While listening to the Hamilton soundtrack one day, the song Dear Theodosia hit me especially hard. The song always makes me a little emotional while Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton sing to their newborn children. In the song, the two Founding Fathers share their hopes for the young country that their children will inherit. Being an Alexander Hamilton history nerd that I am, (I was a fan of the man way before the musical), I knew a bit of Hamilton and Burr’s family history. Wondering about the parenting styles of all the major characters from Hamilton, sent me down a rabbit hole in reading about all the dads from Hamilton the Musical.
“I’m dedicating every day to you
Domestic life was never quite my style
When you smile, you knock me out, I fall apart
And I thought I was so smart”
~ From the song Dear Theodosia from Hamilton The Musical. Lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda.
Much like the state of the day in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the real Founding Fathers from Hamilton went off to work while the wives stayed home and raised the kids. However, there was a varying degree of activity in their children’s lives. Most of the men had something in common in that they served a greater good outside of their home, meaning they had a lot of commitments. Some men still made their children a top priority.
The Father of His Country, George Washington, by most accounts, was a good dad. He didn’t have biological children of his own, but raised Martha Washington’s children from a previous marriage. When George and Martha were married, the future first President became a step-dad to her two young children and raised them as his own. Later on in life, they raised their grandchildren and even posed with them in paintings. George took it upon himself to oversee his step-kids and grandchildren’s education and wrote often to the schoolmaster with requests. It is believed that he took such an interest in education because he did not receive a formal education himself when he was younger, and desired a better future for them.
Before he went “mad,” King George III was a different type of royal father than past Kings. In the past, Kings had little to do with their children, fairing to let tutors and the mother handle the kids. King George and his wife Charlotte had 15 children, 13 of which lived to adulthood. It was a common site for people to visit the palace and find King George on the floor playing with his kids. It is believed the death of their youngest daughter Amelia, at 21, may have caused the King’s descent into insanity. He may have played with them when they were little, but he had a difficult time letting them make choices for themselves. The king passed the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, which stated his children could only get married with his consent.
By most accounts, Thomas Jefferson was a good enough dad, at least to his white kids. He had 5 children with his wife, but only 2 reached adulthood. After his wife’s death, he took responsibility to raise his daughters. Well, with the help of tutors and Sally Hemings. His daughter Martha accompanied him to Philadelphia and when he represented the United States in Paris seeking assistance. His other daughter, Mary, enjoyed living with relatives for a long time, but later lived with her father and sister in France. Thomas possibly had up to 6 children with Sally Hemings, but never took responsibility for them other than as being their owner. He set them up to learn a skill, but that was it.
We know little about Hercules Mulligan’s parenting skills. Maybe the former spy desired privacy after the Revolutionary War. So, here’s what we know about Mulligan and his family. After the British vacated New York City, George Washington had breakfast with him to not just share his company, but to show the rest of the city that Mulligan didn’t side with the British and, in fact, assisted Washington. The tailor continued his business until he retired and stayed in New York City with his wife and 8 kids. His son John was a law clerk under Alexander Hamilton and his daughter Francis Maria became a missionary in Athens, Greece, where she ran a school for poor children. Another son, William, became a lawyer and married the daughter of Selah Strong, another one of Washington’s spies. If being a good dad means preparing children to be successful adults, Mulligan and his wife seem to have done a good job.
Marquis de Lafayette probably had the least amount of parental love shown towards him as a child, which probably affected his parenting style. When Lafayette was just shy of two, his father was killed on the battlefield. After his father’s death, his mother left Lafayette behind to be raised at the estate while she moved to Paris. When Lafayette was 11, he moved to Paris to be with his mother. When he was 12, his mother and grandfather died. An uncle died shortly after, making a young Lafayette a very wealthy pre-teen. He joined the military at 14 and became a husband at 16. His new bride was 14. At 19, despite not having any experience on the battlefield, left France for America to fight the British, despite being told by the King of France to not go.
In 1779, at 22, Lafayette returned to France a hero after becoming a General in the Continental Army. He was quickly imprisoned for 8 days, but let out to gift the King a golden sword. After the birth of his first-born son, who he named George Washington Lafayette, he waved goodbye to France and set sail to fight some more. After being successful at the Battle of Yorktown, Lafayette reluctantly sailed back to France. He wanted to stay and fight the British at port cities, but Washington convinced Lafayette to return to his home. A year later, his daughter Marie-Antoinette Virginie was born. Lafayette and his wife had 2 more children, all the while Lafayette continued to leave the home to chase adventures and battles.
