Hamilton Square is located on the southwest side of Sacramento Historic City Cemetery, near the Old Mortuary Chapel. The garden is the burial site of William Stephen Hamilton, the youngest son [sic] of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasurer of the United States.
Stephen Hamilton came to California in 1849 and died in Sacramento in 1850. He is the cemetery’s most restless resident. He died once (1850), was exhumed twice (1877, 1889) and buried three times in three different locations. (x)
William Hamilton was only 6 years old when his father was killed. Sadly, his life lends extra poignancy to Miranda’s lyrics. He did not realize the promise of his father’s generation.
He had a tough legacy to live up to. William Hamilton tried, in his own way, but ultimately fell short. His father died in a manner immortalized in song, art and literature. The younger Hamilton died of cholera, which spread through Sacramento in 1850 like a plague. For a time he lay in a potter’s field before getting a proper burial with a proper tombstone. And even then, Hamilton’s marker is as much a tribute to his father as it is him. Etched into the memorial is a heroic image of the elder Hamilton with his name most prominent. On the side of the tombstone are the words “Wm Stephen Hamilton son of … ”
William Hamilton left almost no record and found no gold. By the age of 53, he reportedly regretted ever coming to Sacramento. What little is known of him is buried in archival documents kept by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
“In stature, (Hamilton) was of medium size, thickset,” wrote Theodore Rodolf, a political rival of William Stephen Hamilton’s, in a letter 30 years after his death. “In dress, he was exceedingly negligent. I might also say slovenly. … His long intercourse and daily association with miners had worn off the polish of city life and (he was) given to an abruptness of speech and dictatorial manner that would have been offensive if had not tempered it with a genial smile and kindly words.”
Rodolf observed that Hamilton “was a confirmed bachelor and did not seem to care much for the female society.”
When a rival is telling your story, the chances of a flattering portrayal are slim. In the case of Alexander Hamilton, his story has been reclaimed by historians and Miranda – all working from Hamilton’s voluminous writings.
In the case of the son, there are questions but few answers. There is only a tombstone in Sacramento with a famous name. There is only the realization that for every figure celebrated in history books and Broadways musicals, there are many more stories like that of William Hamilton’s. (x)
An article from the Los Angeles Herald dated March 1, 1900 has the headline, “Burr’s Victim’s Son”, and doesn’t even get the date of his death correct. He died October 7, 8 or 9, 1850, depending on which source you read. His obituary appeared in a Sacramento paper October 15.
Positioned inside a hastily-built wood box, Billy was laid to rest in a long trench with other cholera victims under a post marked with the number “50.” Twenty-seven years later, Cyrus Woodman ventured to Sacramento in an attempt to locate and mark Hamilton’s grave. First, he located Hamilton’s faithful servant Barney in Galena and obtained a detailed location and description of the grave site. Woodman successfully located Hamilton’s remains and accomplished a re-internment complete with a headstone, upon which Woodman had engraved:
Col. W. S. Hamilton
Born in New York 1797
Came to California in ’49
Died October 8, 1850
In size and features, in talent and character,
he much resembled his illustrious father.
A friend erects this stone.
Ten years later, the city of Sacramento established a larger lot in a new section of the cemetery and named it “Hamilton’s Square.” Hamilton’s relatives then erected the present monument, which included the correct date of Billy’s death and a bronze relief of his father, Alexander Hamilton. (x)
One biography of Billy (his preferred nickname) Hamilton exists:
Alexander Hamilton’s pioneer son; the life and time of Colonel William Stephen Hamilton, 1797-1850. Early New York, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and California, by Sylvan J. Mudloon. Harrisburg, Pa., Aurand Press, 1930.
There is also a MA thesis:
Colonel William Stephen Hamilton: A pioneer, by Fielding, Angelina, M.A., University of Nebraska at Kearney, 2012 .