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Small-town heiress + traveling con man + marriage of convenience + pretending to be in love = you know you want it
“I loved everything about this book.” —Courtney Milan
I’ve never done anything like character profiles or interviews before—it’s not really part of my writing process—so I was a bit stuck on what to do. Then a friend of mine sent me one of those “get to know you” e-mails with the 100 questions you are supposed to fill out and send back and I thought, Aha! So I have given each character a portion of the questions, modified to make sense for the historical period (no, Nev has not gotten any text messages or watched any TV recently).
The questions were posed to them a few weeks before the opening of the book, so Nev and Penelope haven’t met yet and there are only very minor plot spoilers, all having to do with characters’ backstory. I apologize if any of the descriptions contradict anything in the book; I am not always the best at remembering what color eyes I gave everyone and so on.
NEV, our Hero
PERCY, his best friend
THIRKELL, his other best friend
AMY, his mistress
LOUISA, his sister
LADY BEDLOW, his mother
SIR JASPER, his next-door neighbor
PENELOPE, our Heroine
MR. AND MRS. BROWN, her parents
EDWARD, her best friend and unofficial fiancé
(Nathaniel Arthur Delaval Ambrey, Viscount Nevinstoke, son and heir to the Earl of Bedlow)
Nev is the hero of In for a Penny. He’s a ne’er-do-well crossed with a geek (because I love geeks). He loves going to the theater and the opera along with drinking and playing pranks, and he actually studied Latin at Cambridge in between wenching and gambling and all that. When his father dies, he finds the sudden responsibility for his family and estate a little overwhelming, but he wants very badly to live up to it.
Your age: 23 years old.
Your height: Six feet. No, sorry, that was a lie. More like five feet ten inches.
The color of your eyes: Blue.
The color of your hair: Brown. My sister has the same color hair and she calls it “chestnut,” but I’d feel an ass saying that.
Do you remember your first love? I was eight, and she was Louisa’s nursemaid. It was the summer before I went to school, and Percy and I were both mad for her. She had black, black hair and taught us the “Ballad of Captain Kidd.”
Still love her? Good God, no, I haven’t thought about her in years. Which is just as well, because looking back I think she might have been my father’s mistress. At least, he spent four whole months in the country with us, and then Louisa mysteriously had a new nursemaid. Or maybe my mother turned her off when she found out where we learned the words to “Captain Kidd,” they’re a bit bloodthirsty. Oh Lord, I’ll have to track the poor woman down and make sure she’s all right.
What do you find romantic? Poetry. Music, especially opera. Singing duets with a girl. Venice. Frankly, I avoid romance as a rule. I’m not in the market for a wife.
Turn-ons: Flashy jewelry. Red satin. A good singing voice. Watching Amy act. Freckles. Small breasts with freckles on them.
Turn-offs: I don’t like high-strung women. My friend Thirkell always ends up with these Italian women who smash the brandy glasses when they’re angry. I like a girl who’s comfortable to be around. Amy’s just about perfect—she’s never jealous and she has the patience of a saint.
Do you think girls find you attractive? I’ve been told I have a certain charm. I don’t think it’s my dashing good looks, though—I’m nothing out of the common way. I’m just easygoing, and I like to talk to people. And I’ve perfected the art of the suggestive grin.
Are you in love right now? No. I’m quite fond of Amy, but that’s as far as it goes.
Percy is Nev’s best friend, and the son of his father’s steward. I thought of him while reading Pride and Prejudice. I was fascinated by the idea of Wickham and Mr. Darcy growing up together, and wondered how it would have turned out if they’d actually liked each other. It’s a bit hard for Percy to move in the same social circles as Nev because his income is so much smaller, but he makes up the difference by playing cards for money. He’s a geek too underneath it all (and not very far underneath).
Your age: 23
Your height: 6’1″
The color of your eyes: Dark brown.
The color of your hair: Dark brown.
Who was the last person…?