Side note: Lafayette’s wife Adrienne was almost decapitated during the French Revolution after being arrested while Lafayette was in an Austrian prison. American intervention helped rescue her from the guillotine. I’m sure his wife and kids didn’t appreciate all his palling around with Marie Antoinette at that point.
James Madison married Dolly when he was 46 and she was just 26. The year before the wedding, Dolly’s first husband and youngest son died of yellow fever. Her son John was two when his mother married and James quickly adopted him. John was sent to a Catholic Boarding School for 8 years, but because of academic problems, was kicked out. Getting kicked out of things seemed to follow John for the rest of his life. John was rumored to be an alcoholic and had a tendency for getting arrested after shooting at things. He was sent to a debtor’s prison twice. James and Dolly loved partying the night away and enjoying a lavish lifestyle while John was growing up, and the lack of oversight may have caused his problems. However, James clearly loved his stepson. On one occasion, James mortgaged his lovely Montpelier to pay off John’s debts. James also looked out for his future well-being and gave John a secretary position on a convoy to Europe, where John squandered the opportunity away by drinking and, yes, shooting at things.
Apparently, the place to be for John Laurens was not with his daughter. John was studying in England when he met a woman named Martha Manning. They fell in love and she got pregnant. Before she gave birth, John left for America to join the Continental Army. John’s father used his influence to secure a spot for John as Washington’s Aide-de-camp. While serving in America, his wife delivered a daughter during hard labor. While John was on a mission to France, Martha and her baby went to Paris to meet him, but they just missed one another. Shortly after that missed meeting, Martha took ill and died, leaving her baby an orphan. A year later, John died in battle, never seeing his child.
Aaron Burr married Theodosia Prevost in 1782, and yes, she was a widow to a British officer. Upon marrying Theodosia, he became a step-dad to her 5 children, which he showed affection for. He frequently wrote to his wife, asking her to share his love and desired letters from them. But, as Hamilton the Musical accurately portrayed, his love for his biological daughter was unmatched. Even while away from home, he oversaw her education, offering as much, if not more, education than the boys were receiving. Burr was a staunch supporter of Women’s rights and wanted the best education for his daughter. In his letters to his daughter, he offered praise and teachable words.
In the last year of his wife’s life, Burr suggested he retire from the Senate and return home, but his wife refused and encouraged him to stay in government. Young Theodosia was only 11 when her mother died and Burr took on a more present role with her, as she often accompanied him on trips. Burr continued overseeing his daughter’s education.
Later on, Theodosia married Joseph Alston, who would become Governor of South Carolina. During the War of 1812, Theodosia boarded a ship to sail north so she could stay with her father. The ship never made it to the port, and Theodosia was never seen again. Aaron Burr regularly visited the dock, hoping one day his daughter would show up.
“His gentle nature rendered his house a most joyous one to his children and friends. He accompanied his daughter Angelica when she played and sang at the piano. His intercourse with his children was always affectionate and confiding, which excited in them a corresponding confidence and devotion.” – James Hamilton
You couldn’t ask to be characterized by your kids better than that. From his letters and the way his children thought of him, Alexander Hamilton was a good dad. He cared deeply about his children and doted on them in person when he was home and through letters. When he traveled, he often took one of his boys with him. When his oldest son Phillip became ill one season, it was Alexander who stayed by his bed and played the part of the nurse.
However, he passed on his worst attribute to his oldest son, Phillip. Phillip took offense to being called a “Rascal” and challenged his opponent to a duel. His fatal shot was the same place Alexander would receive his mortal wound years later. By his son’s deathbed, Alexander was overcome with grief and fainted. At Phillip’s funeral, Alexander needed help to walk.
Alexander had 7 kids and all of his sons followed their father’s career in law and the military. Hamilton may have been a workaholic, had lofty ambitions, and had morality issues; Hamilton also dearly loved all his children. And apparently, they loved him too and wanted to be just like him.
Much like today, fathers are flawed. We’re not perfect. What parent is? But, like Hamilton and Burr, we build upon our strengths. Their strengths were education and drive. Pride was their downfall. And in Hamilton’s son’s case, the sins of the father were passed onto the son. Being a good father looks different today than it did back then. However, the tools needed to be a good dad are the same. Kids have always needed love, attention, and instruction. Most of the founding fathers could do that. Most of them.
(Good thing Franklin wasn’t in Hamilton, because that guy was a terrible dad.)
Here are the books on these men that I own and read over and over again.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Washington by Ron Chernow
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
1776 by David McCullough
Washington’s Spies by Alexander Rose
The Last King of America by Andrew Roberts
Duel by Thomas Fleming
Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History by Fawn M. Brodie