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First, Appearance of Alexander Hamilton. - His Early Days. General Hugh Mercer in Command of the Flying Camp. - Declaration of Independence. - Announced to the Army. - Downfall of the King's Statue.
BOUT this time, we have the first appearance in the military ranks of the
Revolution, of one destined to take an active and distinguished part in public affairs; and to leave the impress of his genius on the in stitutions of the country.
As General Greene one day, on his way to Washington's head-quarters, was passing through a field, then on the outskirts of the city, now in the heart of its busiest quarter, and known as "the Park," he paused to notice a provincial company of artillery, and was struck with its able performances, and with the tact and talent of its commander. He was a mere youth, apparently about twenty years of age; small in person and stature, but remarkable for his alert and manly bearing. It was Alexander Hamilton.
Greene was an able tactician, and quick to appreciate any display of military science; a little conversation sufficed to convince him that the youth before him had a mind of no ordinary grasp and quickness. He invited him to his
quarters, and from that time cultivated his friendship.
Hamilton was a native of the island of Nevis, in the West Indies, and at a very early age had been put in a counting-house at Santa Cruz. His nature, however, was aspiring.
"I contemn the groveling condition of a clerk to which my fortune condemns me," writes he to a youthful friend, "and would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station.
I mean to prepare the way for futurity. I am no philosopher, and may be justly said to build castles in the air; yet we have seen such schemes succeed, when the projector is constant. I shall conclude by saying, I wish there was a war.”
Still he applied himself with zeal and fidelity to the duties of his station, and such were the precocity of his judgment, and his aptness at accounts, that, before he was fourteen years of age, he was left for a brief interval, during the absence of the principal, at the head of the establishment. While his situation in the house gave him a practical knowledge of business, and experience in finance, his leisure hours were devoted to selfcultivation. He made himself acquainted with mathematics and chemistry, and indulged a strong propensity to literature. Some early achievements of his pen attracted attention, and showed such proof of talent, that it was determined to give him the advantage of a regular education. He was accordingly sent to Elizabethtown, in the Jerseys, in the autumn of 1772, to prepare, by a course of studies, for admission into King's (now
Columbia) College, at New York. He entered in the college as a private student, in the latter part of 1773, and endeavored, by diligent application, to fit himself for the medical profession.
The contentions of the colonies with the mother country gave a different direction and impulse to his ardent and aspiring mind. He soon signalized himself by the exercise of his pen, sometimes in a grave, sometimes-in a satirical manner. On the 6th of July, 1774, there was a general meeting of the citizens in the "Fields," to express their abhorrence of the Boston Port Bill. Hamilton was present, and, prompted by his excited feelings and the instigation of youthful companions, ventured to address the multitude. The vigor and maturity of his intellect, contrasted with his youthful appearance, won the admiration of his auditors; even his diminutive size gave additional effect to his eloquence.
for which in his boyish days he had sighed, was approaching. He now devoted himself to military studies, especially pyrotechnics and gunnery, and formed an amateur corps out of a number of his fellow students, and the young gentlemen of the city. In the month of March, 1776, he became captain of artillery, in a provincial corps, newly raised, and soon, by able drilling, rendered it conspicuous for discipline. It was while exercising his that he attracted, as we have tention of General Greene.
artillery company mentioned, the atFurther acquaint
ance heightened the general's opinion of his extraordinary merits, and he took an early occasion
HUGH MERCER IN COMMAND. 273
to introduce him to the commander-in-chief, by whom we shall soon find him properly appre ciated.
A valuable accession to the army at this anxious time, was Washington's neighbor, and former companion in arms, Hugh Mercer, the veteran of Culloden and Fort Duquesne. His military spirit was alert as ever; the talent he had shown in organizing the Virginia militia, and his zeal and efficiency as a member of the committee of safety, had been properly appreciated by Congress, and on the 5th of June he had received the commission of brigadier-general. He was greeted by Washington with the right hand of fellowship. The flying camp was about forming. The committee of safety of Pennsylvania were forwarding some of the militia of that province to the Jerseys, to perform the service of the camp until the militia levies, specified by Congress, should arrive. Washington had the nomination of some continental officer to the command. He gave it to Mercer, of whose merits he felt sure, and sent him over to Paulus Hook, in the Jerseys, to make arrangements for the Pennsylvania militia as they should come in; recommending him to Brigadier-general William Livingston, as an officer on whose experience and judgment great confidence might be reposed.
Livingston was a man inexperienced in arms, but of education, talent, sagacity, and ready wit. He was of the New York family of the same name, but had resided for some time in the Jerseys, having a spacious mansion in Elizabethtown,
which he had named Liberty Hall.
Mercer and he were to consult together, and concert plaus to repel invasions; the New Jersey militia, however, were distinct from the flying camp, and only called out for local defense. New Jersey's greatest danger of invasion was from Staten Island, where the British were throwing up works, and whence they might attempt to cross to Amboy. The flying camp was therefore to be stationed in the neighborhood of that place.
"The known disaffection of the people of Amboy," writes Washington, "and the treachery of those on Staten Island, who, after the fairest professions, have shown themselves our most inveterate enemies, have induced me to give directions that all persons of known enmity and doubtful character should be removed from those places."
According to General Livingston's humorous account, his own village of Elizabethtown was not much more reliable, being peopled in those agitated times "by unknown, unrecommended strangers, guilty-looking tories, and very knavish whigs."
While danger was gathering round New York, and its inhabitants were in mute suspense and fearful anticipations, the General Congress at Philadelphia was discussing, with closed doors, what John Adams pronounced "The greatest question ever debated in America, and as great as ever was or will be debated among men." The result was, a resolution passed unanimously, on the 2d of July, "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States."