Hamilton: The Musical sparked a world-wide obsession with the story of Alexander Hamilton, his life, family, relationships, and death. Not only did Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the musical, create some of the catchiest and memorable songs we’ve ever heard, but he brought the Founding Father to life in a way no one expected. Now, books on Hamilton are flying off the shelves, and it seems like new biographies are coming out every day. But historical fiction authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie are here to tell us why it’s Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler, that we should really be looking at.
Wife, mother, sister, socialite, loyal revolutionary, vice-president and co-founder of an orphanage are just a few of the titles that Eliza had. She led an extraordinary life, and fortunately, Dray and Kamoie’s latest book My Dear Hamilton explores Eliza’s life as her own person. Pieced together from hundreds of letters, references, and original sources, the two authors have created a picture of Eliza that’s truly inspiring and wonderful to read.
BookTrib got to talk to the authors about My Dear Hamilton, Eliza and her relationships with her sisters, writing historical fiction, and more.
BookTrib: Eliza Schuyler Hamilton was so much more than just Alexander Hamilton’s wife. Not only was she involved with every aspect of being a politician’s wife, she was the mother of eight children; helped, furthered and supported Hamilton’s career; and was the co-founder and vice-president of a private orphanage, now the Graham Windham non-profit organization. What was the research of her life and background like?
Tricky! In part because Eliza didn’t preserve her own letters; only a relative few survive. Our methodology was to read the letters of her family and of her husband Alexander Hamilton, which are transcribed on Founders.archives.gov. Then, using what words of hers remain, we extrapolated to reconstruct a life. The research also involved a lot of archival legwork, because the primary sources that do survive are scattered across multiple archives, including at the New York Historical Society and the New York Public Library. And since no other book–either non-fiction or fiction–has treated Eliza’s life after Alexander’s 1804 death in much detail, much of the work we did was completely original. In the end, there was still a tremendous amount of material we had to leave out!
BookTrib: This book is written from Eliza’s point of view. How did you go about getting into her head, and seeing things from her perspective? Was there anything that surprised you?
From the start, we didn’t want this to be a book about Alexander Hamilton. He certainly looms large–but we wanted the story to be about his wife’s struggle to define herself. That meant asking questions about who Eliza was before, during, and after Hamilton. These led us to places Hamilton-centric historians seldom venture. For them, the most defining characteristic about Eliza was her loyalty in standing by her man in spite of his transgressions. For us, the defining characteristic was why. Who was she, this woman who was a true partner in the enterprise of the revolution? That’s what we asked ourselves while writing this novel. And it allowed us to see her not as a meek and loyal wife, as she’s so often been portrayed, but as a patriot and Founding Mother in her own right, someone with a strong personality who was athletic and adventurous and could hold a most unladylike grudge.
BookTrib: Hamilton the musical sparked an interest in the story of not only Alexander Hamilton, but also that of the Schuyler sisters, particularly Angelica and Eliza. Can you tell us a little bit about their relationship with each other?
Fun fact, there were actually five Schuyler sisters! But Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy were the oldest. And the age-difference between them and their youngest siblings probably accounts for why the three were so emotionally close— a closeness that would last all their lives. It’s usually presented that Angelica was the smart one, Eliza was the steadfast one, and Peggy was the pretty one. There’s some truth to that, but it’s an oversimplification. All three were spirited patriots— their beauty the toast of revolutionary balls–with sharp minds and a deep sense of family loyalty. They valued one another’s opinions, they hated to be apart, and were extremely playful with one another— to the point that some of their inside jokes are jaw-dropping to the modern reader. The relationship between Eliza and Angelica, in particular, is one of the fundamental ones in ‘My Dear Hamilton’, and one that might provide some surprises to fans of the musical!
BookTrib: You wrote My Dear Hamilton after America’s First Daughter, which was about Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Martha, or “Patsy”, who served for a time as something of an unofficial First Lady. People have been so focused on the Founding Fathers – will you be writing a series of books on Founding Mothers?
Well, we’ve got a head start with two! Founding mothers are endlessly fascinating to both of us. Stephanie’s next solo project will focus, in part, upon Adrienne Lafayette, who could rightly be considered a Founding Mother of both America and modern France. And when we regroup for our next project together, there are plenty of other Founding Mothers for us to choose from!
BookTrib: This is the second book you’ve written together – can you talk to us about the collaboration process? I feel like writing historical fiction with a partner is going to be a lot different than writing general fiction together.
Our writing partnership is a special one. We have complementary writing strengths and we’re well aware of them, so we tend to dole out sections to each other based on what we each do best. But we also write to a deadline, so when one of us falls behind, the other takes up the slack and if one of us can’t make a scene work, the other one comes to the rescue. We swap chapters constantly, and edit freely. If we do come to an impasse, we talk it out and inevitably come up with a third solution that is better than either of us originally envisioned. That’s one of the most magical things about our partnership!
BookTrib: Finally, what’s something that you really want readers to take away from My Dear Hamilton?
We’d like readers to understand that the American Revolution wasn’t fought only by marbled men in powdered wigs, but also by women, enslaved persons, native Americans and many other people in society–that it was a struggle that required risks and sacrifices that most of us cannot imagine. And we’d like readers to realize that our Founding Mothers contributed in ways that often made their more famous husbands’ or fathers’ contributions possible and that these women created legacies of their own.
‘My Dear Hamilton’ will be released on April 3, 2018. Keep an eye out for our exclusive BookTrib giveaway of two copies!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
STEPHANIE DRAY is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical women’s fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer and a teacher. Now she lives near the nation’s capital with her husband, cats, and history books.
A Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today Bestseller, LAURA KAMOIE has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction as the New York Times bestselling author, Laura Kaye. Writing America’s First Daughterwith co-author Stephanie Dray allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.