Finding Alexander Hamilton in Nevis

Alexander Hamilton, once relegated to being "that guy on the $10 bill," is now a huge draw, thanks to the Tony Award-...

Posted: May 3, 2018 5:37 PM
Updated: May 3, 2018 5:37 PM

Alexander Hamilton, once relegated to being "that guy on the $10 bill," is now a huge draw, thanks to the Tony Award-winning musical inspired by his life.

Author and original "Hamilton" portrayer Lin-Manuel Miranda has won a MacArthur Fellowship and many of the show's cast members have become stars.

But there's one place not feeling the benefit of Hamilton's star power: the island of Nevis, where the Founding Father was born.

Nevis, a small island in the West Indies usually forced to play second fiddle to its bigger sibling of St Kitts (together they comprise the country of St Kitts & Nevis), doesn't even get mentioned by name in the musical.

In fact, there's only one reference to the place where Hamilton was born: "dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean," a few seconds into the opening number.

The lack of shout-outs to Nevis makes sense, because it's Hamilton's time in the new country of the United States of America that forms the basis of the plot. But Nevis's residents know that Hamilton's story is incomplete without the foundations of his life, which were laid on the island where he spent his formative years.

A complicated history

While Hamilton was already famous in the US before the musical placed him higher in the American national consciousness, he remains a somewhat controversial figure in Nevis.

Some locals are proud of the fact that a famous man came from their island, but others feel disconnected because Hamilton never returned home. He was also a white man in a predominantly black community.

Hanzel Manners offers some perspective.

Manners is a Nevisian historian and the author of "Bamboo Shay: A Collection of Short Stories of Nevis." He has devoted his life to preserving local history for future generations, especially as the country changed significantly following its independence from the UK in 1983.

"Nevis was at one time the head of what we call the Royal African Company in the West Indian islands, and Nevis was the base," Manners says.

"All of the slaves to be sold in the islands landed in Nevis, just up the street there. The planters came from Antigua and St. Kitts and other places to buy their slaves here."

That main slave market, in fact, was practically next door to where Hamilton grew up.

"He would have seen [slave auctions] because he was born in 1757, and that was in the middle of slavery period. At that time, Nevis had a population around that time around 10,000 people, predominantly Africans."

It's that connection to slavery on Nevis that makes Hamilton's legacy so complex on the island. While he is often praised in the US for being ahead of his time and opposing slavery, that doesn't necessarily take into account the fact that Hamilton's family benefited from the practice.

Ron Chernow's book "Hamilton," which inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical, argues that it was precisely this exposure to slavery's inhumanity as a child that caused Hamilton to oppose the practice as an adult.

"I think the fact that Hamilton was white and that his family had slaves might be some of the contributing factors as to why some persons don't really connect to him locally," Kris Liburd, a lawyer and native Nevisian, tells CNN Travel.

"In terms of national heroes here, we think of the first premier of Nevis, the honorable Dr. Simeon Daniel. We think of Sir Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw, the first premier of St. Kitts and Nevis, and Kim Collins, who at one point in time was the fastest man on Earth."

A quick look at a map of St Kitts and Nevis bears that out: Nevis has a highway named for track and field star Collins, while the airport on St Kitts is named for Bradshaw.

A mother's story

Also in that opening musical number is a line referring to Hamilton's mother Rachel Faucette as a whore. This claim, say reps from the Nevis Historical Society, is untrue and unfair.

Buck was married to a Danish man named Johann Lavien, whom she said was abusive to her.

Though divorce at the time was rare, Foucette was able to leave the marriage because her family owned property in Nevis and would be able to support her financially.

Later, Faucette fell in love with Scotsman James Hamilton. The couple lived together in what would probably be called a common-law marriage and had two sons, of whom Alexander was the younger.

Because his parents were not married, he was technically a bastard child. But that name has been distorted over the years to make it sound as if Faucette was a prostitute, which there is no evidence to support.

Eventually, James Hamilton left the family and Faucette died of yellow fever. Or, as Miranda puts it: "Alex got better but his mother went quick."

If you build it, will they come?

On a warm Saturday afternoon in Nevis, there are only a handful of people visiting Hamilton's birthplace, which doubles as the Nevis Historical Society.

