I know everyone loves Hamilton and that’s great because it’s amazing but like, that intro song? Does not even come close to covering what a fucking train wreck this guy’s life was before he even came to America.
His mom got an inheritance on St. Croix at 16 that gained her all sorts of suiters, and then, at her mother’s behest, she married this dude, Johann Michael Lavien, who was at least twelve years older than her. He was kind of a douche but dressed pretty and made Mama happy despite the fact that she had a marriage so unhappy that she legally separated from Rachel’s father years before. They had one kid and I’m assuming she never wanted to see dude naked again after that.
Anyway, after dwindling away her inheritance on pretty clothes and failed ventures, because of some obscure Dutch law (because it was the West Indies and basically any law you could find from any country dubiously in occupation could work), he got her thrown in jail for adultery (not refuted, but not actually substantiated, but WHATEVER, throw her in with murderers and runaway slaves because those are all the same sort of heathen anyway). He thought her incarceration would make her a more godly and dutiful wife, til she got out and was basically just like LOL NAH and took off to St. Kitts.
After a while, our buddy Johann shacked up with another chick and decided he wanted to marry her. He got a divorce decree that was Trump level of petty and nasty and gross, calling her a whore and demonizing her for leaving him to care for their son alone on his meager earnings, and managed to get it down that he could remarry, but she couldn’t. Ever.
So over on St. Kitts, Rachel meets James Hamilton and they get together and have two sons and present themselves as James and Rachel Hamilton, but she has literally no ability to legitimize James Jr. and Alexander. Fast forward about fifteen years, her boys are 12 and 10, and James brings them back to St. Croix where she has a Reputation and they can’t even fake that this is legitimate. He’s involved in some legal action there, and when that’s over, he splits, probably because he couldn’t afford to take care of them anymore because he was ALSO kind of a giant loser. Nice, but awful at trying to get rich quick and ending up in even more debt, time and time again.
So Rachel opens a mercantile in the first floor of their house…common practice as far as dwellings go, having a shop on the first floor, but unheard of for women. Rachel gave no fucks, seriously. Then obviously we know she got sick and Alexander got sick and they were given some weird treatments like enemas and bloodletting (????) and then his mom died in the same bed he was in.
So then Levine comes back, fights with the court and brandishes this divorce decree, and manages the get the sons who had no chance of being legitimate disinherited from whatever estate she DID have. Instead it was all given to Peter, the son she hadn’t seen in 18 years, who showed up, collected what he was due, and left again, with nothing for his half brothers who, I’ll remind you, were 12 and 14.
They got sent to live with a cousin who was living with a mistress and their son…and then the cousin committed suicide, being found in a pool of blood in his bed. Everything was given to the mistress and their kid, with nothing even mentioned about his orphan wards. Their uncle shows up, trying to take care of things, and….dies a month later. Again, no provisions for the boys, despite Uncle John having changed his will FIVE DAYS before he died.
At that point, James Jr. becomes a carpenter’s apprentice because he’s not super smart or super skilled at anything else (takes after his dad) and Alexander, in some weird Dickensian twist of fate, gets taken in by a trader who might or might not be his actual father but that’s for another time. That’s when he started working as a clerk in a trading office and getting noticed, because he was smart, he could keep track of all the different currencies (there was a lot), was bilingual in French and English (even more so than Jefferson was in later years, and if you don’t think Hamilton taunted Jefferson in French because of that I don’t know what to tell you), he could chart ships, he read everything, he wrote poetry like the romantic hero weirdo he was.
And then there was a hurricane. Because of course there was. It was a letter to his father that he showed to the sometimes editor of the paper–well-written, intelligent, and full of melodramatic descriptions (something about distressed shrieks making angels weep or something???) that got him the attention of the whole island. It was published anonymously, the editor even claiming that the youth who wrote it at first protested it being published, so it wouldn’t look like he was trying to capitalize on a tragedy. Word still got out that he wrote it, and they did indeed take up a collection to send him to school in America, despite the devastation on the island.
So Alexander got a free ride to Boston and an allowance for his education, and boarded a ship with all sorts of new opportunities in front of him…and then the ship caught fire. In the middle of the ocean.
I can only imagine that at that point, Alexander was just like…are you fucking kidding me???
tl;dr: Alexander Hamilton’s life was a shit show before he ever even came to America, but his mother’s intelligence and will and his father’s pride and a horror show history of violence and tragedy just made him more stubborn about surviving and rising above all of it.