…That you laughed at? Thirkell. Or no, a moment ago we all laughed at that woman selling the improving moral pamphlet with the extremely suggestive title. No, wait, it was Thirkell after all, because then he said the woman had a nice smile, nevertheless, and if she asked him to, he’d—well, I shouldn’t repeat his remark in mixed company, but Nev and I were in stitches.
…To disappoint you? Dick Pelham, last night. I was certain I could win forty pounds off him at piquet, but he became insensible from drink after only twelve guineas.
…To proposition you? A whore outside Covent Garden. But I couldn’t afford to spend money on female companionship even if I weren’t hopelessly petit bourgeois about the whole thing (my father would turn over in his grave if I slaked my lusts on some poor girl in that way, as he would put it. And I can’t help minding, though I move in more broad-minded circles these days and certainly don’t judge Nev or Thirkell for feeling differently).
…To make you cry? I went to a school production of Antigone last week. It was put on in a drafty old hall, and most of the company physically pained me with their pronunciation of the Greek, but the boy who played Creon would have drawn tears from a diamond. It was a good thing Nev and Thirkell refused to accompany me (the Philistines), because I bawled like an infant.
…To write you a letter? My mother.
…That you wrote a letter to? Also my mother.
Thirkell is the third member of Nev and Percy’s group, and I honestly don’t know his first name or family name. At first glance he seems like the boring member of the trio, the one you’re not quite sure what the other ones have in common with him, but he’s actually quite sharp. He just has a certain puppyish quality that leads people to underestimate him. There’s no one more dependable in a tight spot, either. And I hope any of that comes through in the book, because I love him even though he gets very little screentime.
Your age: 24
Your height: 5’11”
The color of your eyes: Brown.
The color of your hair: Light brown.
Who was the last person…?
…That turned you on? Don’t tell Nev, d’you hear? But holy hell, last night we were all three sheets to the wind, and Amy tipped back the last shot of brandy in the bottle and swallowed, and her throat and breasts were lit by the candles—well, a fellow can’t help looking, can he?
…To brighten up your day? Last week I was feeling a bit blue-devilled after Francesca threw a vase at my head and told me never to come back, so Nev and Percy took me for ices at Gunter’s and then out to our favorite coffee house for dinner, and then we gatecrashed Almack’s after the doors were closed. Nev picked the locks on one of the French doors. We even spiked the tea before getting thrown out. Cheered me right up.
…That you thought about? Well, I was just thinking about Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Wordsworth, and whether it’s better, as a poet, to lend an everyday feeling to phantasies, or to give a fresh magic to the everyday. Don’t give me that look! The moment before I was imagining tumbling the shopgirl in the bakery on the corner, if you like that answer better. She has breasts like sweet rolls and she always smiles when she gives me my change.
…You went to the theater with? Nev and Percy, of course.
…You saw? My valet, bringing me the mail.
Amy is a talented actress as well as Nev’s mistress. She grew up very poor—her mother and Penelope’s mother were friends as children. Amy has a strong work ethic, and puts thought and effort both into her acting and into being a charming companion and sex partner for Nev. She’s small and slender and has a tendency to freckle, like Penelope—Nev has a type.
When was the last time you…?
…Smiled? I don’t know. I’m afraid I smile a good deal.
…Laughed? At breakfast this morning Nev tried to juggle the rolls and dropped them all under the table, and then moped because he’d wanted a roll most particularly!
…Cried? Oh, who knows? Sometimes I’m a dreadful watering pot, and it’s stupid of me. Let’s not talk about it.
…Danced? Oh, goodness, it must have been last month at the party after the opening of Twelfth Night. I was tempted to go straight home and sleep, but the opening of a play always puts Nev in a lively mood, and I do love dancing with him.
…Were sarcastic? I try to save my sarcasm for dinner with my friends, or for the company at the theater. Nev and his friends find a sly remark now and then charming, but I wouldn’t want them to start thinking I’m one of those awful women who can never be happy or gracious about anything.
…Kissed someone? Nev kissed me good-bye on the front steps this morning for several minutes. We scandalized the street sweeper, but I think that’s half the fun for Nev and he really is a splendid kisser.
Louisa is Nev’s little sister. She can be a brat, but I like her a lot. She enjoys pirates, adventure stories, radical politics, and ridiculously extravagant bonnets.
Your age: 17
Your height: 5’6″
The color of your eyes: Blue.
The color of your hair: Chestnut.
…Take snuff? No. Ugh. You realize I’m a young lady, don’t you?
…Smoke? Once Nev let me smoke one of his cheroots. I wanted to be daring and sophisticated and enjoy it, but instead I coughed so much Nev took it away again. I didn’t blame him; if our mother had come in she would certainly have blamed the whole thing on Percy, just because his family isn’t rich. She is so unfair.
…Drink? Not in quantity. Mama would have a fit if I were to be publicly inebriated, even though it’s frequently tempting to drown my sorrows when she is nagging at me about how to be proper and ladylike and attract a gentleman. Since I don’t actually have any difficulty attracting gentlemen (the size of my bosom doesn’t hurt), I don’t know why she won’t leave me the hell—that is, why she won’t leave me alone.
…Read the newspaper? Of course. The country is in a shocking state, and I can’t abide people who cocoon themselves in ignorance and hope the trouble will simply go away on its own like a case of the sniffles. I read the Times, of course, because it’s Mama’s paper, but I’ve also managed to get one of the footmen to sell me his copy of Mr. Cobbett’s Political Register when he’s finished reading it. In one way or another I get my hands on several of the radical newspapers.
…Talk to strangers? If only. Sometimes Mama is little better than a gaoler, I vow. Luckily I already know a great number of people whom I like talking to.
…Take walks in the rain? Only if it’s very warm out. That doesn’t happen much in England. But I remember when I was very young, Papa sometimes took me for walks in the rain. He would put me on his shoulders and set the umbrella so it curved over my head and shoulders like wings. I loved it above all things.
…Drive? Have you met my mother? She thinks it’s scandalous for a young lady to drive.
…Like to drive fast? I like it when other people drive fast while I am in the carriage, does that count?
Nev’s mother. She loves her children very much but she can be kind of clueless and self-involved, and also a bit of a snob. Her own experience with a spendthrift husband has left her determined to marry Louisa off to a steady gentleman with a large income.
Your age: A lady never tells.
Your height: 5’2″
The color of your eyes: Blue.
The color of your hair: Blonde.
When was the last time you…?
…Talked to an enemy? An enemy? I hope I have none of those. I did speak with Bedlow’s brother-in-law Hareton a few days ago, and he had the gall to ask if I’d dyed my hair. He’s jealous, poor soul; his own has gone quite gray.
…Helped someone? I gave my maid three old gowns yesterday. I suppose I should have had them made over as Bedlow has begun to nag about bills, but someone would certainly have remarked upon it—Lady Hareton, no doubt—and I couldn’t bear the humiliation.
…Sang? Last Sunday, in church. Louisa tried to get me to join in her and Nev’s pirate ballads when he came for dinner on Tuesday, but really, I’m a grown woman and, I should like to think, possessed of some small measure of dignity.
Sir Jasper Montagu
Nev’s next-door neighbor in the country. He does most of the work of running the district, since Nev’s father wasn’t much for administration. He spends a lot of effort trying to maintain the social order and squelch potential uprisings among the laborers—he fears a revolution like the one in France. A decisive, efficient man with a lot of strong opinions. He does not like parvenus.
Your age: 38.
Your height: 5’11”
The color of your eyes: Gray.
The color of your hair: Dark brown.
When was the last time you…?
…Went to a concert? I went to Sheridan’s Duenna last night. The music was charming but the play was stupid. I didn’t pay much attention to either, however, as my object in going was to talk to Lord Delmsley about how best to put down the radical demonstrations in the north.