Nearly all were cruise ship daytrippers who chose the historical society over a beach trip or visit to the island's botanical gardens, and each mentioned the Broadway show as part of their interest in Hamilton.

Despite the lack of a big crowd that day, the historical society reports that their international tourism numbers have gone up since "Hamilton"'s success. Nevis' airport and harbor are both on the smaller side, which keeps visitor numbers low compared to other nearby islands.

If Nevisians were hoping that the rebirth of interest in Alexander Hamilton would result in a windfall for the island where he was born, that hasn't happened just yet.

The historical society is trying to raise funds to buy the house next door, where Hamilton grew up.

"Here is a site on which the great American statesman was born and we're struggling to buy a building. America has all this wealth. Maybe somebody should just help us," says Manners.

"Most Nevisians are very proud to say where they came from. We might be humble, circumstances, we might even be poor, but find any Nevisian in North America and they'll be proud to tell you where they came from."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36578

Reported Deaths: 2258
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion10188604
Lake3876207
Allen181071
Cass15919
Elkhart158528
St. Joseph135838
Hendricks120478
Hamilton119194
Johnson1125113
Madison60061
Porter56233
Clark53942
Bartholomew53139
LaPorte44824
Howard44236
Tippecanoe4344
Jackson4012
Delaware39741
Shelby39722
Hancock35427
Boone32436
Floyd31941
Vanderburgh2913
Morgan28626
Noble27821
Montgomery24917
Clinton2471
White2399
Decatur23132
Grant22923
Dubois2113
Kosciusko2052
Harrison19622
Marshall1872
Henry18512
Vigo1828
Greene17226
Dearborn17122
Monroe17113
Lawrence17124
Warrick16729
Miami1461
Putnam1427
Jennings1324
Orange13122
LaGrange1282
Scott1263
Franklin1168
Ripley1086
Daviess10416
Carroll952
Wayne906
Steuben902
Wabash812
Newton8010
Fayette797
Jasper741
Jay580
Clay533
Randolph523
Rush513
Fulton511
Washington501
Pulaski500
Jefferson491
Whitley453
DeKalb451
Starke423
Perry390
Huntington382
Sullivan371
Wells350
Owen341
Brown331
Benton320
Knox310
Blackford272
Tipton261
Crawford250
Adams231
Switzerland220
Spencer221
Fountain222
Gibson202
Parke180
Posey160
Martin140
Warren131
Ohio130
Vermillion100
Union100
Pike60
Unassigned0180

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 37758

Reported Deaths: 2357
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin6323295
Cuyahoga4789265
Hamilton2811171
Marion268832
Lucas2329263
Pickaway209938
Summit1529181
Mahoning1486191
Butler97532
Columbiana89453
Stark803102
Montgomery73417
Lorain73061
Trumbull60052
Belmont44915
Warren40721
Medina37624
Tuscarawas3714
Ashtabula36938
Miami36730
Delaware36014
Portage33557
Lake32512
Clark3237
Fairfield3188
Wood30649
Geauga30334
Wayne29651
Licking27110
Mercer2278
Richland2224
Allen22133
Clermont2195
Darke19023
Erie18416
Madison1647
Washington11819
Crawford1184
Morrow1081
Ottawa10717
Greene1065
Putnam9514
Sandusky9112
Monroe8015
Auglaize773
Hardin730
Ross732
Hocking705
Jefferson672
Huron611
Williams581
Holmes573
Union561
Muskingum561
Hancock531
Coshocton480
Wyandot482
Clinton471
Shelby473
Fulton450
Logan430
Fayette410
Preble391
Guernsey382
Carroll353
Defiance342
Brown311
Lawrence301
Highland291
Champaign281
Seneca262
Knox251
Ashland230
Vinton212
Perry191
Athens181
Scioto180
Henry170
Jackson150
Paulding140
Adams111
Harrison100
Pike90
Gallia81
Van Wert70
Meigs60
Noble60
Morgan50
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 84°
Angola
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 81°
Huntington
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 83°
Decatur
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 86°
Van Wert
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 86°
Sunny & Pleasant Weekend
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events