Skip to main content

In this photo released by The Public Theater, Lin-Manuel Miranda, foreground, performs with members of the cast of the musical "Hamilton" in New York.

Joan Marcus/AP

In the song A Winter's Ball in the smash Broadway hit Hamilton, Aaron Burr's character sings of Alexander Hamilton's delight for women, including the tale that Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him.

"That's true," Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton character tells the sold-out theatre each night.

But it's not, according to a group of Hamilton enthusiasts and researchers gathering in New York and New Jersey this week.

Story continues below advertisement

Twenty miles from the Broadway theatre, where fans spend thousands of dollars to see the show, a group dedicated to studying America's first treasury secretary will gather Thursday to unveil new artifacts and retrace a piece of history they hope can soften some of Hamilton's rough edges. They believe the tomcat story and talk of Hamilton's relationship with women have been used through the years to undercut what they say was his vital work for the country.

Phoenix-based Hamilton researcher Michael Newton says it's an issue of fairness.

"If you're saying Hamilton was this scoundrel, all of a sudden it colours your view on his position on politics and economics," he said.

That Hamilton had at least one affair isn't in doubt. He wrote a 95-page pamphlet on his affair with Maria Reynolds, which heavily damaged his reputation.

That, plus a very friendly relationship with his sister-in-law, plays a big part of the Tony award-winning musical that has become a cultural phenomenon and created a larger audience of people looking to learn more about him.

The tomcat story is included in multiple biographies of Hamilton, including the Ron Chernow book that the musical is based on.

In Hamilton: The Revolution, co-authored by Miranda, the song's lyrics include a footnote that says the line was "most likely a tale spread by John Adams later in life" but that Manuel included it because he likes "Hamilton owning it."

Story continues below advertisement

"At this point in the story," Miranda writes, "he is at peak cockiness."

Newton and fellow Hamilton researcher Stephen Knott both say they haven't found evidence of Adams spreading the tale and instead trace the story to a satirical letter from someone described as a British captain republished 56 years after Hamilton's death.

Newton says that what apparently started as a joke about Martha Washington naming her cat after Hamilton "in a complimentary way" morphed through the years to biographies stating she named her tomcat after him to comment on his reputation.

Newton points out that dictionaries note that tomcat only meant a "male cat" in the 18th-century and didn't carry its other connotation – a promiscuous man – until later.

Chernow, who only touches on the story in his 800-page book with half of a sentence, didn't respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Joanne Freeman, a history professor at Yale, said she's always assumed the tomcat tale wasn't actually true.

Story continues below advertisement

She said that people should understand that not everything in the show is accurate, but that it's good that it's gotten people to ask questions.

"People should think and evaluate and not necessarily instantly accept stories whether it's on the stage or wherever they get it from," she said.

"The play is getting people to ask a lot of questions about Hamilton and history. [Miranda] would be very happy."

The Hamilton researchers on Thursday will also unveil what they say is the original copy of Hamilton's half brother's will and letters about Hamilton and his wife's dealing with a yellow fever outbreak.

Both were found in the files of John Kean, part of one of New Jersey's most prominent families. Hamilton lived at the former home of New Jersey's first governor William Livingston and it is now a museum on the campus of Kean University.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter