In the late 1750s, Alexander Hamilton was born and raised on the chain of small islands known as the West Indies. Historians continue to argue the exact birth year. He would later immigrate to the colonies of North America, where he would play an integral role in the formation of the United States of America. For his efforts, his face adorns the ten dollar bill.
In 2004, Ron Chernow published a book about Hamilton exactly 200 years after his death. It stayed on the New York Times Bestseller list for three months. Chernow received offers to purchase the film rights to his book, but they all fell through.
A few years later, a young man picked up a copy of Chernow’s 800 page book at an airport bookstore for some light summer reading. If he had been your average history buff, this would be the end of the story. Fortunately for theatre lovers and rap fanatics the world over, the young man in question was Lin-Manuel Miranda, award winning composer, lyricist and star of the musical hit In the Heights.
These seemingly disconnected events, separated by the daunting distance of years, culminated in the creation of a Broadway spectacular unlike any other: Hamilton: the Musical. We won’t bother telling you about the awards the show has racked up, or how it has successfully brought rap music to the hallowed stages of Broadway. And we certainly won’t bother telling you how amazing the show is. No, instead we’ll spend the next couple of paragraphs telling you obscure factoids about the real historical figures featured in the show.
We’d also like to state that this article is not intended as criticism, quite the opposite in fact. Hamilton has stirred interest in American history amongst the general public, especially young people, but there are a number of historical inaccuracies (Note: No smart ass, the fact that the actors are predominantly people of color and political disputes are settled via rap battles doesn’t count) throughout the musical, although not nearly as many as one might think.
During the process of adapting the life of Alexander Hamilton, events were condensed, or removed entirely for the sake of pacing. In many cases, motivations for a character’s actions are skimmed over and left to an audience’s interpretation. A work of art is not supposed to be a history book. Hell, even most history books do an awful job of being history books.
In the interest of keeping this article a reasonable length, we won’t write about every historical figure who makes an appearance. We’ve whittled it down to Hamilton’s compatriots during the Revolution: Laurens, Mulligan and Lafayette. None of these characters return in the second act (although the actors portraying them do return as Philip Hamilton, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson respectively). They were three fascinating men who were all close to Hamilton and lived extraordinary lives of their own.
***Warning: There will be spoilers for Hamilton: An American Musical and American history.
Laurens: But we’ll never be truly free/ Until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me. You and I. Do or die. Wait till I sally in/ On a stallion with the first black battalion.
The story of John Laurens’ life disproves the common misconception that all of the Founding Fathers were oblivious to the contradictory nature of their war for independence: How can someone claim to fight for the rights of all men when they themselves treat other human beings as property? That very question weighed heavily upon Laurens’ soul. Unlike most men of means, Laurens did not see Africans as an inferior race ripe for subjugation. He only saw his fellow men. A bitter irony considering his father Henry was a wealthy landowner and slave trader in South Carolina.
The older Laurens would go on to serve as a delegate in the Continental Congress, while the younger served alongside Alexander Hamilton as an aide de camp (personal assistance) under no less an officer than General George Washington… You may have heard of him. Laurens was later elected to the South Carolina representatives where he put forward his plans to form a regiment made up of freed slaves. The plan was rejected overwhelmingly by his peers.
He would then go on to play a significant role at the battle of Yorktown: first as a light infantry commander, then as the chief spokesman for the Americans during the British forces’ surrender. While the bulk of the redcoats’ forces had yielded there were still holdouts scattered throughout the colonies. They needed to be weeded out and sent packing.
During one such skirmish, Laurens was shot from his horse. The wound became infected and he died. He’d lived long enough to see his new nation victorious, but his dream went unfulfilled. He was only 27 years old.
News of Laurens’ death shocked many of his companions. Perhaps none more so than Hamilton. Speculation as to how intimate their relationship really was has followed both men since their deaths. A reading of the two men’s correspondence has lead many to the conclusion that they were involved in a sexual relationship. Although nothing can be proven beyond a doubt, we know that personal letters from Hamilton to Laurens were edited by Hamilton’s son and biographer John Church Hamilton.
Mulligan: Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction/ When you knock me down I get the f*** back up!
In Hamilton, Hercules Mulligan (an actual person, and not a place holder before Lucas and Spielberg settled on the name Indiana Jones) is portrayed as a tailor’s apprentice who uses his position to spy on the British forces. Here we find Miranda’s most jarring historical divergence. While Mulligan did use his occupation as a tailor to spy on the Brits, he was no apprentice. He was a successful tailor who used family ties to secure a position as the personal tailor for many prominent British officers. During the course of his service, Mulligan saved George Washington’s life twice.
Another notable inaccuracy comes in the absence of Mulligan’s slave Cato. Over the course of their clandestine work, Cato would cross through British lines carrying vital information. It’s not known what ultimately became of him. A sad fate for a man who risked just as much as his master. Without his efforts, we very well may not have a country.
But, let us not judge Mulligan too harshly just yet. He, along with notable revolutionaries Hamilton and John Jay (briefly mentioned in the musical as one of Hamilton’s partners in the writing of the Federalist Papers), were the founding members of an early abolitionist group known as the New York Manumission Society.
Lafayette: I’m takin’ this horse by the reins makin’ redcoats redder with bloodstains.
Lafayette: And I’m never gonna stop until I make ‘em drop, burn ‘em up and scatter their remains. I’m –
Sailing from his native France to the colonies, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier Marquis de Lafayette joined the fight against the British in 1777. Most people just called him Lafayette. It saved time. Even before he’d made his way to America, Lafayette was already a well respected officer in the French military. He’d been commissioned as an officer at the age of 13. As mentioned in the rousing song Guns and Ships, Lafayette returned to his home country in a bid for aid. He returned with enough reinforcements to turn the tide, securing America’s victory.
Once back in France he set about co-writing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document much like our Declaration, with America’s French emissary Thomas Jefferson. Later, he would separate himself from the more extreme factions at play during the French Revolution — understandable considering his wife’s own parents were amongst the aristocrats who had been executed during France’s reign of terror. He would be vanished from his home country, imprisoned in Sweden, and ultimately have his citizenship reinstated by Napoleon Bonaparte.
He is buried in Paris’ Picpus cemetery, an American flag still waving beside his grave.
Look, Lin-Manuel, Mr. Miranda, Linny, we know you read Dime (or at the very least we’re willing to photoshop a pic of you with our latest issue). If there’s one thing people love more than a once in a lifetime show, it’s a sequel to a once in a lifetime show. Lafayette: The Musical. Take a shot. Make it happen. Give us a producer credit.