…Said “I love you”? When my wife was alive, probably. That sort of thing keeps women happy. And when I finally say it to Lady Louisa Ambrey, it will have the added virtue of being true. The end of her first season seems an appropriate time to ask Bedlow for permission to pay my addresses, doesn’t it?
…Bought something? I sent word to my head gamekeeper to purchase a few new man-traps for my woods this morning.
Our heroine. Her parents were poor people who worked their way up to owning their own brewery and are now extremely rich—rich enough to send their daughter to a fancy finishing school where she didn’t fit in at all. Penelope’s spent a lot of her life trying desperately not to be vulgar. Ladylike and sensible at all times, that’s her motto. And she’s a bit sick of it even though she’d never admit it in a million years.
Your age: 19
Your height: 5’4″
The color of your eyes: Brown.
The color of your hair: Dark brown.
Have you ever…?
…Been out of the country? No.
…Been in love? I’m not sure I believe there’s any such thing. It mostly seems an excuse for people to make fools of themselves and then demand sympathy for it.
…Been drunk? Certainly not.
…Ran away from home? No. I tried to run away from school once. Thankfully I failed. It was a stupid thing to do.
…Been bullied? I suppose you could call it that, but I think it would overstate the case. A lot of the girls at school didn’t like me, that’s all.
…Stayed up all night? Not purposely. I suppose there have been nights when I was too anxious to sleep; I could be a morbidly sensitive child. I’m grateful to have outgrown all that.
…Slept all day? No. What a waste of time that would be!
…Met a famous person? One of my school friends offered to introduce me to Lord Wellington once at a ball, but I’d have had nothing to say to him that he hasn’t heard a thousand times all over England, so I declined.
…Fainted? No. Ugh, these questions are making me look awfully dull and pitiful. Is that by design? Or were you hoping I would reveal myself to lead a double life? That the third week of every month I ran off to Vienna, drank myself into a stupor, danced the night away with poets and royalty, and swooned with great regularity? If that’s the case, I’m sorry to disappoint.
…Piece of jewelry? I don’t wear much jewelry. Mama gave me a great bracelet of cabochon sapphires for my birthday last year. The stones were like serene pools of blue light; I hadn’t the heart to take it back to the jeweler’s. I asked her to keep it and let me pick out something else for myself. My new gift is a gold locket with a black pearl set into it, expensive enough to satisfy Mama but small and tasteful enough that I can wear it without worrying what people will say. I’m very fond of it, and it goes with almost any dress.
…Article of clothing? I have a new and shameful infatuation with an orange silk evening gown. The color is brighter than I’m used to, but I plan to wear it to Lady Ambersleigh’s ball next week.
…Place to shop? I suppose you mean, “shop for clothes,” but my favorite place to shop is really the sheet music shop on Cork Street. All the latest compositions from the Continent, and a huge crate of old broadsides for a penny each.
Mr. and Mrs. Brown
Penelope’s parents. Mr. Brown is a Nonconformist (meaning he’s a Protestant who’s not a member of the Church of England—it often connotes being a bit more religious than average since Anglican is the default and a lot of the popular small denominations at this time were stricter), loves running his business, and has a fondness for puns. Mrs. Brown loves poetry and art and dreams of traveling the world. They’re both comfy, nice people and have a strong marriage. Penelope is close to them even though she sometimes finds them horribly embarrassing. I gave the questions to Mrs. Brown.
When was the last time you…?
…Read your favorite book? It’s tricky to choose just one, isn’t it? I wept over Clarissa just yesterday, and Penny laughed at my excess of sensibility and gave me her handkerchief.
…Wrote a letter? Lord, I hardly ever write letters now. Most of my friends are in town, and I see them so often that the most I need send is a note asking someone to tea. I used to write to Penny at school several times a week, but now that she’s home—oh, wait, I do know. I wrote a letter to my brother a few months ago. He’s a sailor and never learned to read, but his wife’s cousin can, so I send them money and he pays the cousin to write me every so often. We’ve never been all that close; he went to sea before Mum had me. But still, he’s family, and he always remembers Penny’s birthday.
