While researching Alexander Hamilton, University of Oklahoma professor Andrew Porwancher came across information pointing to the founding father's potential Jewish heritage. The Jewish Founding Father: Alexander Hamilton's Hidden Life is set to be published by Harvard University Press in 2019. Moment recently spoke to Porwancher about his upcoming book and the impact of his research on the perception of Hamilton and his legacy.--Arielle Gordon
Why do you think Hamilton was Jewish? What are the strongest pieces of evidence? The single most important piece of evidence is that Hamilton attended a Jewish school, where we know he began a rudimentary study of the Torah in the original Hebrew. In the 18th century, Christian children were not educated at Jewish schools.
Hamilton's mother, Rachel Faucette, was born a gentile. At the time she married Johann Michael Lavien in the Danish Caribbean colony of St. Croix, the convention under Danish marriage law was to ban Jewish-Christian marriages. Converting prior to the wedding would have have allowed her to circumvent any sort of impediment to their having an interfaith marriage.
Despite his Jewish name, some have maintained that Lavien was not Jewish because he did not appear in the Danish records as a Jew. But that seems to be a myth. I have gone through literally thousands of pages of Danish documents and found that Jews are almost never identified as Jews in these records. We also know that Lavien was involved in business with other Jews at a time when Jews were disproportionately likely to conduct commerce among themselves. Additionally, Lavien did not have the son that Rachel bore him (Hamilton's older half brother) baptized. All of Rachel's nieces and nephews in St. Croix, however, were...