Thanks to Lin-Manuel’s musical, Alexander Hamilton is again known for so much more than the face of the ten-dollar bill….
The central character in this colorful cast was Eliza Jumel, whose life could easily be material for more than one mini-series. Born illegitimately, her career projectory was from prostitute, to actress, rumoured mistress to more than one man, and eventually wife of wealthy wine merchant Stephen Jumel.
The couple’s move to France allowed Madame Jumel’s unique charms to have a more appreciative audience: The Jumels gained entree to the remaining aristocracy’s soirees and were counted among the varied admirers of Napoleon.
Either due to marital discord or political controversy, Madame Jumel felt it wise to return to NY. Realizing that his wife had used a power of attorney to take over the family business, Stephen soon left for NY and died there from a haycart accident.
Enter debt ridden widower Aaron Burr and a hasty marriage to now wealthy businesswoman Eliza who still held hopes of acceptance by New York Society. Neither party’s expectations were met, and Eliza soon sought a divorce.
NY only allowed for divorce in cases of adultery. Eliza, ever the resourceful one, began to build a case based on Burr’s supposed infidelities.
With Alexander Hamilton Jr. acting as legal counsel for Eliza, was there a hint of revenge for his father’s death?
Burr fought back with his own accusations of infidelity and by hiring legal star Charles O’Conor. The lawyers dueled on for a year or two, with the decree issued on the day Burr died….
Eliza Jumel lived her remaining years striving for the ever elusive acceptance by society. She died a recluse in an increasingly decrepit mansion. Her home was bought by the City of New York in the 1900s and is now a museum.
Although his military career included serving with Wellington in the defeat of Napoleon and with the American forces during the War of 1812, Alexander Hamilton Jr. is most often remembered for his role in the Burr-Jumel divorce.
Charles O’Conor was one of the first celebrity lawyers. Part of just about every headline-grabbing trial of his day, O’Conor’s humble beginnings may have led him to his philanthropic endeavors. Serving as NYLI President in 1869, O’Conor gave financial assistance to its library throughout his life and in death bequeathed 100 volumes to its collection.
And NY Divorce Law? Adultery remained the only permissible reason to divorce until the mid 1960s. …