…Were drunk? Oh, not for ages. Mr. Brown hates drunkenness, though he wasn’t so stuffy when we was younger. He bought the brewery, after all. I used to work for him, you know, when it was just the two kettles and two tanks, and sometimes we’d get tipsy sampling the beer before they put it in kegs. The first time he kissed me, he tasted like Plain Brown Bitter.
Penelope is informally engaged to her best friend, Edward Macaulay. Their shared interests include but are not limited to: 1) accounting (they are bookkeeping geeks together, basically) and 2) speaking seriously on serious subjects. Mr. and Mrs. Brown don’t approve of the match for various reasons, including but not limited to: 1) Edward used to work at Brown Jug Breweries, but he left to work for a northern industrialist, which is much lower status than brewing, 2) he once got drunk and embarrassed himself at a Brown Jug Christmas party, 3) he’s Catholic, and 4) they think that Penelope is not really in love with him.
Your age: 24
Your height: Six feet.
The color of your eyes: Hazel.
The color of your hair: Dark blond.
Do you believe in…?
…Miracles? I’m a good Catholic. I believe in the Lord’s ability to perform miracles. I do not believe in dei ex machinis.
…Ghosts? I suppose it’s possible that the soul could linger after death, but every account of a haunting that I’ve read sounded as if the witness were utterly devoid of both understanding and sense.
…Luck? God helps those who help themselves.
…Love at first sight? Well—perhaps. It is true that when I met Penelope I was won over very quickly. But then, Penelope is the most endearing, clever, good-hearted, serious-minded, sensible girl I’ve ever known, so there was nothing wonderful in it.
…Witches? Certainly not.
…Happy endings? I believe that with hard work and perseverance, any person of good sense ought to be able to find a measure of contentment and even happiness.
I am really proud of this book.
It probably comes as no surprise to most of you that I really, really love Hamilton. (There was about six months there where my Twitter was 99% Hamilton, I think?)
Since I was a kid, I’ve always had a thing for our Dashing Banking Policy Wonk founding father, and I remember staying in Times Square for the 2015 Romance Writers of America conference and seeing that a musical about Alexander Hamilton would be staged later that summer at a theater around the corner.
I remember thinking, They’ll probably focus on all the least interesting things about him.
Oh I was a fool.
Here I am in front of that same theater a while later, a giant fangirl in my Hamilton hoodie, getting ready to see the show, having listened to nothing but the Hamilton soundtrack and read nothing but Hamilton-related nonfiction for several months:
Afterwards, the BFF and I waited at the stage door. Lin-Manuel Miranda is not a super tall dude and we were at the back of the line. When he came out, I knew it was someone important because of the cheers, so I jumped as high as I could and saw…his hat and forehead. I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU HOW EMOTIONAL HIS EYEBROWS MADE ME. “That was the best three hours of my life,” I told him when he got to us, and he looked pleased, and I was like my life has meaning now because I made Lin-Manuel Miranda smile.
A couple weeks later, Courtney and Alyssa asked me to be part of a Hamilton-themed anthology. After I was like YES PLZ WHERE DO I SIGN I said, and I quote: “This is great actually because I was like ‘ugh I have to start researching my next book but all I want to do is read about Hamilton.'”
But enough about me! Let me tell you about Hamilton’s Battalion…
This is just a partial bibliography of some of my favorite sources. If you have particular questions about anything in the book, please e-mail me or comment! It’s a subject I never get tired of talking about.
1. The faith of remembrance: Marrano labyrinths, by Nathan Wachtel. An invaluable, heartwrenching resource on the lives of Spanish and Portuguese Jews forced to convert or pretend to convert by the Inquisition.
Hi everyone! This is a spoiler-friendly discussion and questions post for my novella “All or Nothing” (originally published in the Gambled Away anthology). I’d love to hear anything you have to say about the book! And if there’s anything you want to know (about the book, about writing the book, about characters in the book, about what happens next, anything really), this is a good place to ask.
