Alexander Hamilton’s (Somewhat) Jewish Roots

February 23, 2015 | Gabriela Geselowitz
About the author:

Despite speculation to the contrary, there is no solid evidence that Alexander Hamilton was of Jewish ancestry on his mother’s side. But his stepfather seems to have been a Jew, and throughout his life her son maintained a deeply felt respect for Jews, as Gabriela Geselowitz writes:

Around the time of Hamilton’s birth in Nevis in the West Indies, the Caribbean had a sizable Sephardic community. Charlestown, the capital of Nevis, had a particularly large Jewish population. [It] is certain that Hamilton was a Jewish day-school boy. His mother never divorced her first husband (a probably Jewish man with the surname Lavien), so the Anglican Church saw Hamilton as illegitimate, banning him from its local school. Instead, he studied at a Jewish school (possibly being solo tutored by the headmistress) run out of a synagogue in Charlestown. It was there that he learned Hebrew, and he reportedly recalled to his son years later learning to recite the Ten Commandments [in that language].

“Progress of the Jews,” Hamilton once wrote, “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?’” And in a court case, he argued, “Why distrust the evidence of the Jews? Discredit them, and you destroy the Christian religion.”

Read more on Tablet: