By the time Alexander Hamilton arrived in Boston in July 1744, he had observed “a subtlety and acuteness” so “peculiar to the New England genius.” He wasn’t the Alexander Hamilton you’re thinking of, but the other Alexander Hamilton.
A Maryland doctor, he left his home in Annapolis on May 30 and journeyed north with his slave, Dromo. The trip, by horseback and boat, took four months.
He published his lively and opinionated travel diary in a book he called Itinerarium, a rare account of colonial American life between 1730 and 1745.
The Other Alexander Hamilton
He and Dromo rode into Boston on July 18th and boarded their horses at Barker’s Tavern, later the Bunch of Grapes. They stayed at Mrs. Guneau’s. a Frenchwoman, near Beacon Hill. Hamilton found it a “very pleasant part of town, situated high and well aired.”
He mentioned “the Change,” the Exchange and Town House, now the Old State House. It was originally built in 1657, burned in 1711 and rebuilt in 1713. Selectmen met upstairs and ground level was an exchange for merchants.
Hamilton met quite a cast of characters on July 21, 1744: The “Dr. Douglass” he mentions was Dr. William Douglass, a quarrelsome Scottish doctor after whom Douglas, Mass., is named. “Mr. Arbuthnot” was probably John Arbuthnot, an innkeeper; and “Capt. Irvin” was probably Col. John Irving. Hamilton also described a “Mr. Hughes,” Samuel Hughes, a citizen of Boston. And “Capt. Wendell” was Capt. Jacob Wendell, a wealthy merchant who often served as town moderator.
A Day in the Life
Alexander Hamilton described his day on July 21, 1744 in his Itinerarium:
I rose later than usual this morning, and breakfasted with Mrs. Guneau and her daughter, the latter a passably handsome girl, nothing of the French spirit in her, but rather too grave and sedate.
Then around noon he went to the “Change” and saw some “phizes” (faces) that entertained him.
Near twelve o’clock I walked out with Mr. Hughes, and went to Change, where, after attending some time, and observing a variety of comical phizes, I encountered Captain Wendell, who pointed out Dr. Douglass and Mr. Arbuthnot to me, to whom I delivered letters.
Subtlety and Acuteness
A Captain Irvin invited him to dine on salt cod, which he liked.
I was invited to dine with Captain Irvin, upon salt codfish, which here is a common Saturday dinner, being elegantly dressed with a sauce of butter and eggs. In our company here was one Captain Petty, a very hard-favored man, a Scotsman by birth, humpbacked, and the tallest humpy ever I saw, being six feet high at least. There was one Perkins, a little round-faced man, a trader in the place.
Hamilton then encountered the New England genius while getting drunk.
The discourse turned chiefly upon commerce and trade, and thro’ the whole of it I could discover a vein of that subtlety and acuteness so peculiar to a New England genius. Mr. Arbuthnot and I had some disputes concerning some particular High Church maxims, but as I looked upon the promoters and favourers of these doctrines to be every whit as absurd and silly as the doctrines themselves, and adapted only for weak people, so I thought all argumentation was thrown away upon them, and therefore I dropped the dispute, for, as I was a stranger, I cared not, for the sake of such damned trifles, to procure the odium or ill will of any person in the place. After dinner I went home and slept till the evening, the weather being pretty hot, and I having drunk too much wine, it made me heavy.
This story updated in 2022.
Image of Alexander Hamilton By Hamilton, Alexander, 1712-1756 – https://flic.kr/p/vMKYqS, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41990022.