Navigate to News section

Was Alexander Hamilton Jewish? A Cambridge-Educated Historian Is Making the Case.

Dr. Andrew Porwancher’s argument will be laid out in full in a Harvard University Press book, currently under contract

Morton Landowne
November 22, 2016
Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill Shutterstock
Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill Shutterstock

Long before he—or most people—were familiar with the name Lin-Manuel Miranda, a young Cambridge-educated scholar decided to focus his research on the persistent, but long-discredited, rumor that Founding Father, and now Broadway smash, Alexander Hamilton was Jewish. He signed with the Harvard University Press to write a book on the topic, “The Jewish Founding Father: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden Life,” and last night, for the first time, Dr. Andrew Porwancher, a professor of legal history at the University of Oklahoma, publicly revealed the basis for his conclusion that our nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury was a Jew.

Engaging in a conversation with Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, under the auspices of YU’s Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, Dr. Porwancher claimed that an examination of registries in St. Croix and Nevis, where Hamilton spent the first seventeen years of his life, proves that many of the “inconvenient facts” about Alexander Hamilton, such as his attendance at a Jewish primary school, are explained by the fact that he was, indeed, Jewish.

Porwancher’s proof for that assertion is multi-pronged. First, he claims that Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Faucitt, converted to Judaism in 1745 when she married Johann Michael Levine. Levine (most historians spell it “Lavien”) is not assumed to be Jewish by Hamilton scholars on the grounds that Danish records from St. Croix do not identify him as such. The Cambridge-educated Ph.D, who mastered the Danish language to be able to read the original documents in St. Croix, noted that none of St. Croix’s Jews were necessarily identified in these records as Jews, citing the 1752 “matrikler,” or land register, featuring two Jews, Moses Aboab, and Isaac Melhado, without any reference to their religious identity.

Additionally, Porwancher’s research reveals that it was not until 1798 that a decree was issued by the King of Denmark authorizing the first Jewish-Christian marriage in the absence of a conversion. This would mean that in 1745, when Hamilton’s mother married Levine on the Danish island of St. Croix, Danish law would have required her conversion to Judaism before the wedding.

The “inconvenient fact” mentioned earlier, as to why Hamilton attended a Jewish school, is usually explained away as being due to the fact that his illegitimate birth barred him from baptism in the Anglican Church, and prevented him from receiving a gentile education. But Porwancher presented additional documentation from Nevis parish records that demonstrated that many infants born out of wedlock were indeed baptized, and also noted that Rachel Levine, who died in 1768, was not buried in a church cemetery.

Rabbi Soloveichik, who along with directing the Straus Center, is the rabbi of Manhattan’s 362-year-old Congregation Shearith Israel, noted that he had always longed to be able to claim one of the founding fathers for Judaism, but “always assumed it would be John Adams.” Dr. Porwancher said that he hoped that his fresh look at the source material would “do for Hamilton scholarship what the recent Sally Hemings research did for the study of Thomas Jefferson.” He acknowledged that his findings clash with much of the received wisdom on Hamilton, and concluded: “Either I’m crazy, or I’m a lone voice of sanity.”

Morton Landowne is the executive director of Nextbook Inc.

Become a Member of Tablet

Get access to exclusive conversations, our custom app, and special perks from our favorite Jewish artists, creators, and businesses. You’ll not only join our community of editors, writers, and friends—you’ll be helping us rebuild this broken world.