Hamilton: A Primary Source Reader

Hamilton Primary Source Reader

This collection of web-based primary sources was originally assembled for a lower division undergraduate course in early American history. The writing assignment asked students to investigate the historical events behind the acclaimed Broadway hit, “Hamilton: An American Musical.” Each song has been linked with primary sources connected with the historical events artistically rendered in each song from the play. This is an ongoing work in progress rather than an exhaustive archive.

Act I

Alexander Hamilton


Aaron Burr, Sir 
My Shot  

From Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, 26 November 1775

From Alexander Hamilton to the Provincial Congress of the Colony of New York, [26 May 1776]


The Story of Tonight 
The Schuyler Sisters 


The Farmer Refuted  The Farmer Refuted 
You’ll be Back Proclamation of Rebellion, 1775
Right Hand Man
A Winters Ball
Story of Tonight  SECONDARY SOURCE: “The Lovesick Colonel,” in Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton. The “Tomcat” story may or may not be true. Evaluate how well the author deploys primary source evidence to support this claim.
Wait For It Primary and Secondary Sources: Theodosia Prevost Burr 
Stay Alive  To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Burr, 24 October 1778

From Alexander Hamilton to Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens, [12 September 1780]

Ten Duel Commandmenrts  Account of a Duel between Major General Charles Lee and Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens, [24 December 1778]
Meet Me Inside  From Alexander Hamilton to Philip Schuyler, 18 February 1781
That Would Be Enough 
Guns and Ships 


History Has Its Eyes on You  Expedition to the Ohio, 1754: Narrative
Yorktown (The World Turn’d Upside Down)
What Comes Next  George III, Letter on the Loss of the Colonies 
Dear Theodosia 



Act II

What’d I Miss? 
Cabinet Battle # 1
Take a Break 
Say No to This 


The Room Where It Happens 
Schuyler Defeated  United State Chronicle, February 3, 1791 
Cabinet Battle # 2
Washington On Your Side  To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 9 September 1792


One Last Time  Washington’s Farewell Address 
I Know Him  From John Adams to George III, 20 February 1788
The Adams Administration  Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States, [24 October 1800]
We Know 


The Reynolds Pamphlet  The Reynolds Pamphlet 
Burn Historians can only wonder how Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton reacted to her husband’s infidelity. Her letters on the matter do not survive. Compare Eliza’s silence with the “silencing” of Sally Hemings in Clarence Walker, Mongrel Nation: The America Begotten by Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. 
Blow us all Away 


Stay Alive (Reprise)  Newspaper coverage of Philip Hamilton’s death. 
It’s Quiet Uptown 
The Election of 1800  From Alexander Hamilton to James A. Bayard, 16 January 1801
Your Obedient Servant 
Best of Wives, Best of Women  From Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Hamilton, [4 July 1804]
The World Was Wide Enough 
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story  SECONDARY SOURCE: “The Oldest Revolutionary War Widow,” in Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

Suggested Essay Prompt (from History 17A, US History to 1865, Summer Session I; UC Davis)


1. Listen to the musical in its entirety. The entire play is set to music and is available on Spotify (Links to an external site.). All musical tracks are available on youtube, with links from Hamilton: A Primary Source Reader.

2. Read Hamilton: The Revolution and select one song which you would like to investigate for this week’s writing opportunity. Familiarize yourself with the backstory behind your song and take detailed notes on how Miranda rendered a historical narrative into a work of performance art.

3. Analyze the primary sources connected with your song at Hamilton: A Primary Source Reader. Some documents are more challenging than others, so chose a collection that aligns with your skill level and area of interest. You must read all documents linked to each song.

4. Write an essay of 350-500 words which answers the following question:

What is fact and what is fiction in Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical” and why did Miranda take certain artistic licenses? Make an argument explaining WHY and HOW art can reveal new historical insights about the American Revolution that empirically based documentary history cannot. Your essay should compare Miranda’s theatrical rendering of historical events to the primary sources, and draw on evidence from Hamilton: The Revolution to explain why Miranda made certain artistic choices. Support your argument with direct primary source quotations from the musical, Hamilton: The Revolution, and primary sources from Hamilton: A Primary Source Reader. In your conclusion, reflect on the limitations of rendering history as art and consider why it is important to recognize the distinction between historical fiction and historical fact in popular representations of American history.