Early Morning, Weehawken, 1804

July 11 is the anniversary of the Hamilton-Burr duel at Weehawken, NJ.  June Skinner Sawyers has written an homage to Hamilton and to his modern-day re-creators. Sawyers has published many books on music and travel, including works on Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen. She is the proprietor of The Phantom Collective, a pub theater group specializing in history-based staged readings. 

For Ron Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Hamilton bust, Weehawken.
Hamilton bust, Weehawken.

He threw away his shot here
this immigrant born during the reign of George II
this ‘bastard…son of a…Scotsman’
on a cool July morning
the Hudson Palisades rising steeply,
overgrown with thick woods and brush
the beach below
an ideal place for a duel
twenty-two paces long, eleven paces wide.

At 7 am sharp the two men faced each other,
exchanging polite salutations, the proper and honorable
thing to do. Protocol was important.
“Stop,” said one of the men, fishing through his pockets
for his eyeglasses.

Then raised flintlock pistols.
Both guns discharged, but only one man
fell to the ground.
Mortally wounded,
propped up against a reddish-brown boulder,
looking towards the empty Manhattan shoreline.

Hamilton bust and boulder, Weehawken.
Hamilton bust and boulder, Weehawken.

The heavy lead bullet had done its deadly damage
fractured a rib on the right side
ripped through liver and diaphragm
splintered the second lumbar vertebrae.

Eliza knew nothing
as her husband’s ravaged body
crossed the Hudson.
But word quickly spread
to the Tontine Coffee House on Wall Street
to the surrounding lanes and byways
and, finally, up north, to the Grange itself.

In the second-floor bedroom of a Greenwich Village mansion,
at what is now 82 Jane Street,
grief-stricken Eliza and their seven children
stood at the foot of the bed, helpless,
as his blood soaked through the mattress and
into the floorboards, until it made
an indelible stain.

Saturday morning church bells rang.
A hush over Manhattan,
ships in the harbor, their flags at half-mast
the beat of martial drums.
Eight pallbearers carried a mahogany casket,
his hat and sword resting on top
his grey horse trotting behind, riderless,
en route to Trinity Church.

He bore no malice towards the man
who pulled the trigger,
his friend
his enemy
his murderer.

A dot Ham, an obedient servant to the end.

Exhibit from the Grange, Hamilton's home.
Exhibit from the Grange, Hamilton’s home.

Photos by Theresa Albini. 

June Sawyers
June Sawyers

June Sawyers has published more than 25 books. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, New City, San Francisco Chronicle, and Stagebill. She teaches at the Newberry Library and is the founder of the arts group, the Phantom Collective.

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