Finding Alexander Hamilton in Nevis


In “Finding Alexander Hamilton in Nevis,” Lilit Marcus (CNN Travel) writes about Nevis and Alexander Hamilton’s presence (or lack thereof) on the island. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

Alexander Hamilton, once relegated to being “that guy on the $10 bill,” is now a huge draw, thanks to the Tony Award-winning musical inspired by his life.

Author and original “Hamilton” portrayer Lin-Manuel Miranda has won a MacArthur Fellowship and many of the show’s cast members have become stars. But there’s one place not feeling the benefit of Hamilton’s star power: the island of Nevis, where the Founding Father was born. Nevis, a small island in the West Indies usually forced to play second fiddle to its bigger sibling of St Kitts (together they comprise the country of St Kitts & Nevis), doesn’t even get mentioned by name in the musical. In fact, there’s only one reference to the place where Hamilton was born: “dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean,” a few seconds into the opening number.

A complicated history

While Hamilton was already famous in the US before the musical placed him higher in the American national consciousness, he remains a somewhat controversial figure in Nevis. Some locals are proud of the fact that a famous man came from their island, but others feel disconnected because Hamilton never returned home. He was also a white man in a predominantly black community.

Hanzel Manners offers some perspective. Manners is a Nevisian historian and the author of “Bamboo Shay: A Collection of Short Stories of Nevis.” He has devoted his life to preserving local history for future generations, especially as the country changed significantly following its independence from the UK in 1983. “Nevis was at one time the head of what we call the Royal African Company in the West Indian islands, and Nevis was the base,” Manners says. “All of the slaves to be sold in the islands landed in Nevis, just up the street there. The planters came from Antigua and St. Kitts and other places to buy their slaves here.”

That main slave market, in fact, was practically next door to where Hamilton grew up. “He would have seen [slave auctions] because he was born in 1757, and that was in the middle of slavery period. At that time, Nevis had a population around that time around 10,000 people, predominantly Africans.” It’s that connection to slavery on Nevis that makes Hamilton’s legacy so complex on the island. While he is often praised in the US for being ahead of his time and opposing slavery, that doesn’t necessarily take into account the fact that Hamilton’s family benefited from the practice.

Ron Chernow’s book “Hamilton,” which inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical, argues that it was precisely this exposure to slavery’s inhumanity as a child that caused Hamilton to oppose the practice as an adult. “I think the fact that Hamilton was white and that his family had slaves might be some of the contributing factors as to why some persons don’t really connect to him locally,” Kris Liburd, a lawyer and native Nevisian, tells CNN Travel. [. . .]

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