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The Boyhood Of Alexander Hamilton
Some old myths die in this new study of his West Indies childhood
June 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 4
What St. Croix, St. Thomas and neighboring islands read was an immature and highly imitative outpouring of youthful emotion; yet interest proved very general indeed. The piece created a sensation.
By coincidence, an open letter addressed by the Reverend John Witherspoon, head of the college at Princeton, New Jersey, to “the inhabitants of Jamaica and the other West Indian islands,” appeared at about the same time. It asked financial aid for professorships at the institution, and that the sons of the islands be sent to enjoy the facilities there.
Knox read the appeal while marveling at the display of mental calisthenics on the part of his young friend, and at once exhibited it to him, insisting that Hamilton of all boys ought to take advantage of it.
Cruger wrote to his family and friends in New York. Knox wrote to his brethren of the cloth in New Jersey; also to the headmaster of a grammar school at Elizabethtown, where Hamilton could prepare for college. The master, a new one, Francis Barber, was only slightly Hamilton’s senior, but Knox described him as a man of highly progressive educational ideas, excellent with boys whose gifts were outstanding, and quite willing to speed them through.
This suited Alexander. He had had enough of waiting. Once on the mainland he would be bound by no delays. He must acquire knowledge fast. His haste, in fact, would lead to President Witherspoon’s reluctantly turning him down when the time came, and to his entering King’s instead; but that is another story.
Preparations were completed. Vaguely he heard the names of two strangers who had promised to receive and aid him: William Livingston; Elias Boudinot. Through the good offices of Knox and Cruger, these two New Jersey residents would sponsor his admittance.
He sailed in midsummer, 1773, as supercargo on Cruger’s ship, the Thunderbolt, armed with paid-up letters of credit for his benefit drawn by Cruger & Kortright, a new partnership, on their correspondent house, Lawrence Kortright & Co., in New York City; a town that little knew (though few things could have surprised it then) what was in store for it.