The Real History Behind Five Popular Songs from the Hit Broadway Musical ‘Hamilton’


Story by Justine Kantor, Staff Writer

The Broadway Musical, “Hamilton,” written by Lin-Manuel Miranda might teach you more about the American Revolution than your 11th Grade AP U.S History class. The show, based on a biography of Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow, centers on the life of the founding father, Alexander Hamilton. The forty-six number musical tells spectators almost everything about his life. Five of the songs, that are exceptionally important to the story told in the musical are “Alexander Hamilton,” “Satisfied,” “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” and “The World Was Wide Enough.” These tracks are all about pivotal moments of the life of Alexander Hamilton. 


The introduction song “Alexander Hamilton,” describes the early life of the founding father, who was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis in the British West Indies in the late 1700s. He was born out of wedlock, and at a young age was abandoned by his father, leaving him and his mother impoverished and in debt. Hamilton’s mother soon died of illness, leaving a young Alexander Hamilton orphaned. As said in the song, “The 10 dollar, founding father without a father, got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter…” At the age of 16, Alexander Hamilton was sent to the American Colonies in 1773 to study at King’s College in New York, by various people in his hometown who were extremely impressed by his intellectual capabilities.


Another popular song, “Satisfied,” is told from the perspective of Angelica Schulyer (Hamilton’s sister in law), in which she reflects on the night she first met Hamilton, and how she immediately fell in love with him. Because Angelica believed it was her responsibility to marry rich, she decided to introduce him to her sister Elizabeth Schuyler who Hamilton then marries. The truth, however, about the relationship between Alexander Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler is not as accurate as it is portrayed in the musical. Angelica was actually already married when she met Alexander, and in reality, they were just very close friends. While there were some incriminating letters written between the two, they just had a very close friendship which was acceptable at the time. 


The number that represents a turning point in the musical, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” is about the Battle of Yorktown, in which the British Army surrendered to the American Colonists and French troops who were involved. Alexander Hamilton played a key role in the siege of Yorktown. The majority of the lyrics in the song are historically accurate; such as “Take the bullets out your gun!… we cannot let a stray gunshot give us away.” This is true; Hamilton had his troops unload their guns before they attacked the British, as they did not want their precise location to be revealed or their surprise attack compromised by an accidental gunshot. As also mentioned in the song, after over a week of fighting, a British General leading the British Army during the Revolutionary War in Yorktown named Charles Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington and the Continental Army. 


What many people do not know about Alexander Hamilton, is that he completely ruined his political career by releasing a pamphlet in which he admits to an affair with a married woman named Maria Reynolds; which is portrayed in the song “The Reynolds Pamphlet.” “Alexander Hamilton had a torrid affair and he wrote it down right there… Well, he’s never going to be president now!” This song is arguably one of the most accurate in the entirety of the musical. A woman named Maria Reynolds approached Hamilton and asked him for a loan after her abusive husband left her and their young child for another woman. Hamilton and Reynolds began a secret sexual relationship, usually meeting at Hamilton’s own home, as his wife Elizabeth was away visiting her father with their children for the summer. After a short period of time, Maria’s husband, James Reynolds, wrote Hamilton a letter demanding money in exchange for his secrecy about the affair. Hamilton agreed, and with his permission, began making regular payments to James Reynolds in exchange for permission to continue his affair with Maria. After a considerable amount of time, they stopped seeing each other. James Reynolds was later arrested for something unrelated and was linked to Alexander Hamilton via the payments, leading Hamilton to publish a pamphlet explaining everything; the affair and the payments in detail, to defend himself against accusations of illegal speculation and embezzling government funds. As the song concludes, “His poor wife!”.


Finally, the story comes to an end with the song “The World Was Wide Enough.” Hamilton is killed in a duel with his longtime “frenemy,” Aaron Burr. Hamilton publicly supported Thomas Jefferson for president, while Burr was also running. Following many political attempts by Burr that were blocked by Hamilton, he challenged him to a duel. On July 11th 1804, the pair met in New Jersey, in the same spot Alexander Hamilton’s son, Phillip Hamilton, died four years earlier. Hamilton was shot by Burr and died the following afternoon. 


Alexander Hamilton lived a successful life as the first treasurer of the United States, founded the Nation’s financial system, the Federalist political party, the U.S Coast Guard, and The New York Post newspaper. His legacy lives on, and is an important role in most U.S History classes. His story was intriguing enough to inspire composer Lin-Manuel Miranda to write a Broadway show about the life of the founding father, which quickly became and still is one of the most popular and notorious musicals of all time.