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Reuben Joseph as Hamilton, Waylon Jacobs, Jake Halsey-Jones and Emile Ruddock. Photo by Danny Kaan.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”: What is Hamilton about?

Kitty Underwood

By Kitty Underwood First Published 17 October 2022, Last Updated 17 October 2022

You’ve definitely heard of it, you’ve probably even heard the songs, but if you haven’t seen it yet you still might be wondering; what is Hamilton about?

The smash-hit, record-breaking, multi-award-winning Alexander Hamilton musical actually started its life in 2008 – eight years before it would hit broadway – after writer Lin-Manuel Miranda read Don Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton on holiday.

After a quick bit of research, he found that no Alexander Hamilton musical existed, and the only play based on his life was a 1917 play starring George Arliss. So he embarked on the 7-year process of writing Hamilton!

The story of Hamilton is true (though with a little artistic license), based on the life of one of America’s previously lesser known founding fathers. Though we learn the story of the birth of America, this is truly the story of Alexander Hamilton and those around him.

Let’s take a look at some of the characters and their true stories.

Alexander Hamilton

Reuben Joseph as Hamilton and Company. Photo by Danny Kaan.jpg

Hamilton is born poor and becomes an orphan young. Despite his troubled start, his ambition and his intelligence propel him into a good position in the War of Independence and later into government.

Hamilton biographer, Don Chernow, seems to think Lin-Manunel Miranda did a pretty good job with his character. He said “I think he has plucked out the dramatic essence of the character—his vaulting ambition, his obsession with his legacy, his driven nature, his roving eye, his brilliant mind, his faulty judgment.”

His marriage, his political moves and achievements, and even his affair are all based on real events – though there is debate over whether Martha Washington actually did name her feral tomcat after him!

The Schuyler Sisters

The Schuyler Sisters are high-society New York women, born into a prominent American family. Though Hamilton has an initial spark with the eldest, Angelica, he marries Eliza who remains a loyal and supportive wife. She carried on his legacy after Hamilton’s death and – though he died before 50 – Eliza lived to 97.

In real life, the Schuyler family actually had several sons, too! In real life, alongside Angelica, Eliza and Peggy, there were five more children, including two more Schuyler sisters (Cornelia and Catherine) and three sons (John, Philip and Rensselaer).

In Hamilton: The Revolution – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s book about the musical, he writes “Okay, so Philip Schuyler had loads of sons. I conveniently forgot that while I was writing this in service of a larger point: Angelica is a world-class intellect in a world that does not allow her to flex it.”

The story shows the moment Hamilton meets the Schuyler sisters – the middle of which will become his wife. Not shown in the musical, Eliza and Alexander Hamilton actually had eight children, many named after their family – Philip, Angelica, Alexanda, James, John, William, Eliza and Philip.

Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton had a lot in common. They were both orphans; served similar roles in the war; served under George Washington; set up their law firms in the exact same year. They really did have intertwined lives.

The line (and this isn’t a spoiler, he says it in the opening number) “I’m the damn fool that shot him” echoes Aaron Burr’s real life regret; he used to refer to Alexander as “my dear friend Hamilton – whom I shot”.

Years After he shot Hamilton, Aaron Burr was actually brought to trial for what came to be known as the ‘Burr Conspiracy’, a supposed plot to form a new independent country in south western America and parts of Mexico, led by Burr, but he was acquitted.

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