Alexander Hamilton’s Spinster Granddaughters

At one point I was researching the former owners of the pews at Grace Church. Bonnie Recca, a volunteer at the Grace Church archives, told me that pew 28 once belonged to three granddaughters of Alexander Hamilton: Charlotte, Adelaide, and Alice. The sisters were active members of Grace Church and they lived nearby at 17 West 20th Street, in what was referred to then as “the old Hamilton home.”

The sisters lived out their entire lives in that house, which had been left to Charlotte by their father John Church Hamilton, “with a full confidence that she will render it during her life a kind abode for her sisters while unmarried …” They remained unmarried. 

Charlotte, the oldest, was the first to die, in 1896 when she was 78. The New York Times said, “As a child she was remarkable for her beauty and was a great favorite of Gen. Lafayette.”

Three years later Adelaide had Alice, the youngest, declared insane. “Miss Adelaide testified that her sister imagined that she could not walk, and was subject to religious delusions. She thought all her relatives were dead.” Alice also imagined she herself to have been dead for five years, and when a doctor for the court came to examine her she said, “I am very sorry, but you are dead too.” Alice died in 1906, when she was 68.

Adelaide was the last to die, in 1915, and she left an estate of $750,000. Among the beneficiaries were her coachman, laundress, two butlers and three maids. She was 85.

Each time one of the sisters died, two of their nephews, John C. L. Hamilton and Edgar A. Hamilton, came out of the woodwork to contest their wills on the grounds that each sister was not of sound mind (in Alice’s case they were right). The nephews had also contested the wills of their grandparents, John and Maria. Their father was John C. A. Hamilton (John Church’s brother), a civil engineer who’d gone out West years before and who had died there. His sons came back to New York, but they were never close to their father’s family. They also never won any of their cases.

I took a picture of the building, which still stands. It was built in 1852 and got an ugly brick facade in 1920. From the Landmarks Preservation report:

“Constructed in 1852 for J.C. Hamilton, this building was originally a wide, stone-faced rowhouse of four stories with a basement. Although wider than the standard rowhouse, it may have been built as part of a row between 9 and 19 West 20th Street. John C. Hamilton, who may have been the original owner or a descendant, was listed as a resident in 1882-83. In 1920, the original facade and stoop were removed, the front was reconstructed at the building line, and the sixth story was added.”

It doesn’t seem from the report that they were aware that John C. Hamilton was John Church Hamilton, a son of Alexander Hamilton. I’ve been trying to find a pre-1920 picture, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. It must have been beautiful once. This was an extremely wealthy neighborhood at one time.

John Church Hamilton House 17 West 20th Street New York City

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

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