“Then stand, Alexander
At 6:30 am on July 11, 1804, Aaron Burr and William Van Ness arrived at the docks and slightly before 7:00 am, Alexander Hamilton stepped off his boat and headed toward the Weehawken Dueling Grounds in New Jersey. New York had strict dueling laws, so most New Yorkers took the short boat ride across the Hudson River to settle scores.
They reached their paces and Nathaniel Pendleton asked if the two political adversaries were ready. They responded, “yes,” and both men raised their flintlock pistols. There are many versions of what transpired in those seconds. Some present at the duel claimed Hamilton aimed off to the side, which was common to do, assuming no bloodshed would take place and was the first to discharge. Another said Burr was the first to fire and Hamilton’s pistol shot to the side because of a triggered muscle. Either way, a bullet was fired into Hamilton’s left abdomen causing him to fall to the ground. Hamilton looked up at Pendleton and declared, “I am a dead man.” Burr returned in his 70s and verified that Hamilton fired first off to the side, and once the smoke cleared, shot at his rival.
Burr and his associates fled to their boats and rowed back across the river. Pendleton placed Hamilton against a brown boulder. Hamilton was then transferred to the boat and taken across the river to his friend William Bayard’s home where he would subsequently die.
Today, The Weehawken Dueling Grounds, or Hamilton Dueling Grounds sits in a residential neighborhood. Much different than that fatal morning in 1804. To get there now, New Yorkers mostly take the George Washington Bridge rather than row across the river. It would be faster to row. I heard there wasn’t much to see at the dueling grounds, and all those that added insight are correct. There’s not much there. But, if you are an admirer of all things Hamilton, then once you see the boulder where a dying Alexander Hamilton rested, you feel as though you are on hallowed grounds.
I wish to include something before I continue writing about the dueling grounds for my self-contentment. I was a fan of Alexander Hamilton long before Miranda picked up Ron Chernow’s book. In college, many years ago, I came across a Hamilton biography and fell in love with his story. An orphan child from the West Indies, made it to the Colonies, was a genius, moved up through the ranks fast, had a father/son-like relationship with George Washington, may have had a homosexual relationship with a friend, wrote the Federalist papers with John Jay and James Madison, married a woman when he had more in common with her sister, was the first Secretary of Treasury, had an affair, composed many scathing condemnations of practically every political figure of his day, and perished in a duel to a former friend who was the Vice-President of the United States. Hamilton’s story is gripping. I was so in love with the guy that after my son was born 15 years ago, I took him to an exhibit on Hamilton and placed him in front of every handwritten note for a picture.
I also met Ron Chernow and had a great conversation about his book after it was published.
Anyway, no Hamilton bandwagoner here. That felt good. Glad I got that off my chest.
So, back to Weehawken…
There isn’t much there to commemorate the duel. There’s a plaque, a bust of Hamilton’s head, and the stone where he rested after being shot. If you are looking to learn more about the duel, I recommend Chernow’s book. You will get how long they had to row and the refreshing breeze that may have woken Hamilton up as he was taken back across the river. You’ll also catch a magnificent view of the New York City skyline.
There are benches that make a great place to have lunch while you watch the ferryboats on the Hudson. There are no parking lots, but plenty of street parking available.
The Dueling Grounds isn’t one of my favorite Hamilton stops, but it’s a place that strikes you if you are a fan of the man. He was more than a rhyme or an image with a fist in the air. He is an American hero. To be where his ego took him away from his family is a moment that remains with you. If you are doing a Hamilton tour, then make the stop, but I don’t consider it a must-see place since there isn’t much there. The residents of Weehawken probably like it that way.
“I hear wailing in the streets (aaaah, aaaah, aaaah)
Somebody tells me, “you’d better hide” (aaaah, aaaah, aaaah)
They say Angelica and Eliza
Were both at his side when he died
Death doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes
History obliterates, in every picture it paints
It paints me and all my mistakes
When Alexander aimed at the sky
He may have been the first one to die
But I’m the one who paid for it
I survived, but I paid for it
Now I’m the villain in your history
I was too young and blind to see
I should’ve known
I should’ve known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me
The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me”
-Lyrics from Lin Manuel Miranda ‘The World was Wide Enough’ in the musical Hamilton