stop rhythms of hip-hop. But the real Hamilton was far more calculating. To get his way, he could be utterly vicious. He had no love for the unwashed masses. But that side never appears onstage, because it undermines the heroic storyline."
Indeed, Isenberg’s critique has a lot of truth—and deserves a whole lot of credit.

But to me, the admiring furor over Hamilton remaines inevitable and deserved. For much of my professional life, my job was reading and evaluating screenplays and books for Hollywood production companies. I’m on very familiar ground with the challenges writers face in structuring a true-life story. And I accept the tools they must have at their disposal to edit, alter, rearrange, and combine people and facts in the name of producing an intelligible and successful script for a movie or a Broadway musical. Lin Manuel-Miranda and company will get no stickler-for-detail finger-wagging from me.

But there is another purpose behind my graphic biography of Alexander Hamilton, which strives towards historical accuracy and fair, open-minded portraiture of the crucial figure from the Revolutionary and Early Republic Eras. (And naturally has to do its own streamlining).

My animating belief is that a deeper knowledge of the Founding Fathers is, like it or not, required reading for any responsible, politically active citizen of the United States.

Thumbnail sketches and popular myth will no longer do. I would even push back against those who would roll their eyes and dismiss “Founder Chic” as boring, old-hat hero worship of rich, patriarchical (and almost to a man) slave-holding, dead white men.
Literally since the beginning of this republic there has been a struggle to claim the narrative of the Founding—and the Founding Fathers—for various and often opposing political, economic, and even religious factions. But that struggle is, right now, arguably more hard-fought, bitter, and I would say "weaponized" that it has ever been.

Originalism—roughly defined as the belief that the Constitution should be interpreted according to how the text was “publicly understood” when it was ratified by voters in 1788—is a dominant mentality in every branch of our government.

That means that every aspect of law, politics, justice, and civil rights that stands to personally affect your life very likely will be made to intersect with the biographies, public and private actions, and beliefs of men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and, of course, Alexander Hamilton.
If you’re going to engage in the national conversation on topics like what the proper size and scope of the federal government should be (a category of questions that includes everything from health care to education policy), elections, racial justice, international affairs—pretty much the whole shebang—you can’t afford to be ill-prepared.

You need to be able to drop some knowledge, make a case grounded in hard evidence. And your mind must be open to nuance, complication, and ambiguity.

In that spirit, here is a comprehensive guide to the historical inaccuracies in Hamilton.

For the most intuitive and seamless complement to the show/soundtrack, the points of correction that follow are arranged by song.

(The absence of a song, like "Farmer Refuted," signals that, as I saw it, there are no standout counterfactuals with which to quibble.)

Again, I reiterate that many of these distortions of the historical record are understandable and forgivable given the context. Hamilton ultimately aims at being an artistic rather than educational enterprise.

In other words, don't let any of this ruin your fun at the show!
Alexander Hamilton is the “son of a whore.”
There is no evidence that Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Lavien (born Rachel Faucette), was either a “camp-girl” (as an anti-Hamilton journalist once wrote during his lifetime) or “prostitute.”

This black mark on her reputation is most likely traceable to...

    A) court testimony given by the bitter ex-husband
    she left on the island of St. Croix, and

    B) the period’s strict and severe attitudes towards
    women of high social status having out-of-wedlock

Rachel Lavien faced serious financial troubles late in life. But she had actually been born into a better-off, respectable family that owned a small retinue of slaves.

Considering Rachel's economic circumstances and social position, it is almost impossible to believe she would have been involved in what we think of as the sex trade.

However, prostitution was very common in the English-speaking world at the time. According to an article in The Economist, one in five women in London at this period worked as prostitutes.

“They placed him in charge of a trading charter.”
This is true, but only for a period of about five months.

The young Hamilton began working as a clerk at the import/export merchant firm of Beekman & Cruger at  #7-8 King Street in Christiansted, St. Croix, in 1766.

In 1772, Cruger fell seriously ill and traveled to New York to recover. This is the period when the young Hamilton managed the business.

He resumed his former status when his employer returned to the West Indies.
“Slaves were being slaughtered.”
It is true that in Hamilton’s time, working conditions for slaves in the Caribbean were so poor that many died within a year of arriving on a sugar plantation. Many more died in transit crossing the Atlantic.

However, slaves were considered to be too valuable simply to be “slaughtered" in the way one slaughters livestock.
“In New York you can be a new man.”
Technical point, but when Hamilton first arrived in the North American British colonies it was to Boston, not New York.

New York, however, was always intended to be his final destination, since his adult benefactors in St. Croix had many family and business ties in Manhattan.

After a negligible amount of time in Massachusetts, Hamilton traveled to New York. Whether he did so by land or sea is evidently lost to history.
The young Hamilton meets Aaron Burr in 1776—one of the first relationships he begins in America.
It is not recorded when Hamilton first met Aaron Burr. It is conceivable that the two crossed paths when Hamilton enrolled in an educational academy in New Jersey probably in 1773. The Revolutionary War also has them more or less in the same place at the same time on several occasions. 

The earliest documentary evidence that Hamilton and Burr were in contact comes many years later, in 1786, when in conjunction with his law practice Hamilton writes a note about Burr in his cash book.

However, Hamilton and Burr both lived and worked as lawyers and were politically active men in the state capital of Albany, New York, from late 1781-1783 before moving to New York City. This forms the most highly likely period for them to have kindled a relationship and had conversations like this—some 10 years or so after Hamilton first landed in America.
“You punched the bursar.”
Clever line and pun. But nothing like this ever happened.
Hamilton meets and befriends South Carolinian patriot John Laurens.
Hamilton actually met John Laurens in October, 1777. By this time the Revolutionary War was already well underway, and Hamilton was established as one of George Washington’s aides du camp.

Laurens was not a companion of Hamilton's during Hamilton's transformation from a fresh-off-the-boat student to a pro-Independence patriot.

New York City fell to British occupation on September 15, 1776. It was a British stronghold throughout the entire war. Hamilton did not return to Manhattan for quite a number of years afterward.

That means that Hamilton could not have met Laurens or Lafayette in New York City. In all likelihood the men's first encounter would have been either in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. It’s also possible this could have taken place upstate, like Rockland County, New York.
Hamilton meets and befriends the Marquis de Lafayette.
Lafayette, who lived in France, did not leave for America until April 1777.

He and Hamilton could only have met later that same year.

Hamilton meets and befriends Hercules Mulligan.
Hercules Mulligan was in fact probably one of the first people Hamilton met in New York. But this would have been in 1773, not 1776.

Mulligan at the time was very soon to be married. He was wed on October 27, 1773—and became the father of a large family.

Hamilton boarded with Mulligan for a short stretch of time before enrolling in school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. 

“Essentially they tax us relentlessly, and then King George turns around, runs a spending spree.”
The key issue of the American patriots wasn’t that the taxes were high, necessarily. (Although they were no fans of taxes!)

At the time of the Boston Tea Party, in fact, the tea taxes had just been dramatically lowered.

Broadly speaking, the patriots’ driving grievance was being taxed at all without dedicated representation in British Parliament.

Also, the budget crisis in Great Britain had largely come about because of the French and Indian War—in which the Crown had invested a great deal of blood and treasure in fighting a war partially in America, to eject the French from Canada and other holdings in “the west” (like the area around Pittsburgh, PA).

George III had actually taken a much greater step towards reigning in the expenses of the Crown than his predecessors. He surrendered the major source of the monarchy's income, the Crown Lands, to the Royal Treasury and pledged to subsist on an annual grant.

Interestingly, the musical never quite questions exactly when, how, or why Hamilton came to support the cause of American Independence. He arrived in New York to be a student, not a revolutionary. It remains an open question how he came to be so motivated.

“Let’s get this guy in front of a crowd!”

Hamilton bursts into public notice with a stirring speech in favor of American independence.

