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Alexander Hamilton’s fifth great-grandson, Doug, says the duel ‘was just idiotic’

Doug Hamilton is in Philadelphia to lend some family heirlooms to the Museum of the American Revolution. Two go on display Tuesday.

Alexander Hamilton's fifth great grandson, Doug Hamilton, net to a bust of his namesake at the Museum of the American Revolution, Monday November 12, 2018.
Alexander Hamilton's fifth great grandson, Doug Hamilton, net to a bust of his namesake at the Museum of the American Revolution, Monday November 12, 2018.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer .

Doug Hamilton, a great-great-great-great-great grandson of Alexander Hamilton, is in town this week to present four family heirlooms he's lending to the Museum of the American Revolution. The items — a badge, ring, handkerchief, and christening dress — will become part of the "Hamilton Was Here" exhibit, on view through March 17.

The  badge showed Alexander Hamilton's membership in the Society of the Cincinnati, an elite group of former members of the Continental Army. Today, the society's descendants continue the club. It is the most valuable of the four objects.

The gold ring belonged to Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. She wore it around her neck in the five decades after her husband died in his duel with Aaron Burr. In traditional mourning style, the ring contains strands of Hamilton's hair.

Both the ring and the badge will be on public display starting Tuesday.

The textiles are Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton's hanky and a dress she sewed. They're undergoing conservation and will go on display early next year.

Doug Hamilton is the great-great-great-great grandson of John Church Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton's fourth son. Doug is a lifelong Ohio resident and grandparent of six. Last year, he retired after 41 years in technology sales at IBM.

He said he's been interested in his ancestry since childhood. But when Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton took off, the seventh-generation scion felt his founding grandfather finally started getting the respect he deserved. He talked by phone last week with the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

You’re related to Alexander Hamilton because you’re his…

It's five greats, then grandson. In genealogy terms, that's seven generations. Sometimes I just shorten it to, I'm just a really great grandson.

How did you learn about your famous relative?

My Grandmother Hamilton had to babysit me when I was 8 years old. She got me a coloring book with a picture of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton on the same page. She said I was related to one, and that the birthday of the other [Washington] was the same as mine.

That’s what started it?

I knew about Hamilton and a little about his history. In 2004, I took part in the reenactment of the duel at Weehawken [New Jersey] against a distant Burr descendant. Three thousand people or so showed up — 10 times more than they expected.

That's when I got my first interview with the Wall Street Journal. I was a little embarrassed from the interview, because I didn't know the answers to all their questions.

Since then, I've armed myself with about 200 books on Hamilton. I've read three of them. Still, I've studied pretty hard, being retired only about a year. But a significant portion of that year was studying, drilling down on it.

Have you taken a DNA test?

In 2004, Ron Chernow, who wrote the book [Alexander Hamilton] that Lin-Manuel Miranda used for the play, asked me to take a DNA test because I was the first Hamilton descendant bearing his surname.

I have the DNA, and we can go far enough back that we're 99% certain that I'm a Hamilton. I get more questions about my DNA than anything else.

How have you shared your legacy with your family?

I have two children, appropriately named Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. I have six grandchildren, and the eldest is Alexander Grant Hamilton. He was born on Jan. 11, 2005 — 250 years after the birthday of Alexander Hamilton.

How’d you manage that?

If you know some of the history of Hamilton, you know there's history of uncertainty about his birth year. He always claimed 1757, and the Hamilton family sticks with the 1757. But the discovery of his mother's probate document in the 1930s put Hamilton's birth year at 1755.

My family deviates from the 1757 only when we tell the story of my grandson. About two months before he was to be born, I asked his mother, 'What are you going to name your son?' She said, 'Grant Alexander.'

I kid around. I said, 'If the baby is born Jan. 11, 2005, you're going to have to name him Alexander Grant Hamilton instead of Grant Alexander.'

What I didn't know was the baby was to be delivered by scheduled C-section. [My daughter-in-law] told the doctor, 'My father-in-law wants the baby born on Jan. 11.' The doctor said, 'What's so special about that date?' She said, 'He will be the ninth great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton.'

The doctor turns out to be a huge Alexander Hamilton fan. He said, 'I don't have the operating room on that day, but I'll get it.'

Do you see yourself in Alexander Hamilton?

Hamilton was very candid. He sent out some pamphlets on John Adams that were too candid. I see that in myself. I'm pretty candid.

I don't have the red hair. I'm six foot tall. He was only 5 foot 7. He was 150 pounds. I'm more than that.

I don't share his intellectual capacity, his genius. I was never in the military, and he was a really military guy. Everything he did was, from his perspective, a battle, a war.

Hamilton and his son Philip both died being shot in duels. Did that make his ancestors gun-averse?

Hamilton had been involved in 11 duels, but the duel with Burr is the only one they advertise. Most duels never, ever came to people holding pistols in their hands … Still, it was a foolish way to settle an argument. It was just idiotic.

But the more important thing was they were defending their honor.

The Hamiltons were a military people. Hamilton was a military guy. His sons were, for the most part, military people. Some served in the war of 1812. There were generals in the family.

Some family members served in World War I. One descendant won the Congressional Medal of Honor for service in World War II. Another died while serving in Afghanistan.

What do you consider Hamilton’s greatest contribution?

That he was able to recover our credit was probably the most important thing that he did. His time as a treasury secretary was probably his great contribution.

He wrote some of Washington's most important letters. He had this sense of duty. He sacrificed his personal gain for his service to the country. I admire him for that significantly.

He was dedicated to making this country as strong as it could be.

People now will say we live in a Hamiltonian America. They ask: Where's Hamilton's monument? Go look at New York City: That's his monument.

But Hamilton wasn’t always so popular.

When I was growing up, my father would say being a descendant of Hamilton and 10 cents will get you a cup of coffee.

And Lin-Manuel Miranda came along and …

Hamilton's popularity has never been higher. I give credit to the musical. Although a lot of us have been trying to promote Hamilton and his ideas, it wasn't until the musical came around that things changed.

First and foremost, the musical saved Hamilton on the $10. The original intent was to put a woman on the bill.

The second thing is, in the Society of the Cincinnati, we're all kind of elderly white men. Now, I go to libraries and schools, and kids of all different kinds of backgrounds want to sing me the songs from Hamilton.

This has been awesome for us Hamiltonians. We had been struggling to figure out how to get our message out to a more diverse group of people.

Right now, I'm a lot more popular in the Society of the Cincinnati because of what the musical is doing.

Hamilton Was Here, through March 17, Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. Third Street, 215-253-6731,