Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life

GWCJL Speaker Series: Prof. Robert Watson, “Alexander Hamilton and the Little-Known Story of his Jewish Roots and Lifelong Work on behalf of the Jewish Community”

March 14, 2021, 10:00 am - 11:30 am

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The Coalition will be presenting Robert Watson, Distinguished Professor of American History at Lynn University, speaking on Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton, along with other founding members, structured the early democratic government of the United States and left a legacy that has since shaped the world.

Brainy, ambitious and tireless he was a visionary whose life, though flawed, paralleled that of the nation he helped forge. What is less widely known, however, is his connection to Judaism.  As a child growing up on the island of Nevis, he was tutored by a Jewish schoolmistress and learned to recite the Ten Commandments in Hebrew… and more.

Dr Watson is a prolific author and frequent speaker. He is currently writing a book on the pandemic behind the 1793 evacuation of the Capital.

Join us for what is sure to be another exceptional Speaker Series event!

 

With gratitude to our generous Coalition supporters.

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Hamilton’s birthplace on the island of Nevis had a large Jewish community, constituting one quarter of Charlestown’s white population by the 1720s.[1] He came into contact with Jews on a regular basis; as a small boy, he was tutored by a Jewish schoolmistress, and had learned to recite the Ten Commandments in the original Hebrew.[231]

Hamilton exhibited a degree of respect for Jews that was described by Chernow as “a life-long reverence.”[237] He believed that Jewish achievement was a result of divine providence:

The state and progress of the Jews, from their earliest history to the present time, has been so 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? The man who will draw this conclusion, will look for the solution in the Bible. He who will not draw it ought to give us another fair solution.[238]

Based on the phonetic similarity of “Lavien” to a common Jewish surname, it has often been suggested that the first husband of Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Faucette, a German or Dane named Johann Michael Lavien,[6] was Jewish or of Jewish descent.[239] On this foundation, historian Andrew Porwancher, a self-acknowledged “lone voice” whose “findings clash with much of the received wisdom on Hamilton”, has promoted a theory that Hamilton himself was Jewish.[240] Porwancher argues that Hamilton’s mother (French Huguenot on her father’s side[241]) must have converted to Judaism before marrying Lavien, and that even after her separation and bitter divorce from Lavien, she would still have raised her children by James Hamilton as Jews.[240][242] Reflecting the consensus of modern historians, historian Michael E. Newton wrote that “there is no evidence that Lavien is a Jewish name, no indication that John Lavien was Jewish, and no reason to believe that he was.”[19] Newton traced the suggestions to a 1902 work of histori

 

Learn about Hamilton’s difficult upbringing in the West Indies, his Jewish roots, his meteoric rise to become George Washington’s chief aide during the Revolution and later Secretary of Treasury, the intimate details of his scandalous downfall and duel, and the phenomenon that is the hit Broadway musical.