Remember this scene?
“If you want to make it up to me, talk up Number Eighteen to your friends.”
Once again, Simon was impressed by Maggie’s devotion to her business, when he could barely bring himself to mention his own trade to prospective customers for fear of being thought over-forward. But as business-mindedness was a quality associated with Jews, he refrained from saying so.
Originally, Simon did say so, and Maggie role-played doing a pitch with him…
I believe Alexander Hamilton was part Jewish.
The evidence is all circumstantial, so it’s certainly a subject on which reasonable people can disagree, but in my opinion it’s the most likely (or at least, there isn’t any likelier) explanation for the facts.
I’ve seen a few puff pieces on the subject, but I haven’t seen all the information gathered in one place, so that’s what this post is. (If you know of another one, let me know so I can link!)
I’m not really interested in debating about it, because I’m not insisting I’m right; I’ve already acknowledged there’s no conclusive proof and there are plausible alternate explanations for everything.
In the end, history is a little like fandom. Everybody has their headcanon. This is mine.
For context, it’s important to understand how many Anusim (forced converts) and crypto-Jews (secretly practicing Jews) were in the Caribbean in the 18th century. (This is a topic I happen to have researched a bunch recently for my Anusim heroine in “All or Nothing“.) Spain and Portugal’s large Jewish populations were forced to convert or pretend to convert by the Inquisition, and many fled to Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the New World hoping to escape the Inquisition’s reach. However, they still couldn’t just live openly as Jews in most places: they often traveled between the colonies and Europe for work; there were local Inquisition offices in the colonies; and they frequently had family members in the Old Country whom they would endanger by publicly “backsliding.” Because of this context, I’m not suggesting that any of these people were openly practicing Jews. However, I believe they had Jewish ancestry and possibly even considered themselves to be Jews, which Hamilton may or may not have known (on that point I have no particular opinion).
There was also a significant openly Jewish community in Nevis when Hamilton was a kid.
First of all, let’s address the evidence that his mother’s husband, John Lavien, a merchant, was Jewish.
A. His name may be a variant of Levine, a common Jewish name. Name spellings were not standardized in the 18th century so the name appears in different documents spelled MANY different ways (sometimes multiple ways in the same document), but Hamilton himself spelled it Lavine, and Alexander Hamilton: the Formative Years by Michael E. Newton (have I mentioned I recommend that book highly for people who want as much of the available information as possible?) notes, “Poll-tax lists recorded the name as Lewine. A probate record from 1768 also recorded the name as Lewine, although spellings of Lavine and Levin are also to be found in that document.”
John Lavien and his son consistently spelled it “Lavien,” however.
B. His country of origin. Alexander Hamilton described him as “a Dane”. However there is no evidence backing this; the languages he used in his business were Dutch, English and German (he wrote to Danish associates in German, not Danish). According to Newton, “it is now believed that John Lavien was from Germany”, with at least one scholar making the case that Lavien’s name originally derives from the town of Lowien in Poland “or from one of the many other towns with similar names spread throughout Eastern Europe.”
There were many Jewish German and Eastern European merchants in the New World, although certainly there were also many who were not Jewish. Moreover, if Lavien was indeed born in Germany with a Polish name, his chances of being Jewish increase.
C. Somebody in St. Croix told researcher Gertrude Atherton that Lavien “probably was a Jew by birth,” however what they based this on is lost to history and may have simply been his name.
D. According to Chernow, he got his start peddling household goods. Peddling was a profession associated strongly (though again, not exclusively) with Jews in the 18th century.
E. To me the most compelling piece of the puzzle is this, reported by Ron Chernow: In 1768 Peter Lavien, John Lavien’s son with Hamilton’s mother Rachel, was appointed to a prominent position in his parish church in South Carolina. On a brief visit to St. Croix in 1769, he had himself “quietly baptized.” This implies that (a) Rachel and Lavien did not baptize their son at birth, (b) Peter knew that, and (c) Peter did not want anyone else to know. The contours of the story seem to overwhelmingly suggest crypto-Judaism.
