Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Wedding Ring that Alexander Hamilton Gave to Elizabeth Schuyler, 1780

Sunday, October 1, 2017
Susan reporting,

As I've noted in previous blog posts (here and here), sometimes the most inspiring historical research isn't found in books, diaries, or letters, but in the physical objects that can offer an immediate connection to the past. I've saved the best of these from my research for my just-released historical novel I, Eliza Hamilton until now - and here it is.

Kept in an acid-free box in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York City, and tiny in size, it's only brought out by special request, or for the even-more-rare times that it appears on display as part of an exhibition.

It's Eliza Schuyler Hamilton's wedding ring. THE wedding ring, the one that Alexander Hamilton slipped on her finger when they were married in December, 1780.

Made of gold grown burnished with time in the way that only wedding rings can be, Eliza's ring is impossibly delicate, worn thin and no longer exactly round after nearly seventy-four years on her finger. It's small, too, for Eliza was a petite woman. I wasn't permitted to try it on (nor would I have wished to: that's Eliza's ring), but when I placed my own size-5 ring beside it, mine looked large and thick by comparison.

The style is ingenious. It's called a gimmel ring (or gimmal, or puzzle ring), with two separate, twisted circles that are linked and fit together side by side to form a single band. Gimmel rings had already been popular for betrothals and weddings long before Alexander bought one for Eliza, with the earliest known examples dating from the 14th century. I made this very brief video showing the curator linking the rings together. If you look closely, you can see the little notch and peg that clicked the rings together.

The symbolism of two forming one is perfect for a marriage, and this ring was made even more special by having the names of the groom and bride - Alexander & Elizabeth (he got the ampersand) - engraved inside each ring, where they were always pressed against one another. Without the added enhancement of precious stones, this was a comparatively inexpensive ring, which was likely a consideration for the impoverished young lieutenant colonel in the middle of the American Revolution.

But I also imagine that the simplicity of the ring must have appealed to Eliza as well. There on her finger, the gold band must have been a constant comfort to her, a reminder of love and happiness through the tragedies and sorrows of her life, and through the half-century - more than fifty years! - of her widowhood.

Given that, I'm surprised that the ring was not buried with her. Yet I'm glad it wasn't. Seeing this little double-circle of gold, touching it lightly with my fingertip, was like having Eliza herself there beside me in the library. Research doesn't get any better - or more magical - than that.

Many thanks to Jennifer B. Lee, Curator, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University, for showing me the ring along with other Hamilton memorabilia.

Above: Gold double-band wedding ring of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton, maker unknown, 1780. Columbia University; gift of Furman University Library, through the suggestion and assistance of the Hamilton family descendants: Mrs. Marie Hamilton Barrett and Mrs. Elizabeth Schuyler Campbell.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

10 comments:

Cynthia Lambert said...

It's funny how such a small, but very intimate object, can transport one into the past somehow. It's like a portal. Love that feeling of continuity, as time is so linear. It's as though there were a long, taut string, and we have merely to follow it to another earlier time.

Ledys said...
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Ledys said...

Oh my goodness, this really is the most magical, romantic thing ever! Susan, I am curious about the trail of research that led you to find this. It would have *never* occurred to me that this lovely ring still existed, or that it could even be seen! Thank you so much for sharing with us :-)

roseadoherty said...

Thank you for this wonderful blog post!

Jill Jackson said...

Beautiful!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ledys ~ I didn't go hunting for it, because I assumed that it had most likely been buried with her. I came across it looking for other things. Because Alexander Hamilton attended (he didn't graduate because of the Revolution) King's College, which became Columbia University, the university's libraries have a sizable collection of Hamilton-related items. I was searching through them for more about Eliza, and to my amazement came across not only the embroidered items I've shared in earlier posts, but her wedding ring. To say I was stunned is an understatement, and when I saw it, and touched it, my eyes filled with tears. Yep, that emotional. :)

Ledys said...

I felt like crying myself, Susan, just reading your beautiful post and watching the amazing video. I can’t believe this has been preserved, and how lucky we are to have seen it! I’m so grateful you shared this with us—thank you, thank you! (Could I ask you what other Hamilton memorabilia you were able to see? This is all so exciting!)

Ursula said...

I'm so happy to see this ring. I'm reading I, Eliza Hamilton right now. I just finished reading the description of the ring and had a hard time picturing it. It's a wonderful idea. It's a shame gimmel rings are no longer in style.

Judith Brandes said...

I enjoyed reading "I, Eliza Hamilton" and recall your description of her wedding ring there. I especially liked reading about the military events that took place near West Point and Newburgh because I lived in that area for many years. I also worked in Pomona, N.Y. on a road where Benedict Arnold was taken on the way to his execution.

Allison Francis said...

Amazing that these rings are still around to see! So simple, yet beautiful

 
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