In 2015, the Broadway show Hamilton became one of the most sought-after tickets in history. The hip-hop musical reimagining Alexander Hamilton's life, relationships, and story sold-out shows over and over, offering a unique perspective on the founding of the United States. And after much anticipation, Hamilton is now coming to Disney+ in the form of a live recording (featuring the original Broadway cast) for everyone who wasn't able to get a ticket to the show on Broadway or London's West End.
While the musical allowed Alexander Hamilton to enjoy perhaps the largest fan following he’s had in centuries – if not ever – the show's inclusion of numerous real events and people left many with questions regarding its accuracy. And for good reason. Much of the Pulitzer Prize-winning phenomenon’s lyrics and storyline have a historically accurate foundation, but many are highly dramatised. That said, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music, lyrics, and book for the play, did bring on an Alexander Hamilton historian, Ron Chernow, as a consultant to build the stage version of his story.
“I felt an enormous responsibility to be as historically accurate as possible, while still telling the most dramatic story possible,” Miranda told The Atlantic in a 2015 interview. “And when I did part from the historical record or take dramatic license, I made sure I was able to defend it to Ron, because I know that I was going to have to defend it in the real world. None of those choices are made lightly.”
MirAhead, we've detailed the truths and myths behind Hamilton, which is available to stream on Disney+ now.
Alexander Hamilton first moved to New York when he left his childhood home in the Caribbean.
False. Although the show purports that Hamilton moved to New York to "be a new man," he actually first moved to Boston when arriving in what would soon become the United States. In 1772, Hamilton arrived in Boston, though he stayed only briefly. After that, he headed to New York City to attend college at what would later become Columbia University.
John Adams fired Alexander Hamilton when he became president.
False. When John Adams became the second president of the United States in 1797, he did not fire Alexander Hamilton from his role as Secretary of State. Hamilton actually quit before Adams was elected.
Alexander Hamilton created the U.S. financial system.
True. Hamilton had a vision for America's economy at its founding that was considered particularly controversial. The "$10 Founding Father" pushed for paper currency, which didn't circulate until after his death, though his proposals for a central bank and agricultural exports were the basis of the American economic system.
Alexander Hamilton was an abolitionist and egalitarian.
False. In the musical, Hamilton is portrayed as someone who vehemently opposes slavery in all forms, strongly identifies with his experience as an immigrant, and who believed in equality. Several historians have criticised the musical for this depiction.
“In the sense of the Ellis Island immigrant narrative, he was not an immigrant,” said Harvard University history professor Annette Gordon-Reed in a 2016 critique. “He was not pro-immigrant, either. He was not an abolitionist. He bought and sold slaves for his in-laws, and opposing slavery was never at the forefront of his agenda. He was not a champion of the little guy, like the show portrays. He was elitist. He was in favour of having a president for life.” Gordon-Reed surmises that the Hamilton of the musical was created to be more palatable to modern audiences.
Hamilton was indeed against slavery, but according to Columbia University history professor, Eric Foner, anti-slavery “was low down on Hamilton’s list of priorities compared to other things... He wasn’t interested in disrupting the plantation economy of the South, which was producing a lot of the wealth of the country.”
Alexander Hamilton was "born a bastard."
True. In the famous opening line of the musical's titular song, Hamilton was "born a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman..." and this is, very true: Hamilton was born in the West Indian capital city of Charlestown on the Caribbean island of Nevis. His parents were unmarried at the time of his birth.
Alexander Hamilton had a posse of important friends before the Revolution.
Sort of. Hercules Mulligan was one of Hamilton's first friends when arriving in New York, and Hamilton reportedly lived with him before going to school. However, Marquis de Lafayette did not come to America until 1777, which is also the same year Hamilton met John Laurens. By that point, the Revolution was already well underway.
Angelica Schuyler could never marry Alexander Hamilton because he wasn't wealthy enough.
False. For a couple of reasons, Angelica Schuyler’s need to marry rich and her inability to marry Hamilton aren’t actually true. The play portrays her as the eldest of three daughters who had no brothers to carry on the family name. In fact, she was one of 12 children, though only eight lived to adulthood. She wasn’t short on brothers though, she had four surviving brothers.
Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton right after Burr's failed run for president.
Sort of. Burr did shoot and mortally wound Hamilton after challenging him to a duel, but it didn't coincide with Burr's failed campaign for president in 1800. The duel happened when Burr ran for governor of New York in 1804, after one term as Vice President. Hamilton campaigned against him, and Burr took offense and challenged him to a duel on 11th July, 1804, during which Burr shot Hamilton, who died the following day from his injuries.
New York City was the first U.S. capital.
True. In 1785, under the Articles of Confederation, New York was the nation's capital city. In 1791, the capital moved to Philadelphia and then to the space that would eventually become Washington, D.C. (between Maryland and Virginia) in December 1800.