Our Readers' Opinions
September 23, 2016
Bequia fort named in honour of Alexander Hamilton

by Michael Gibson

Fort Hamilton in Bequia, like many other places in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), is a name we repeat so many times without knowing its origin. This area in Bequia lies on the northwestern side of the island. The land is adorned by some cannons on the hill, presumably to protect the sheltered harbour from any invaders. {{more}}

The name Fort Hamilton was given to the area in honour of Alexander Hamilton, the son of James Hamilton, who had acquired lands in the eastern side of the island, today known as Friendship Bay. James and his family lived on the island of Nevis, where Alexander was born, but the family migrated to St Croix and lived there for a while. After Alexander’s mother died, James moved to St Vincent and sometime after, Alexander migrated to New York to study law. The teenager’s journey to the American colonies was not planned, but it was as a result of a poem and a hurricane. When a hurricane devastated St Croix in 1772, Alexander wrote a poem to his father, who was living in St Vincent, describing the horrors of that hurricane, but asked his mentor Hugh Knox to critique it for him. Knox, so impressed by this written work, persuaded him to publish it in his newspaper. The governor then solicited funds from businessmen, traders, and anyone else to contribute to sending this young 17-year-old to New York to further his education.

It was at that time when the colonies of America became embroiled in the war of independence against England that the young Hamilton was dragged in only after a few months in college. Working closely with George Washington, he eventually became his chief personal assistant. After the war, Washington became the president, and in consultation with Robert Morris, he appointed Hamilton, the author of 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers and the most influential promoter of the constitution, to the office of Treasury Secretary in his new cabinet. Alexander’s vision, brilliance and skillful persona allowed him to chart a way forward for the newly formed independent states, which were teetering on the brink of disaster, from the just concluded war with Great Britain, which left the colonies heavy in debt, massive inflation of the currency, almost bankrupt, and ready to fall apart.

Alexander was always regarded as an outsider by friends and foes, and he was an outsider in a sense in that this diminutive, still youthful lad, hailed from the tiny island of Nevis in the Caribbean. In spite of his brilliance, some held grudges against him because they erroneously thought he was trying to guide America to a state more in the line of monarchy rather than that of republicanism. They argued that having fought a war to rid the colonies of a monarchy and as a consequence winning their freedom, to retain the status quo was certainly unacceptable. Some colonies were also not receptive to the idea of central government because they would not be as autonomous and would suffer an erosion of power. You have to understand that those were the days when there were only 13 colonies along the eastern seaboard of the continent, about one tenth in area of what America is today, and these colonies at the time had a more open line of communication and trade with Britain than with each other. These colonies were even less valuable to Britain than the colonies in the Caribbean. Rumours of him being part Jewish, or partly black did not help, and to make matters worse, he was born out of matrimony to a poor working class couple. So Alexander while having had to fend off these attacks, began in earnest to plot a new direction for the new nation.

Hamilton and his staff, the largest contingent in George Washington’s Cabinet (in fact it was larger than all the other ministries combined), started the task of putting America’s finances in place by taxing certain goods, such as whiskey, collecting duties, a skill he honed when he was a shipping agent working in St Croix, starting the Federal Reserve Bank, inaugurating a coastguard service, a precursor to the US military we know of today. By the time Hamilton left the service, America’s finances were in a sound condition, thus enabling the purchase of Louisiana from the French. French Louisiana was about one quarter of the total land mass that America

is today. They were able to finance wars like the Mexican-American War that resulted in America gaining more territories, like California, New Mexico, part of Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. They were able to acquire the state of Florida from Spain in 1819. It was Hamilton’s vision and determination, more than any of the founding fathers, that America needed to expand to the west and south, and also, more industrialized and powerful than any European nation. While the other founding fathers were contented with peasant farming, Hamilton sent out spies to Britain to acquire the knowledge of industry. He was really determined that America must be a great nation, and having a vast virgin like country, sowed the seed for American capitalism.

For several years, many were advocating the removal of his face from the 10 dollar note, but as fate would have it, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway play “Hamilton,” based on Ron Chernow’s biography, “Alexander Hamilton”, became such a smashing success that the Department of Treasury had to reverse their position.

Alexander Hamilton’s legacy is so great that his name will live on amongst the great ones like Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Cyrus the Great, Washington, and Napoleon. He was never president, as he died at a young age in a duel with Aaron Burr, but the result of his work enabled mankind to move to greater heights in development. It is good to know that we recognized this historic character by naming a fort and a village in Bequia in honour of him. As a great figure in history, we should be proud when we took the first step in honouring him as a result of his father, James, who spent a great part of his life here. Although James lived in Bequia, when he died, he was buried in the churchyard of the Anglican St George’s Cathedral in Kingstown, the father of one of the greatest minds in history.