Bearing the same name as the now-infamous founding father, though of no relation, Dr. Alexander Hamilton (1712-1756) crossed paths with the earliest version of the Redwood Library, the Literary and Philosophical Society, in 1744. Established in Newport in 1730, the Society included many members, such as Abraham Redwood, who became founding patrons of the Redwood Library in 1747.
Alexander Hamilton's self-portrait from The History of the Ancient and Honorable Tuesday Club.
Held at The John Work Garrett Library. (Photo Cred: Wikipedia).
Dr. Hamilton was a native of Edinburgh, Scotland where he earned a medical degree at the University of Edinburgh in 1737. Two years later, in 1739, he emigrated to Annapolis, Maryland to pursue a career as a physician and apothecary. He was a thirty-two year old bachelor who was recovering from an illness, likely tuberculosis, when he set out on a journey to explore the northern colonies in an effort to restore himself. Dr. Hamilton kept daily entries in a journal that grew to be nearly two hundred pages long as he traveled from Maryland all the way up to York, Maine on horseback, accompanied by his slave. Published as Gentleman's Progress: The Itinerarium of Dr. Alexander Hamilton (1744), it remains one of the most detailed contemporary accounts of colonial life.
White Horse Tavern 1739 (circa), 1932. Lloyd Anthony Robson (1893-1967).
Robson Collection, Redwood Library & Athenaeum.
After visiting Philadelphia, Manhattan, Albany, and Boston, Dr. Hamilton arrived in Newport in mid-August of 1744. He spent his first night at the White Horse Tavern where he “was almost eat up alive with buggs,” but he was kept well-entertained with talk of medicine and a tour of the town by Dr. Thomas Moffatt. It is noted in the Redwood Library’s Newport: A Lively Experiment, that Dr. Hamilton’s primary interest seemed to be in the women of Newport. He gave an account of meeting Mr. Malbone’s “paramour” who he described as “a handsome bona rosa in a flaunting dress” and spent a night walking about with a group of men and women that left him paired with Miss Clerk, a daughter to a local merchant who “pleased [him] exceedingly in looks and conversation.” He did not find love while in Newport or anywhere else in the north. Instead, Dr. Hamilton was married after returning to Maryland to Margaret Dulany in 1747, which aligned him with one of Maryland’s most prominent families and served him well in Maryland society through the rest of his life until his death in 1756.
Newport, RI Redwood Library, undated. Raphael Tuck & Sons.
Redwood Images Collection, Redwood Library & Athenaeum.
Before leaving Newport, Dr. Hamilton was invited to a meeting of the Literary and Philosophical Society and was “surprised to find that no matters of philosophy were brought upon the carpet.” According to his account, the men gathered were more interested in discussing privateering and shipbuilding and he was not terribly impressed with the “intellectual fervor” of the group. Unsurprisingly, most of the men who belonged to both the Society and the later Library were businessmen who made their living taking advantage of Newport’s thriving port economy. While the meetings of the Society may not have always been philosophically inclined, the Redwood Library was created to establish a permanent base for learning in Newport, “with nothing in view but the good of mankind.” Although Dr. Hamilton was not won over by the Society when he visited, the direction in which it was steered by Abraham Redwood, with the founding of the Redwood Library, was certainly one dominated by an intellectual desire to educate and learn and improve.
For further reading on the early days of the Redwood Library and Newport history, check out Newport: A Lively Experiment. If you would like to learn more about Dr. Hamilton’s life in Maryland, The Tuesday Club: Of Annapolis (1745-1756) as Cultural Performance is newly available to be checked out at the library today!