Hamilton Was Here Virtual Walking TourJuly 3, 2020
In 2018-2019, during our Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia special exhibition, the Museum made the claim that without Philadelphia, there might not have been the Alexander Hamilton we know today. Some of the most notable moments of Hamilton’s life took place right here in this city. As part of this exhibition, we created walking tours of the Old City neighborhood, highlighting the spaces and places that defined Alexander Hamilton’s time in Revolutionary Philadelphia. Join us now as we take a virtual trip back to our highlights of “the rooms where it happened.”
Philadelphia in the 1780s and 1790s
Philadelphia at the end of the 1700s was the largest city in the United States, with an estimated population of over 30,000. As the home of the Continental Congress before and during the Revolutionary War, and the site of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Philadelphia had long been a destination of American Revolutionaries and politicians. In 1790, the United States Congress decreed that Philadelphia would be the seat of all branches of the Federal Government until the completion of the new national capital city on the Potomac River (what we know as Washington, D.C.).
Start your tour outside the Museum of the American Revolution, at the corner of Third and Chestnut Streets!
First Bank of the United States
“If we’re aggressive and competitive, the union gets a boost, you’d rather give it a sedative?”- Cabinet Battle 1 from Hamilton
Fans of Hamilton: An American Musical will know the story of the First Bank of the United States from “Cabinet Battle 1” and “The Room Where It Happens.” With the creation of a national bank, Hamilton aimed to establish credit with other nations, take on existing debts from the states, and help facilitate the flow of money to stabilize the economy in the states. The First Bank of the United States, the subject of his Second Report on Public Credit (1790), was one of the projects closest to Hamilton’s heart. But he himself never worked in this building. His office during his time as Secretary of the Treasury was behind here, near Carpenter’s Hall, and by the time this building itself was completed in 1797, he had already resigned his position. It stood then and it stands now as a legacy of Hamilton’s efforts to centralize the new nation’s finances.
“Raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away…”- The Story of Tonight from Hamilton
The original City Tavern was constructed in 1773. It was demolished in 1854, and a reconstruction built for the bicentennial in 1976 now stands on the original site. In Philadelphia during the 1700s, taverns were important sites for trading goods and ideas. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War and in the early years of the new American Republic, City Tavern was a hotbed of activity. General George Washington made his headquarters here, for example, when Alexander Hamilton was one of his aides-de-camp in August 1777, as the British began the invasion that would eventually lead to the capture of Philadelphia.
After the war, Hamilton attended several notable celebrations here, including an official farewell to George Washington at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787. The 55 guests at that celebration consumed 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 50 bottles of other drinks, and seven bowls of punch! When Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox resigned from Washington’s presidential cabinet in 1795, their colleagues toasted them with another party here.
Learn more about City Tavern Restaurant – where you can have a meal or a drink today.
Site of Hamilton’s First Home in Philadelphia
“I’m so sorry to bother you at home…but I don’t know where to go, and I came here all alone.”- Say No to This from Hamilton
When Hamilton and his family first moved to Philadelphia, they rented a home at what is now the southeast corner of Third and Walnut Streets (just a few blocks from his office at Carpenters’ Hall) from fellow Revolutionary Dr. Benjamin Rush. Though the house he rented no longer stands, we know a fair amount about it because Hamilton was specific about what he wanted in a letter to a friend, dated August 5, 1790:
“A cool situation and exposure will of course be a very material point to a New Yorker. The house must have at least six rooms. Good dining and drawing rooms are material articles [essentials]. I like elbow room in a yard. As to the rent, the lower the best, consistently with the acquisition of a proper house.” - Hamilton to Walter Stewart, quoted in Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 339.
The house probably resembled the home of his neighbors, John and Dolley Todd (who would later become First Lady Dolley Todd Madison), seen in the photograph above.
It was at this house on Walnut Street, in 1791, that Maria Reynolds first approached Hamilton seeking financial assistance. Later, in 1791, he would move to 5th and Market (across the street from the President’s House, which we’ll visit later) and then 10th and Chestnut in 1793, where he lived until he returned to New York city in 1794.
Walnut Street Jail
“When Britain taxed our tea, we got frisky. Imagine what gonna happen if you try to tax our whiskey.”- Cabinet Battle 1 from Hamilton
In the fall of 1794, protests in western Pennsylvania over a new whiskey tax rose to a fever pitch. Some in the Federal Government, including Hamilton, saw this “Whiskey Rebellion” as an opportunity to exert and prove the new federal authority. With Hamilton by his side, Washington led troops out of Philadelphia in a successful campaign. Hamilton returned to the city on December 1, 1794 and submitted his resignation as Secretary of the Treasury to Washington on the same day. Captured rebels were paraded into the city on Christmas Day, 1794, and imprisoned in the Walnut Street Jail, which stood at the corner of Walnut and Sixth Streets.
The prison was torn down in 1838 and replaced by Eastern State Penitentiary in what is now the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia.