Now let’s look at Rachel.
(Note: Rachel is considered a Jewish name now, but in the 18th century it wasn’t particularly. She and others often spelled her name Rachael, which may or may not hint at Sephardic origins.)
If Rachel was part Jewish, it was probably through her mother, Mary Uppington. According to Rachel’s parents’ marriage record, Mary was a widow from England, so Uppington was not her maiden name and nothing has been found about her family or previous life that I know of. (And there were plenty of Anusim and crypto-Jews named Maria.)
Rachel’s siblings were baptized, and while there’s no record of her own baptism, the church is missing six years of records right around the time of her birth (caused by hurricane damage), so probably she was too. This proves nothing except that if Mary was a Jew, she was a secret Jew, which we already knew.
After Rachel’s father died, Mary took Rachel and moved to another island. Mary making a fresh start with her daughter after her husband’s death strikes me as suggestive. Crypto-Judaism was often passed from mother to daughter, and it was not uncommon for a parent to choose one child to carry the Jewish legacy into the next generation, while keeping the secret from their other children.
AH:tFY states: “According to Alexander Hamilton…Rachael married John Lavien ‘in compliance with the wishes of her mother…but against her own inclination.'” (The full text of Hamilton’s letter is here; note the blank space where he evidently intended to put a word describing Lavien but did not.) An arranged marriage to a much older man is also highly consistent with patterns of crypto-Jewish marriage I’ve seen in my research.
(A word of partial explanation: arranged marriage is a traditional Jewish practice, in-group marriages were strongly desired, and the pool of potential husbands was extremely limited. Plus, many crypto-Jewish men in the New World were entrepreneurs living away from home, which meant (a) if they were young they were likely poor and (b) they probably left the Old World already older than girls just growing up whose families were looking for husbands for them.)
How did Rachel raise her children? Well, we already know she didn’t baptize her son with Lavien. No baptismal records for Hamilton have been found either (witness the ongoing debate about his true birth year), despite the fact that many churches in the West Indies did baptize illegitimate children.
She also sent Hamilton to a Jewish school: Hamilton’s son, John C. Hamilton, wrote in his biography that Hamilton “received the rudiments of his education commencing at a tender age. As an instance of which, rarely as he alluded to his personal history, he mentioned with a smile his having been taught to repeate the Decalogue [i.e., the Ten Commandments] in Hebrew at the school of a Jewess when so small that he was placed standing by her side on a table.”
But to me, the most suggestive statement of all is this, by Chernow:
“As a divorced woman with two children conceived out of wedlock, Rachel was likely denied a burial at nearby St. John’s Anglican Church. [RL’s note: There doesn’t seem to be any actual evidence for this supposition, though it’s certainly possible; another (equally unproven) explanation is that she didn’t want to be buried in the churchyard because she was Jewish.] This may help to explain a mystifying ambivalence that Hamilton always felt about regular church attendance, despite a pronounced religious bent. The parish clerk officiated at a graveside ceremony at the Grange[…]where Rachel was laid to rest on a hillside beneath a grove of mahogany trees.” [emphasis mine]
One of the strongest patterns of crypto-Jewish behavior that I’ve read about, both among people who know they are crypto-Jews and people who simply inherited the uneasiness from their parent(s) without understanding it, is an emotionally charged avoidance of Christian observance. Because many crypto-Jewish people don’t learn of their Jewish heritage until they are old enough to keep the secret (if they learn about it at all), as children they don’t know why their family rarely or never goes to church, why their family doesn’t celebrate on holidays like everyone else, where their parents’ persistent anti-clericalism arises from, or why there is so much tension surrounding all these things. They simply absorb it.
