- Historic Sites
The Notorious Affair Of Mrs. Reynolds
February 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 2
James Reynolds wrote: … You have deprived me of every thing thats near and dear to me. … Sir you took the advantage a poor Broken harted woman, instead of being a Friend, you have acted the part of the most Cruelist man in existance. you have made a whole family miserable. She ses there is no other man that she Care for in this world, now Sir you have bin the Cause of Cooling her affections for me. … but now I am determed to have satisfation. it shant be onely one [f|amily thats miserable, for I am Robbed of all happiness in this world. … now Sir if I Cant see you at your house call and see me. for there is no person that Knowes any thing as yet. And I am tiremd to see you, by some Means or other, for you have made me an unhappy man for eve. put it to your own case and Reflect one Moment, that you should know shush a thing of your wife, would not you have satisfaction yes. and so will I before one day passes me more.
After several meetings with Hamilton and an exchange of letters, Reynolds wrote out the consolation he expected for his wounded honor: … now Sir I have Considered on the matter Serously. I have This preposial to make to you. give me the Sum Of thousand dollars and I will leve the town and take my daughter with me and go where my Friends Shant here from me and leve her to Yourself to do for as you thin[k] proper. … your answer I shall expect This evening or in the morning early, as I am Determened to wate no longer till. I know my lot[.|
Hamilton paid the money in two installments—six hundred dollars on December 22 and four hundred dollars (receipted by Reynolds “in full of all demands”) on January 3, 1792 —and he abstained for several weeks from visiting; Maria Reynolds. But on January 17 Reynolds (who did not leave town) wrote: … its Mrs. R. wish to See you. and for My own happiness and hers. I have not the Least Objections to your Calling, as a friend to Boath of us. … I Rely on your befriending me if there should be any thing OfTer that would be to my advantage, as you Express a wish to befrind me. …
When Hamilton still did not call, Mrs. Reynolds begged him to visit her at least once more. He resumed his visits and Reynolds his demands for what he called loans—at least $135 in April, $350 in May, $50 in June, and $200 in August. Reynolds entreated him in March to call, since “I find when ever you have been with her. she is Chearful and kind, but when you have not in some time she is Quite to Reverse, and wishes to be alone by her self.” But in May he forbade Hamilton ever to see his wife again, declaring that he had decided to put “a finell end to it.” Hamilton had insulted him by stealing into his house by the back door. ”… am I a person of Such a bad Carector,” he asked, “that you would not wish to be seen Coming in my house in the front way.” Hamilton later concluded that the intent was to make him use the front door, where he might be seen, because of a “project of some deeper treason against me.”
The visits to Mrs. Reynolds continued at least through mid-August, 1792. Mrs. Reynolds’ entreaties had also continued in three more undated letters, from which these passages come: … oh I am disstressed more than I can tell My heart Is ready to burst and my tears wich once could flow with Ease are now denied me. … if my dear freend has the Least Esteeme for the unhappy Maria whos greateest fault Is Loveing him he will come as soon as he shall get this and till that time My breast will be the seate of pain and woe. … yes my friend I am doomed to drink the bitter cup of affliction Pure and unmixcd but why should I repine why pour forth my wretched soul in fruitless complainings for you have said It you have commanded and I must submit tow heaven Inexorable heaven Is deaf to my anguish and has marked me out for the child of sorrow. … gracious God had I the world I would lay It at your feet If I could only se you oh I must or I shall lose my senses. …
That fall events took a more serious turn. Reynolds and a crony named Jacob Clingman had worked together in buying up the claims to back pay of veterans of the Continental Army, claims the new government had not honored. Because of their dubious value, Reynolds and Clingman got them at a figure considerably below what the veterans were entitled to. (They used Treasury Department lists improperly supplied them by Simeon Reynolds, a Treasury clerk who was probably related to James Reynolds.) Now Oliver Wolcott, Comptroller of the Treasury, swore out two warrants for the arrest of Reynolds and Clingman for fraud and subornation of a witness; they had put in for the pay claims of a soldier who instead of being dead, as stated, inconveniently appeared to bring charges against them. Reynolds was jailed. Clingman, free on bail, turned for help to a congressman whom he had formerly served as a clerk: Frederick A. Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, former clergyman, a moderate Federalist who had been Speaker of the House.
Over a period of three weeks Clingman, in Muhlenberg’s words, “unasked, frequently dropped hints to me, that Reynolds had it in his power very materially to injure the Secretary oftheTreasury.… when … it was even added that … he [Hamilton] was deeply concerned in speculation, that he had frequently advanced money to him [Reynolds], and other insinuations of an improper nature, it created considerable uneasiness on my mind. …” Muhlenberg considered Reynolds “a rascal,” but he carried the story to two friends and colleagues, Senator James Monroc and Congressman Abraham Venable, both Virginians and both Antifederalists.