This is probably a reference to the “Speech in the Fields” Hamilton is said to have made in New York City in July 1774.

The "Speech in the Fields" is sometimes stylized as Hamilton's first public appearance in support of the American patriots.

There is no documentary evidence, however, that this speech ever actually happened, or even that Hamilton was in attendance at the rally.

The Schuyler sisters go downtown to “slum it with the poor.”
Philip Schuyler and his family made their home hundreds of miles away in Albany, New York. From there it took several days to reach New York City by boat or stagecoach. There is no special reason to believe the sisters visited Manhattan with any regularity.

They certainly would have been kept away as the war approached, and never would have been without chaperones—probably relatives or slaves owned by the Schuyler family.

By late 1776, Angelica, Elizabeth, and Peggy also had three brothers (John, Philip, and Rensselear) and a baby sister (Cornelia).

Angelica has been reading ‘Common Sense’ by Thomas Paine and is looking for a “revelation.”
Angelica Schuyler was notable for being outspoken and independent. She even eloped in 1777 with Englishman John Baker Church against her parents’ wishes.

However there is no evidence she was interested in or vocal about politics, or was some kind of proto-feminist.

Unfortunately at the time most females were harshly discouraged from having or expressing ideas about politics. 

"My name is Samuel Seabury. And I present "Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress."
This pamphlet was not published in 1776, but two years earlier, in 1774.

Some scholars have disputed that Episcopal rector and loyalist Samuel Seabury was actually the author, but Seabury later claimed to be.

Hamilton began publishing his response to "Free Thoughts" in mid-December, 1774.
George Washington arrives in New York City to take command of the patriot forces there.
It’s possible that Hamilton met George Washington as early as June 25, 1775. Washington came to New York on his way to Boston.
“The people I lead keep retreating.”
This doesn’t quite accurately describe the state of American forces prior to the evacuation of New York City.

Armed patriot militias and the Continental Army had been aggressive and quite successful in Boston and upstate New York in 1775 and early 1776.
Hamilton and his friends and allies steal British cannons from lower Manhattan.
This event actually took place in August 1775, years before the arrival of the British expeditionary forces who came to lay siege to New York.
Aaron Burr presents himself to Washington in an attempt to become his “right hand man.”
Burr actually did serve briefly on Washington’s staff “for a few weeks” ending in late June, 1776.

Burr left to seek what he considered a better opportunity as the aide du camp of General Israel Putnam—who at this point in the war actually was Washington’s “right hand man.”

Rather than holding Burr in disdain, Washington later that year asked for Burr to personally be in charge of trying to help get mail from family in Virginia through to Washington.

It is definitely not true that Burr was passed over by Washington in favor of Hamilton for any position in the war.
George Washington takes Hamilton under his wing.
Hamilton did not become a member of Washington’s “family” of aides until March of the next year, 1777.

This almost certainly took place in Morristown, New Jersey.
Martha Washington had a feral tomcat she named after Hamilton.
Great story, but probably not true.

One researcher traces this to a satirical diary entry written by an (enemy) English officer. That story was reprinted in the press of American Tories (loyalists still supporting the British side).
Hamilton meets Elizabeth Schuyler at a dance in 1780. They fall in love.
It is possible that Hamilton had met Elizabeth Schuyler as early as 1773.

He had certainly met her, and apparently developed some level of amorous designs on her, when sent to Albany on military business in 1777.
Hamilton asks Philip Schuyler in person for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Schuyler agrees.
This did not happen in person, or on such an abbreviated timeline.

Philip Schuyler sent Hamilton notice of his blessing by letter, in April 1780.
Angelica says to her sister, “If you loved me you would share him!”
Angelica put a sentiment like this in writing many years later, in 1794:

“If you were generous as the old Romans, you would lend him to me for a little while.”

An interesting fact left entirely out of the musical is that Angelica Church also had an extended relationship and flirtation with Thomas Jefferson (pictured), mostly while both were in Europe.
There is a large and celebratory wedding for Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler
The wedding was a very small, family affair.

