Love and Friendship in Peace and War

Tankard owned by Alexander Hamilton. Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 1943.1.1

Let us begin with a heart . The image of a heart is a common symbol of love and affection. Modern connotations of love are by no means implied by its use in 18th century artifacts, where hearts can be found from the silver hilts of swords to the skirts of soldiers’ uniforms. This particular heart motif is mounted to the terminal of a handle on a silver tankard. Although made in London in 1762, this tankard was later engraved with the date 1800 and the initials “AH” for its owner: Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton has his own love story, one filled with passion, infidelity, and reconciliation. The tankard was acquired by the Fort Ticonderoga Museum in 1943, purchased from Hamilton’s great-great-Nephew, Schuyler Hamilton. Within two years of acquiring this tankard, Hamilton moved into the Grange, his Federal style home located in what was at the time the countryside far from the city of New York (today roughly 143rd St.). Across the street, Hamilton had an unlikely neighbor and friend with his own remarkable love story that connects back to Fort Ticonderoga’s collections.

Lieutenant Jacob Schieffelin. This portrait was likely painted in the 1800s, and copied from an 18th-century miniature of Jacob wearing the coat pictured. Fort Ticonderoga Museum, PEM 87.

The scarlet uniform coat of Lieutenant Jacob Schieffelin would not be the place to look for a love story, nor a connection to Alexander Hamilton, but love has its own trajectory that often defies logic. Schieffelin’s parents emigrated to Philadelphia from Germany, where he was born in 1757. At the age of three, they moved to the newly conquered colony of Canada. They settled in Montreal, but in his late teens, Schieffelin moved west to Detroit. As the American Revolution unfolded, he became an officer of a loyalist militia known as the Detroit Volunteers. In 1778, he was deployed even further west to Fort Sackville in Vincennes, Indiana.

The following year, Virginia forces captured Schieffelin. Now a prisoner, he was forced on an epic march from Vincennes to modern Louisville, Kentucky, then up the Ohio River, and across Virginia to the capital of Williamsburg, where he was thrown in the common jail and underwent seven months of confinement before he finally escaped. He crossed the Chesapeake Bay and went into hiding for over two months until he could find a ship to take him to British-held New York.

Lieutenant Jacob Schieffelin’s uniform coat. c.1783-4. Fort Ticonderoga Museum, UN-021.

Hannah Lawrence was born to a Quaker family in New York, which boasted a diverse population, even in the 18th century. Armed with a clever wit, she responded to the British occupation of her hometown during the Revolution by mocking the pretensions and foibles of the British officers in verse. She went so far as to secretly broadcast her poems in front of Trinity Church, causing a scene when they were discovered. In late August 1780, Lawrence the pacifist, Quaker, and poet, met the recently escaped, German-American, Loyalist officer who was billeted in her parent’s home.  The feelings between Schieffelin and Lawrence were strong enough that by the end of August, against the wishes of her church and family, the two were married.

Within a month of their marriage, this unlikely pair departed New York for Canada. The voyage of seven months took them around the Atlantic coast, down the St. Lawrence River, and eventually back to Detroit. Along the way they met and mingled with the whole cast of the Revolutionary period in Canada and the Great Lakes. It was probably towards the end of the war that Schieffelin had this scarlet Lieutenant’s uniform made, serving as an officer of the British Indian Department. The end of the war in 1783 brought great change. Schieffelin maintained connections with Lawrence’s family, after years in Montreal and London, Schieffelin and Lawrence returned to New York, where Schieffelin collaborated with Lawrence’s brother to run the family’s apothecary business. Remarkably now a citizen of the nation he had fought against, Schieffelin ran the business through his death in 1835. The business survives today as an importer of wines and spirits.

Schieffelin sold Alexander Hamilton half of a plot of land in upper Manhattan, where they both eventually built their country homes. The ties between the Schieffelins’ and the Hamiltons’ went deeper than real estate, they became friends. Lawrence was an abolitionist as was Hamilton, and the Schieffelins’ worshiped with Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, Alexander’s widow after his death in 1804. Their stories suggest how the diverse experience of Americans helped to shape this country from its beginning, how former enemies can make peace, and how love is often found in the most unlikely places. All this from a cup and a coat.

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