On his deathbed, Hamilton was desperate to be given last rites and take communion, telling Benjamin Moore, the rector of Trinity Church that, “It has for some time past been the wish of my heart, and it was my intention to take an early opportunity of uniting myself to the church, by the reception of that holy ordinance.” When Moore refused, Hamilton begged another friend, Mason, to administer communion, and when that friend refused because his church did not do private communion, he pressured Moore again (successfully) despite Mason’s assurance that “the Holy Communion is an exhibition and pledge of the mercies which the Son of God has purchased; that the absence of the sign does not exclude from the mercies signified; which were accessible to him by faith in their gracious author.”
Again, there are many explanations, but this is consistent with a man who knows that in some way he has not entirely been a Christian (whether he knows why he feels that way or not).
So there you have it! A comprehensive list of the details I have come across, which taken all together, builds for me a clear and internally consistent picture of a crypto-Jewish family.
A note: I have read a number of scholars asserting that Hamilton had a special lifelong respect for the Jews. I don’t, personally, see any evidence of that. As a young man, he once wrote: “Progress of the Jews from their earliest history to the present time has been and is entirely out of the ordinary course of human affairs. Is it not then a fair conclusion that the cause also is an extraordinary one—in other words, that it is the effect of some great providential plan?” Eh, okay, fine. I could do without that particular strain of philosemitism even if you believe it’s meant to be complimentary (although it takes on a different, rather poignant cast if you imagine that Hamilton knew he was part-Jewish).
The other quote most often attributed to Hamilton to support the idea that he “respected Jews” is “Why distrust the evidence of the Jews? Discredit them and you destroy the Christian religion,” which is from the transcript of the Le Guen v. Gouverneur & Kemble trial. Alas, if you read the transcript, this was actually said by his opposing counsel after Hamilton did try to discredit Jewish witnesses using anti-Semitic arguments. You can read Hamilton’s response—basically, that all the good Jews converted to Christianity anyway and are not Jews anymore—here. (Which is no evidence either way about his own Jewish background, sadly.) I would like to believe that this pervasive misquotation started out as an honest mistake and not a whitewashing job.
Another note: If you google Alexander Hamilton and Jewish you come up with a lot of neo-Nazi anti-Semitic international banking conspiracy sites. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t Jewish. The Rothschilds are on those too.
You may have heard that Samhain Publishing is closing its doors at the end of February.
This means my books with them (Sweet Disorder, True Pretenses, Listen to the Moon, A Lily Among Thorns, and In for a Penny) will be unavailable until my rights are reverted and I can go through the self-publishing process with them. I don’t know yet how long that will take; I will update you when I know more!
If you have any questions, you can ask them in the comments and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.
ETA: This contest is now closed. Nancy won the book.
This month I’m giving away a signed paperback copy of Trade Me by Courtney Milan!
This is one of my absolute favorites of Courtney’s books, up there with The Suffragette Scandal and Unraveled. It’s a NA contemporary romance (the first in her Cyclone series), about a poor college student struggling to get by and keep her mother from giving away the hard-earned money she sends home for her sister’s ADD meds to fellow Chinese refugees in need. Tina is offered the chance to trade lives for a month with another student desperate to escape his high-pressure life as heir to an innovative tech company and its irascible founder.
I love Tina with the fire of a thousand suns and I sobbed violently SEVERAL TIMES about her pathological sense of responsibility and fear of risk (MY FAVORITE TROPE, for personal reasons that I’m sure you will never guess).
1. I’ve started a new project, HEAling the World, and I’m very excited about it! HEAling the World is one way for the romance community to fight against injustices going on in the United States right now and to work towards the happily-ever-after we want for our world.
Every month for eighteen months romance authors will share favorite charities or organizations. Authors will also give away books to a few donors each month.
We are starting off strong this month with Rebekah Weatherspoon sharing about Women of Color in Romance! Click this link to visit the HtW site and learn about WOCINR, and please consider donating to this vital cause. The first five $10 donors get 5 amazing free e-books!
2. My novella “All or Nothing” from the Gambled Away anthology is now up for pre-order on Amazon! Check out my stunning new cover!!!!!