Far from having his many friends in attendance, Hamilton came to his own wedding with just a single guest: fellow Washington aide and eventual U.S. Secretary of War James McHenry.
Angelica Schuyler confesses she is also in love with Hamilton. But in an act of familial duty and selflessness she helps arrange for him to marry her sister.
In 1780, at the time of Hamilton's wedding to Elizabeth Schuyler, Angelica had already been married to John Baker Church for a number of years.

Many biographers have noted a strong attachment between Hamilton and Angelica Church. Contemporary gossips did seem to allege that they were secret lovers.

There is no hard proof of this.
"My father has no sons," says Angelica Schuyler, "So I'm the one who has to social climb."
This is not true.

To reiterate: not only was Angelica already married to John Baker Church, but also the Schuyler family (as noted above) at the time of Hamilton and Elizabeth's wedding had three sons: John Bradstreet (aged 15), Philip Jeremiah (aged 12), and Rensselaer (aged 7).
Aaron Burr arrives late to Hamilton’s wedding.
Aaron Burr did not attend Hamilton's wedding. As mentioned above, Hamilton brought only one guest to his nuptials: fellow Washington aide James McHenry.

It is not provable that Hamilton and Burr even knew one another at the time of the wedding in December 1780.
Aaron Burr has an active command of American troops.
Not only was Burr not in command of any troops in 1780, he had retired from military service entirely.

Burr, quite ill and exhausted after the Battle of Monmouth, tendered his letter of resignation in March 1779.
Washington promotes General Charles Lee instead of Hamilton.
The Battle of Monmouth took place in 1778—more than two years before Hamilton married Elizabeth.

Hamilton’s military rank and experience were far, far too low for him ever to be considered to command a large corps of soldiers.
Aaron Burr serves as Charles Lee’s second in the Lee vs. Laurens duel.
This did not happen as depicted.

When this duel took place near Philadelphia in December 1778, Burr was hundreds of miles away in West Point, NY.

Charles Lee’s actual second was Philadelphia-born Major Evan Edwards, who after the war moved to South Carolina and became the owner of an extensive slave plantation.
Washington arrives at the site of the duel and is livid at the scene and Hamilton’s role in it.
Washington made no appearance at the duel.

History does not record his reaction to the events, nor does it confirm his knowledge of them.

It is, on the other hand, recorded that Washington and his wife dined with John Laurens on Christmas Day, a few days later. One might conclude that if he knew about the duel Washington was not all together displeased.

In the musical, Washington is depicted as "above" politics. He takes the abuse from rival generals on the chin.

In real life Washington was notably sensitive to such criticism, in fact, and worked back channels to undermine his rivals like Lee and Conway.

An irate Washington sends Hamilton home.
This never happened.

Hamilton and Washington had a falling out that reached a flashpoint in February, 1781.

Hamilton remained in Washington’s family for some weeks. He then first went home, to Albany, in March 1781.

Elizabeth joined him for continued military service. Husband and wife took quarters in the Hudson Valley, near present day Beacon, NY, while Hamilton maneuvered for his next assignment in the war.
A pregnant Elizabeth reports having written to Washington to beg to have Hamilton sent home so they can be together while she is pregnant.
There is no evidence such a letter was ever written.

Elizabeth was pregnant in summer 1781: an obvious result of being in regular, close contact with Hamilton again resulting from his absence from both Washington's headquarters and the active theater of battle—which for the most part  has moved to the South.
Lafayette demands that Hamilton be elevated to a command because no one else matches his tactical brilliance.
Lafayette was concerned about Hamilton’s future after the break with Washington. Lafeyette, among other propositions, suggested that Hamilton be placed at the head of artillery in a new light corps.

But the musical's take on how Lafayette assessed Hamilton’s military brilliance—and overall consequence to the war effort—is highly exaggerated.
Washington begs Hamilton to return to the war: “If you join us right now, together we can turn the tide.”
Hamilton spent much of the spring and early summer of 1781 pestering Washington to be put in charge of some body of soldiers in the field.

