Knowing about Alexander Hamilton was part of growing up in Paterson. While lessons about his role as a founder of that major North Jersey city were sometimes taught in school, more significant reminders could be found in the streets, especially around the Great Falls, where the old silk mills and their power generating water runways remain as memories of his vision that established America’s first industrial city.
Until recently, most people in Hudson County – if they heard of Hamilton at all – associated him with the duel against Aaron Burr in Weehawken that ended his life on July 12, 1804.
Less well known, even to people living here, is the fact that Hamilton also help found Jersey City. This was the gist of the get-together in Jersey City Hall on Jan. 9, when people gathered to help celebrate Hamilton’s birthday, and restore his rightful place in local history.
Officials from Jersey City, Weehawken, local schools, as well as state and regional Hamilton historical groups came to cut the birthday cake (designed by Hoboken’s Cake Boss for the occasion) and to help make the public aware of Hamilton’s rightful place in local history.
“We gather on his birthday in January and then again in July on the date of his death.” – Rand Scholet
Before his death, Hamilton foresaw Paterson and Jersey City as centers of industry and commerce that would help bolster the economic prosperity of the fledgling United States in the years following the American Revolution.
Because of this, Arthur Piccolo of the Bowling Green Association, who spoke at the Jersey City celebration, has been lobbying the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to name the reconstructed PATH terminal at the World Trade Center site after Hamilton.
Organized by Councilman Richard Boggiano for the second year in a row, the birthday bash is among two annual events that honor Hamilton.
“We gather on his birthday in January and then again in July on the date of his death,” said Rand Scholet, head of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society.
Hamilton, who recently made a resurgence in the public eye thanks to the overwhelming success of the Broadway musical, is seen as the father of American industry.
“Five years ago, if you asked kids who Alexander Hamilton was, you got a blank stare,” Piccolo said. “Now after the musical, people know. Young people are teaching their teachers about history.”
One of the features of the birthday bash was the performance by of “Alexander Hamilton” by Public School 5 student, Isaiah Skurnick.
Hamilton had a vision
Piccolo said Hamilton was instrumental in establishing some of the most important industrial cities in New Jersey, including Paterson and Jersey City.
“He looked across the river and had a vision of Industrial America,” he said. “Now Jersey City has its own skyline, independent of New York, a great city that will be greater still with the fulfillment of the vision Hamilton had.”
He said Hamilton saw Jersey City as the gateway to the rest of the nation.
Prior to The Revolution, America was largely an agricultural and hunting society, and the colonies largely provided raw materials that would be manufactured overseas in places like Great Britain. Hamilton saw the need for America to develop its own industry, and saw Paterson with power provided by The Great Falls and Jersey City with his access to harbors as key elements.
But Hamilton was a remarkable politician, according to Scholet, president of AHA. By naming the city after the governor, Hamilton guaranteed the state funding needed to establish Paterson as the nation’s first industrial city.
In this and other moves, Hamilton laid the foundation for New Jersey to become industrial capital of America and over the next century saw a rise in manufacturing in Paterson, Newark, and throughout Hudson County. Indeed, until workers’ strikes just prior to World War I, New Jersey was considered a kind of Silicon Valley of emerging industry.
Hamilton was educated in a radical hotbed
Hamilton served a number of key functions in government, but few were more important than his close relationship to George Washington, the first president.
“Hamilton was Washington’s aide on the battle field,” Scholet said.
Through Washington, Hamilton helped shape the economic foundations the newborn nation, creating a banking system and other measures that would allow America to emerge as a competitive nation in the world. He was a staunch promoter of the U.S. Constitution, the founder of the Federalist Party, the U.S Coast Guard, and the New York Post newspaper.
As the first Secretary of the treasury, Hamilton shaped the economic policies of the Washington Administration.
“Hamilton also was instrumental in the election of 1800 which saw Thomas Jefferson beat President John Adams,” Scholet said.
Adams was considered a weak president at a time when the nation needed someone more dynamic.
Hamilton was an immigrant to America
Hamilton largely grew up in what is Elizabeth, New Jersey, which was a hotbed of radical thought, and the birthplace of many ideas that led eventually to the American Revolution. Hamilton had a number of local mentors, including the very influential William Livingston. Unable to get into Princeton University, Hamilton attended Kings College, what would later become Columbia University in New York City, Scholet said at the event.
But Hamilton was born in and spent part of his childhood in the British West Indies. His mother moved the family to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, Scholet said, before they moved to what was then still the British Colonies.
Attending the Jan. 9 celebration were Ambassador Everson Hull and Vance Amory, the premier of St. Kitts & Nevis to the Organization of American States.
Amory said Hamilton was an important lesson for today’s youth.
“We must teach our children not to be distracted and to seek to accomplish things,” he said, adding that tributes like this “preserve history for young people.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.