The President’s House
“It must be nice, to have Washington on your side…”- Washington on Your Side from Hamilton
In a house on this site, rented from Robert Morris, George Washington lived from 1790-1797 as the first President of the United States (John Adams also lived there as President, until 1800). In this home, Washington received many visitors: Spanish and French emissaries, Native American delegations, and government contractors. African American Richard Allen was also frequently in this home. He swept chimneys in the city, including those at the President’s House. He was free and was a visible leader in African American community and founded the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first independent African American church in the nation, in 1794.
It was also the home to nine enslaved people that Washington moved between Virginia and Philadelphia in a calculated plan to prevent their freedom. In 1780, Pennsylvania had passed America’s first emancipation law. The law gradually emancipated enslaved Pennsylvanians and freed any enslaved adult brought into the state for more than six months (except those owned by congressmen). President Washington secretly and deliberately sidestepped the law by rotating his slaves back to Mount Vernon every six months. One woman, Ona Judge, escaped enslavement from this house in 1796 (you can see a dramatic performance of Judge’s story presented by the Museum). Hamilton’s own views on race and slavery were complicated: he sometimes advocated for freeing enslaved people, and he was a member of an anti-slavery society in New York City. However, he also voted for a Constitution that supported slavery and conduct transactions for the purchase and transfer of slaves on behalf of his in-laws, the Schuyler family.
Hamilton visited the President’s House regularly and even created a protocol for the President to welcome visitors, which included weekly “levees.” These levees – or formal parties – were social and political gatherings that took place in the dining room at the back right of the house, where Washington installed a large bay window. They were intended to help balance the President’s need for uninterrupted work time and his awareness of important issues. Levees offered the public limited, but consistent access to the President. Everyone, including Washington, stood at the levees. Each guest had to make their pitch to the President as quickly as possible and, hopefully, make a good impression. The levees were sometimes criticized as being too monarchical. Many thought they were Washington’s way of creating a royal court (French King Louis XVI, for example, had a daily levee). The next president, John Adams, continued the tradition of levees. Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice during his presidency.
The President’s House was demolished in 1832. An impressive reconstruction, including walls, displays, and films discussing the lives of the enslaved people who worked there, was completed in 2010, after archaeological investigations that extended under what is now the Liberty Bell pavilion. Glass panels in the ground allow you to look down into the cellars of the President’s House.
You can learn more about the President’s House by visiting our friends at the National Park Service.
Maria Reynolds’s House
“I gave her thirty bucks I had socked away, she lived a block away…”- Say No to This from Hamilton
In the 1790s, this green space behind the Second Bank of the United States (near the corner of Chestnut and Fourth Streets) was lined with a dense block of small rowhouses and alleyways (similar to the photo on the left). In a house on this spot lived James and Maria Reynolds. Although Hamilton said that Maria Reynolds was “lodging” in a house, she was listed in city directories with a residence here at 154 S. Fourth Street, suggesting a somewhat more permanent situation. In 1791, she approached Hamilton at his house (the site we visited, which happens to be a block away from this site) seeking financial assistance: they were both New Yorkers, and her husband had abandoned her. Hamilton and Reynolds began a relationship soon after. Hamilton described the beginning of their affair:
“I inquired for Mrs. Reynolds and was shewn upstairs, at the head of which she met me and conducted me into a bedroom. I took the bill out of my pocket and gave it to her. Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.”
The affair between Hamilton and Reynolds continued into 1792, during which time James Reynolds blackmailed Hamilton. Later, in 1797, when Hamilton was accused of colluding with Reynolds in speculating and profiting off the government, he issued an essay in New York that became known as the “Reynolds Pamphlet,” in which he chose to admit the affair to save his financial good name. This pamphlet damaged his personal life and his career, but he continued to serve in various capacities in the army and politics until his death in 1804.
Alexander Hamilton moved out of Philadelphia after he left Washington's cabinet in 1794. But Philadelphia remained the most important city in the new American Republic for the rest of the century. Thousands of people that Hamilton had passed on the street read about his shocking death in a duel in New Jersey in 1804. As you follow his footprints through the city, consider how Alexander Hamilton made his mark in Philadelphia.
More on Alexander Hamilton
Check out some of these other sources for more on Hamilton, both in Philadelphia and beyond:
- Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia, a special exhibition that ran at the Museum of the American Revolution in 2018-19, and the accompanying Teacher Resource Guide.
- While Hamilton was living in Philadelphia, the city suffered from an epidemic of yellow fever. The largest outbreak began in August of 1793 and killed an estimated 5,000 people. The National Library of Medicine investigated Hamilton’s response to the epidemic.
- New-York Historical Society featured an exhibition on Hamilton.
The Hamilton Was Here Virtual Walking Tour was part of the Museum's week-long Virtual Fourth of July Celebration, sponsored by Bank of American, and marks the premiere date of Hamilton on Disney Plus. The week of free, digital experiences included a wide-ranging conversation with Hamilton expert Dr. Joanne B. Freeman and Hamilton actor Paul Oakley Stovall, who plays George Washington in the national tour, hosted by Museum President & CEO Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, the latest in our Meet the Revolution! series featuring interviews with historic interpreters Noah Lewis and Kalela Williams, family activities for Wawa Welcome America, Read the Revolution Speaker Series with Caitlin Fitz, and much more.