In fact Hamilton petulantly threatened to resign from the army if he did not get what he wanted.

So it was Hamilton who pressured Washington to return him to the war in a consequential role. Not the other way around.

Washington eventually relented to Hamilton's requests. But again, Hamilton—in order to be put in command of the charge of the redoubts in Yorktown— had to pressure and whine his mentor.

As with the Lafayette detail above, the musical highly exaggerates Hamilton’s military brilliance.
Hamilton is in command of what seems to be a large body of troops, leading pivotal, make-or-break operations against the British positions at Yorktown, Virginia.
After sustained and vocal self-promotion, Hamilton succeeded in getting himself put in charge of an attack on one of two British guard houses or “redoubts” during the long siege.

Lafeyette in fact stood in Hamilton’s way on this:  the French officer wanted one of his own underlings, Colonel Gimat, to lead the charge.

Washington relented to Hamilton’s pressure and overruled Lafayette.

Hamilton's taking of the redoubts was tactically important. But it was not a conclusive action on its own.

Hamilton did demonstrate true courage under fire and genuinely risked his life.
Hercules Mulligan, working as a spy behind enemy lines, passes on instrumental intelligence that allows the Battle of Yorktown to go as the Americans and French planned.
Mulligan, who was taken prisoner by the British during the 1776 siege of New York City, had in fact worked as a spy. The information passed on was so valuable, evidently, that Washington singled out Mulligan to breakfast with when the general rode back into the freed city after the British evacuation in November, 1783.

However, the Yorktown operation was based on military intelligence from other sources. It is doubtful Hercules Mulligan had anything to do with it.
The bitter, surrendered British forces play the ballad, “The World Turned Upside Down.”
No records exist of what musical pieces the British military bands performed.

The legend that they chose “The World Turned Upside Down” originated a century later.

There can be little doubt, though, that this was the theme on the British soldiers' and officers' minds to a large extent.
After the war, Hamilton and Burr return to New York City.
From the field of battle, Hamilton actually retired to Albany—and the Schuyler family properties (including a country estate in Saratoga, NY.).

Hamilton did not return to live in New York City until November, 1783, some two years after the Battle of Yorktown.

Burr at this point had never been a proper resident of the city. Burr had lived in New Jersey and Connecticut before moving to Albany.

Like Hamilton, Burr moved to New York in 1783.
As they practice law, Hamilton’s career moves at a much faster pace that Burr finds disconcerting and fills him with envy.
The musical exaggerates this.

Burr’s law practice was significantly more profitable than Hamilton’s. Hamilton is somewhat notable for posing very affordable fees to his clients, and often struggled to put money in his own purse.

Hamilton’s reputation also suffered when he took highly unpopular political decisions like retaining loyalists as clients.

Burr was not especially interested in politics at first. But he became an ally of state governor George Clinton who, in 1789, made Burr the attorney general of New York.
Hamilton approaches Burr to aid him in the writing of The Federalist series of essays.
There is no evidence this ever happened.

Burr was largely silent on the subject of the Constitution. He did not actively participate in advancing it or opposing it.

Burr's political leanings, however, place him squarely with those who were against ratification of the Constitution: the so-called Antifederalists.

It is extremely doubtful Hamilton would ever have sought Burr for such an important task.
Washington hotly pursues Hamilton to be a major member of his cabinet, once he is elected president in 1789.
The musical exaggerates Hamilton’s importance to Washington at this point in their careers. There was no such hot pursuit.

The so-called “financier of the American Revolution,” Robert Morris of Philadelphia, was Washington’s first choice to be Secretary of the Treasury.

Morris declined the position and recommended Hamilton instead.

This took Washington wholly off guard. Washington had  no conception that his former aide possessed any substantial knowledge of finance.

Hamilton was never considered for the Secretary of State position. Washington had settled on Thomas Jefferson for the post as early as September, 1789.