Three years ago a team of Mennonites arrived in Harlem, jacked up Alexander Hamilton’s house from between an apartment complex and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Convent Avenue in Harlem, and rolled it slowly to its current location in St. Nicholas Park at 141st Street.
Recently, Hamilton House, or more accurately, Hamilton Grange National Memorial was reopened with a lavish celebration that included a choir of drummers; men and women attired in 18th century garb, some dressed as soldiers; others as workers making music, chocolate, spinning yarn, and sweating over a blacksmith’s pit.
Even Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth, showed up. Alexander (Ian Rose) was of course the man of the hour and for about forty-five minutes he entertained a modest gathering of spectators with bits of his life story and the nature of the occasion.
He explained that after youthful days in Nevis where he was born and St. Croix where he spent time, he longed for other shores. “I didn’t want to go to the old world,” he began, “but here, where there was no autocracy.”
Hamilton said he attended King’s College (now, Columbia University), “I was the most famous dropout,” he related, served most illustriously in the Revolutionary War as Washington’s aide-de-camp, became the nation’s first Secretary of Treasury, and was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804.
Two years before his death, he commissioned the building of the house on his grange of some 35 acres of land. This is the third location of the two-story house with its impressive piazzas, resembling the big house on a plantation, though Hamilton, unlike so many of the so-called founding fathers, was not a slave holder.
“I was member of the society of manumission,” Hamilton (Rose) told the crowd. “I was opposed to slavery.”
During the question and answer session after his speech, Hamilton was not asked how he would feel about the $14.5 million spent restoring his house, but it was a topic of discussion among several of those in attendance.
“I can’t believe they spent that much money on a house with the economy what it is today,” one participant was overheard complaining. “Our tax dollars could have helped the thousands of homeless in the city. Maybe they can move a few of them in here.”
Another person munching on some of the freshly made chocolate also voiced a complaint about the focus on Hamilton House. “I wish they would give the same amount of attention to the other National Park Service location downtown,” she told her friend. “I hear the African Burial Ground is overrun with rodents. Some of that money and energy could have been spent down there instead of up here.”
Complaints were also registered by Rose (Nicole James) and Caesar (Rufus James), but they were uttered by two Black performers giving their audience some semblance of slavery during Hamilton’s day.
“One day, Caesar, we’s gonna be free to go wherever we want to go, just promise me you’ll wait until that day,” Rose said.
“I’ll keep that promise if you’ll make me some of that wonderful bread from the flour I’ve got out in the wagon,” Caesar said.
Hey, maybe Rose and Caesar can take up residence in Hamilton House, and celebrate their freedom in the comforts of a beautifully renovated building rent free.