I wrote my biographical novel about Alexander Hamilton, his wife and mistress when I read about "The Reynolds Affair" which nearly ruined Hamilton's political career and his marriage. My author friend Brian Porter wrote a subplot about a serial killer on the loose in Philadelphia and blended it into the story. Brian has written several books about Jack the Ripper, and this was right up his alley.
“The Reynolds Affair,” the country’s first sex scandal, would last for two years.
“Hell’s bells, Maria, ye think I’m made o’gold?” James thundered as I entered our parlour laden with packages: a bottle of Madeira, a satin bonnet to match my new pelisse, and kid gloves, having left my old pair at the White Rose Coffeehouse.
“These are hardly extravagances. After all, you boasted you made three hundred dollars last month.” I relished reliving the moment when he showered coins and notes all over our bed, foretelling how I was “coming into money.”
I dumped the packages onto our new Rococo settee. “Do you want your wife looking like a slattern?” I flicked his gold watch fob, which he’d bought because “Hugh Dugan has a new one.”
“Nay, but you ain’t Mrs. James Monroe, either, so dinna try puttin’ on airs like her.”
“Mrs. Monroe couldn’t get a rise out of you if you downed three scores of oysters. She’s frigid—so I hear.” I smirked, slapping his thigh with my new gloves.
“At least she reads all the books she owns. Did you ever read any of these flub-dubs?” He swiped at my row of leather-bound books, knocking Volume I of Shakespeare to the floor.
“Of course I’ve read them. Twicet and thricet.” I picked up my well-worn Bard tome and replaced it on the shelf. “I read the Bard’s plays over and over. But I never discuss Englandwith strangers. Too dangerous these days.”
“You know more about Macbeth than about me,” James scoffed. He stood the new Madeira bottle on our table and uncorked it with the screw he wore on his key chain.
“All you read are those tittle-tattle sheets,” I accused, and rightly. He paraded his brotherhood with the scandal mongering Thom Callender, whose weekly tabloid tarnished many a sterling reputation, from senators down to their stable boys.
“Aye, and mayhap our names will appear in them someday.” He poured wine into his pewter tankard he’d named Douglas. Hard-swilling males named their tankards and their members. James bestowed “Canute the Great” upon his member—but I hadn’t the heart to tell him it was less than accurate.
“I keep our private life private. So don’t blabber to Callender about what a tigress I am,” I teased as he poured me a goblet of wine.
“Nay, I shan’t. But ah’m glad you brought it up. Sit down, Maria, we need to talk.” He clasped my fingers and walked me to one of our matching Chippendale chairs—his last splurge from a profitable venture—and pushed down on my shoulders till I sat.
“Brought what up? Talk about what?” I trembled. I never knew from one day to the next what—or who—James would bring home.
“Have you more ‘golden geese’? I hope so. We can use some more plate and furniture.” We moved “up” thrice since settling here. We now dwelt in a three-story brick townhome on Pine Streetwith one outbuilding. We always rented. “Or can we finally buy a house of our own?” I fixed my gaze upon my husband of seven years. Our passion and lust matured into love and devotion, but the desire lingered on.
He’d been an apprentice and journeyman goldsmith until the Revolution, but he hadn’t the capital nor the patience to rise to master. He made a gold chamber pot for his most famous client, Thomas “all men are created equal” Jefferson, and his reputation grew from there. But goldsmithing wasn’t enough for James. He lived by his wits and one scheme after another. He groomed and dressed as a dandy, but when he opened his mouth, he made it obvious he hailed from a Glasgow slum.
I harbored mixed feelings about it—I admired his shrewdness, yet he courted disaster, speculating in land deals and currency. With my urging, he ran for the Continental Congress but lost to his friend Dayton. No hard feelings. James didn’t want the job. Too much traveling. As I gazed at his muscular figure ’neath his tight britches, a familiar surge of desire warmed me. With his swarthy good looks and persuasive charm, he made a fitting match for politics.
With his political run over, he served a brief sentence for counterfeiting. He posted bail, but our landlord evicted us. I stayed by his side as we trawled the streets of New Yorkin the dead of winter, scrounging for lodgings.
“No golden geese this time, my pet. Not yet, anyways.” He took a sip.
Disappointment crushed me. “I fear this announcement more than all your other schemes. What is it?” I gulped the fruity wine, hoping to be tipsy for this.
He scraped his chair back and sat, fingering his watch. Whenever he fiddled with his watch or rings from Ben Franklin’s estate auction, I knew something vexed him.
“Maria…” His eyes pierced mine. My heart sank farther. “We were well on our way to being gentry till this morn. I lost it all on a land deal.” His eyes dropped. “For the now, we stand on the line between hard up and impoverished.”
My ire heated me head to toe. “What about the two thousand you invested?” I struggled to steady my voice. “The shares in the Bank of the United States?” Alexander Hamilton created the bank earlier this year, although James didn’t like the Treasury Secretary. He called him a snob to his face. “How could you be so irresponsible?” I grabbed the nearest object, a brass candlestick, but he snatched it away afore I could fling it.
“It looked like a sure thing…but ah’ll make more.” Another of his promises. “Til then, we’re one hunk of bread, these wine bottles, and a dram of whisky from malnourishment. And five days from eviction. The rent comes due Monday.”
I shook with fear. “There you go, pulling it out from under us, as you do time and time again! When will you learn, James?” I had some coin hidden. But after that—what? Too distraught to even look at him, I swept away tears of exasperation with my clenched fist.
“Money slips through your fingers like shucked oysters.” My voice shook. My entire body shook. “I know not how much more of this I can take. What’s next, the almshouse?”
As he stroked my cheek, my rage yielded to pity. He’d become poor in an endless quest to be rich. “No, we’ll never resort to the almshouse. Before we met, I lived in a stable whilst seeking work, too proud to apply to the almshouse as a pauper.”
I released a deep breath. “Oh, James, I love you so, but I feel trapped, with nowhere to go but up and down with you.” Desperate for a solution, I began spewing forth ideas about what I could do: “I can take in laundry. Or work as a cook. Or a whitewasher. Or a soap maker.” I paced the floorboards, wringing my hands. Then a much better source of income struck me. “I can give violin instruction to those toffynoses in the court end of town!”
He cleared his throat and shook his head. “Bah to all that. Listen. I know a brilliant way to make money—a lot more money—in a shorter time than ever before. And it involves Alexander Hamilton, Mr. Treasury himself.”
At the sound of his name, I heated up. That recurring memory made me tingle all over: the first time I’d met Mr. Hamilton, his violet eyes nestled on my décolletage, his russet hair glinted in the candlelight, his lips kissed my hand—my heart surged just thinking about it.
“What about Al—him?”
“I dinna know the chap intimately, but I do know his weakness: beautiful women. Adams once said ‘Hamilton’s ambitions have their source in a superabundance of secretions he could not find whores enough to draw off.’” He clucked, as if in disapproval. “Tis not idle gossip. If a curmudgeon like Adams knows about it, tis true. Secondly—” He refilled Douglas to the rim. “Hamilton recently got embroiled in a payoff scheme, being seen with a trull. He favors paying hush money, rather than harm his reputation. Hence—we can chip away at that weak spot and wear it down farther.”
I shook my head. “Already I do not like this. Underneath the bad metaphors, you are saying you can bilk Al—Secretary Hamilton out of some money.”
“Tis not bilking, dear wife. He shall git something much more valuable in return.”