Was Alexander Hamilton Actually Raised Jewish?

One historian's findings show there's always more to learn about Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton statue
Statue of Alexander Hamilton at the Museum of the City of New York.
Jay Dobkin, CC BY-SA 4.0

Despite the duel that ended his life prematurely, Alexander Hamilton’s legacy on the United States is considerable. Throw in an acclaimed and widely read biography — which, in turn, inspired a musical that became a cultural phenomenon — and you might think that history buffs in 2021 know all that needs to be known about Hamilton. But it turns out that that impression might be a bit premature.

Cue Andrew Porwancher, who teaches history at the University of Oklahoma. His new book, due out this week, is called The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton. And, as you might surmise from the title, the book argues that Hamilton was very likely raised Jewish in the British Caribbean — and that this might help explain his lifelong affinity for Judaism and his work helping to secure religious liberty for Jews in the nascent United States.

In an interview with Justin Fox for Bloomberg, Porwancher expounded on some of his findings — making a convincing argument that Hamilton was likely raised Jewish. His evidence includes Hamilton’s mother’s likely conversion to Judaism and Hamilton’s own references to studying the Torah in his youth. The argument about Hamilton’s younger days and how they influenced his later life makes for convincing reading.

And if you’re curious about what the author of one high-profile work on Hamilton thinks of another high-profile work on Hamilton, this interview has you covered as well. Porwancher notes that he was researching the book when the musical Hamilton was in previews; intrigued, he bought a ticket — and left the theater a fan of the play.

“It was a brilliant piece of art and ended up creating an enormous demand for more information about Hamilton,” Porwancher said. Which, in its own way, brings everything full circle.

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