HIGHLAND PARK – The hit musical Hamilton showcased Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, while a new living-history portrayal complete with scandal and intrigue delves further into the lives of his wife Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler Hamilton and her sisters, Angelica Shuyler Church and Peggy Schuyler van Rensselaer. “High Tea with Alexander Hamilton’s Women” will be presented by Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance on Sunday, February 19 at 1 p.m, at the Highland Park Community House, 1911 Sheridan Road.
Actress and scholar Leslie Goddard PhD, explained that when Hamilton had an affair with Maria Reynolds, her husband blackmailed him, and some of Hamilton’s political enemies published details about his affair. But Eliza Schuyler Hamilton stood by his side the entire time. “Eliza and George Washington supported him through this horrible scandal,” she added.
Goddard said so much of what the Founding Mothers and Fathers went through is relatable today. “It’s a very modern idea that you can have a brilliant and a phenomenal political leader who can be as flawed as any other human being, which Lin-Manuel Miranda referenced in the musical.”
Goddard will be performing as all three sisters in “High Tea with Alexander Hamilton’s Women.” She said Eliza Schuyler Hamilton started the first private orphanage in New York City, led the fundraising to build the Washington Monument with Dolly Madison, and worked hard to keep her husband’s legacy alive, while her sisters Angelica Schuyler Church and Peggy Schuyler van Rensselaer offered their support
“Angelica Schuyler Church was smart and vivacious and had this incredible flirtation with Alexander Hamilton,” said Goddard. “It was rumored that they had an affair, but I don’t think they did. Peggy Schuyler van Rensselaer is the third sister who had this great life story. She was very sharp-tongued and very bold.”
Goddard described Peggy Schuyler van Rensselaer’s role when British loyalists invaded the Schulyer home on a mission to kidnap their father Phillip Schulyer, a retired general. She said the family was home during the invasion, and after they rushed upstairs to hide they realized they had left the youngest child in a cradle downstairs where the British raiders were searching the house. Then Peggy quickly ran back downstairs to grab her baby sister.
“The legend has been that a raider threw a tomahawk at her and the mark is still on the banister at the Schulyer home in Albany,” Goddard added.
Goddard said that because each sister had a very different personality it made it easier for her to separate the three characters. Eliza Schuyler Hamilton was a very religious woman who was “sweet, charming, and humble and everyone loved her,” so she’ll be wearing the simplest costume. Angelica Schuyler Church will be adorned in an 18th Century hat “perched flirtatiously on her head, as she often flirted with Hamilton. Angelica met Eliza Schuyler Hamilton’s husband at a dance and Goddard will reenact their conversation in the play. Peggy Schuyler van Rensselaer’s was “very dramatic and demonstrative” so she’ll be in a red shawl and fan.
The staging will help the audience keep track of the characters as Goddard will position Eliza in the middle, Angelica off to the right and Peggy on the left.
“ ‘Hamilton’s Women’ is an interactive play as I can actually wander among the tables and talk more directly to people,” said Goddard. “There are no bad seats and I have some reproductions that I bring in including an American Colonial tea cup and saucer, a corset from that period, and a reproduction of a bust of Hamilton, one of his wife’s greatest treasures.”
Audience members will be indulging in a four-course tea, catered by High Tea With Gerri, featuring open face sandwiches, homemade raisin scones with jam and clotted cream, homemade apple-rhubarb pie and assorted petits fours.
“Angelica Schuyler Church was living in France with her husband and she said, ‘I think Americans drink tea the way the French drink wine,’ so having this program as part of a tea party is perfectly appropriate,” said Goddard. To the contrary, because Eliza Schuyler Hamilton was married to one of the Founding Fathers during the Revolutionary War, she was “among the many patriotic women who refused to buy anything British, including tea.”
“Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance has been having this tea now for at least 10 years and they’ve been kind enough to have me every year,” said Goddard. “People are often encouraged to come dressed up and vendors have worn vintage hats and gloves. The audience really gets into the spirit of it and having the tea makes it easier to step back into the past.”
Goddard was drawn to Eliza Schuyler Hamilton because she was one of the “strongest women in history.” Her eldest son Phillip Hamilton died in a duel with someone who insulted his father in 1801, her husband died in a duel three years later and her father died the same year.
“Within the span of about 10 years Eliza Schuyler Hamilton lost six family members including Peggy and Angelica,” she said. Hamilton died at 47 and his finances were not in order, as he expected to live longer. Her father was expected to have amassed a large fortune, but there was none. Fortunately, she successfully petitioned to have her husband’s military pension reinstated, as he had declined to do so after the Revolutionary War, which enabled her to raise her seven children.
Goddard said she didn’t intend to be a historical interpreter as a career although it became a full-time job. She has an undergraduate and a master’s degree in theater, but she “fell in love with history” and received a PhD in history from Northwestern University. “I’m very lucky to have traveled around the country with some of my characters.”
Goddard said Eliza Schuyler Hamilton deserves credit for keeping Alexander Hamilton’s legacy alive by saving everything he wrote. She shared what he wrote to her in his last letter before he went off to the duel with Aaron Burr. His final words to her were, “adieu best of wives and best of women,” said Goddard. “It was a sweet heartbreaking thing to say and she kept that letter until the end of her life.”
Eliza Schuyler Hamilton died at the age of 97, six years before the Civil War began. “She was the very last of the Founding Fathers’ spouses to pass away,” said Goddard.
For more information about “High Tea with Alexander Hamilton’s Women” please contact Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance: 312-380-1665.