Arts and Leisure

The Other Alexander Hamilton Visits Newport, 1744

alexander hamilton feke brooklyn

In 1744, Dr. Alexander Hamilton took a long trip to New England for his health. Given the rigors of travel in those days, it may have been a poor choice.

Old Colony House

Old Colony House

Alexander Hamilton was a Scottish doctor who immigrated to Annapolis, Md., where he practiced medicine. He had yet to be married, and he included sharp observations about women in a diary of his travels. Newport, R.I., he noticed, was as ‘remarkable for pretty women as Albany is for ugly ones.’

He published his lively and opinionated travel diary in a book, a rare account of colonial American life between 1730 and 1745.

Hamilton enjoyed society, and had entrée to the elite circles wherever he traveled. He left Annapolis on May 30, and traveled by boat and horseback with his African-American slave, Dromo, and occasional traveling companions.

They journeyed through Delaware, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City, up the Hudson to Albany and then back down, then from Long Island to New London, Conn., by ferry, Stonington and then Rhode Island. They spent a night in Kingstown, R.I., at a public house run by a man named Case – ‘a talkative, prating man,’ according to Hamilton.

On July 16, Alexander Hamilton recorded in his Itinerarium his visit to Newport, R.I. Some of the things he describes can still be seen: the White Horse Tavern, the Old Colony House (which he calls the Town-House) and Trinity Church (which he calls the Church of England). The artist to whom he refers, Feake, is Robert Feke, and one of his portraits is now in the Redwood Library and Athenaeum. His friend Dr. Moffatt is probably Dr. Thomas Moffat, a Loyalist whose house was destroyed by rioters in 1765.

NARRAGANTSET FERRY-DUTCH ISLAND Monday, July 16th--We set off from Case's at half an hour after six in the morning, and crossed Conannicut Ferry or Naragantset betwixt eight and nine o'clock. RHODE ISLAND FERRY There is a small island lies betwixt the main and Conannicut, called Dutch Island, because the Dutch first took possession of it. We crossed the other ferry to Newport, upon Rhode Island, a little after ten o'clock, and had a very heavy rain all the passage.

DUMPLIN'S-ROSE ISLAND

There are some rocks there called the Dumplin's, and a little above a small island called Rose Island, upon which there is one tree. Here you have very pretty views and prospects from the mixture of land and water. As we stepped into the ferry boat there were some stones lay in her bottom, which obstructed the horses getting in. Dromo desired the skipper to "trow away his stones, de horse be better ballast." "No," says the fellow, "I cannot part with my stones yet; they will serve for a good use at another time."

alexander hamilton feke portrait

'Portrait of a Woman' by Robert Feke

We arrived at Newport at 12 o'clock. Rhode Island is a pleasant, open spot of land, being an entire garden of farms, twelve or thirteen miles long and four or five miles broad at its broadest part. The town Newport is about a mile long, lying pretty near north and south. It stands upon a very level spot of ground, and consists of one street, narrow, but so straight that, standing at one end of it, you may see to the other. It is just close upon the water. There are several lanes going from this street, on both sides. Those to the landward are some of them pretty long and broad. There is one large Market-house, near the south end of the main street. The Town-house stands a little above this Market-house, away from the water, and is a handsome brick edifice, lately built, having a cupola at top. There is besides in this town two Presbyterian meetings, one large Quaker meeting, one Anabaptist, and one Church of England. The church has a very fine organ in it, and there is a public clock up on the steeple as also upon the front of the Town-house. The fort is a square building of brick and stone, standing upon a small island, which makes the harbor. This place is famous for privateering, and they had about this time brought in several prizes, among which was a large Spanish snow near 200 tons burden, which I saw in the harbor, with her bowsprit shot off.

This town is as remarkable for pretty women as Albany is for ugly ones, many of whom one may see sitting in the shops in passing along the street. I dined at a tavern kept by one Nicolls at the sign of the White Horse, where I had put up my horses, and in the afternoon, Dr. Moffatt, an old acquaintance and schoolfellow of mine, led me a course thro’ the town. He carried me to see one Feake, a painter, the most extraordinary genius ever I knew, for he does pictures tolerably well by the force of genius, having never had any teaching. I saw a large table of the Judgment of Hercules, copied by him from a frontispiece of the Earl of Shaftesbury’s, which I thought very well done. This man had exactly the phiz of a painter, having a long pale face, sharp nose, large eyes,-- with which he looked upon you steadfastly, --long curled black hair, a delicate white hand, and long fingers.

Trinity Church

Trinity Church

I went with Moffatt in the evening to Dr. Keith’s, another countryman and acquaintance, where we spent the evening very agreeably in the company of one Dr. Brett, a very facetious old man. I soon found that Keith passed for a man of great gallantry here, being frequently visited by the young ladies in town, who are generally very airy and frolicsome. He showed me a drawer full of the trophies of the fair, which he called his cabinet of curiosities. They consisted of torn fans, fragments of gloves, shims, snuff-boxes, girdles, apron strings, laced shoes and shoe-heels, pin-cushions, hussifs, and a deal of others such trumpery. I lay this night at Dr. Moffatt’s lodging.

Photos of buildings courtesy Library of Congress. Portrait courtesy Brooklyn Museum, 43.229_SL1.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. "SusannahBoutineau" by Robert Feke ( - Nova Scotia Museum. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Debbie Ewing Lyons

    Debbie Ewing Lyons

    July 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Great story. Totally enjoyed.

  2. Pingback: The Other Alexander Hamilton Visits Boston | New England Historical Society

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