By Daniel T. Weaver
On November 23, 1801 two men met and fired pistols at each other in Weehawken, NJ. One of them was mortally wounded. His last name was Hamilton, but his first name wasn’t Alexander. It was Philip, Alexander’s nineteen-year-old son. The man who killed him was George I. Eacker.
George I. Eacker was from the Town of Palatine in Montgomery County, New York where his father Jacob was a judge. The Eacker’s had suffered a great deal in the American Revolution. George studied law in New York City with Henry Brockholst Livingston, an ally of Aaron Burr who eventually would serve on the US Supreme Court. (Livingston also killed a man in a duel in 1798 at Weehawken, NJ). Eacker was admitted to the bar when he was twenty-one. He too was a supporter of Aaron Burr. Eacker was a Jeffersonian in his politics, an anti-federalist and opposed to the policies of Alexander Hamilton.
Eacker was a capable attorney. He was well liked by those who knew him. He had his enemies, however, mostly Federalists. Philip Hamilton was one of them. Eacker’s enemies derogatorily called him the “Mohawk Dutchman.”
In 1801 Eacker was selected to give the Fourth of July speech in New York City, which was an honor. According to historian Washington Frothingham, “This oration, which was marked by eloquence and patriotism, created a sensation in New York, and Eacker won laurels of praise from many to whom his ability was previously unknown.” In his book Duel, Thomas Fleming says of Eacker’s speech, “Eacker had hailed President Thomas Jefferson as the rescuer of the Constitution and implied that General Hamilton was not averse to seizing power with a coup d’etat.”
In one part of the song “Blow Them All Away” from the half history, half hogwash musical, Hamilton, the lyrics fairly accurately describe what Philip Hamilton does when he gets wind of the speech.
“Ladies, I’m lookin for a Mr. George Eacker
Made a speech last week, our Fourth of July speaker
He disparaged my father’s legacy in front of a crowd
I can’t have that, I’m making my father proud.”
According to Fleming, on November 20, Philip and his friend Richard Price invaded Eacker’s box at the Park Theater during a play and taunted Eacker about his speech. Eacker’s fiance, a sister of Schuyler Livington, was with him, according to historian Jeptha Simms, although Eacker never married. Eacker called both men damned rascals, and they both responded by challenging him to a duel.
Price and Eacker met on November 22. They exchanged four shots. Neither man was hit. On the following day, Hamilton and Eacker met. What took place that day and in the theater a few days earlier and whose fault it was differed according to each newspaper’s or historian’s political affiliation.
One thing we can be certain of—there was a duel on November 23, 1801. Two shots were fired and Philip Hamilton was mortally wounded. He died in agony 24 hours later with his grieving parents at his bedside. His sister Angelica had a nervous breakdown from which she never fully recovered.
Some newspaper accounts state that Eacker, filled with remorse, went back to Palatine. If so, it was only temporary. He eventually was back at his fashionable 50 Wall Street home in New York City. Simms, who was sympathetic to Eacker, describes his waning days:
“As Eacker wasted away with consumption in a couple of years, it was supposed by many that he grieved himself to death; but his brother who was with him at New York at the time of his death-set the matter in a very different light. When spoken to on the subject, he was heard to regret the event and its cause, but told his friends that under the same circumstances he would fight again. Said his brother, in January, 1802, as a prominent member of the fire department, Capt. Eacker was on the roof of a friend’s house at a raging fire, directing the action of the firemen. It was a bitter cold night; he was wet to the skin; indeed, his clothes were frozen on his person; he took a severe cold, which he hoped the return of warm weather would remove, but it settled upon his lungs and he died the next season.”
Eacker died January 27, 1804, less than six months before Aaron Burr killed Philip Hamilton’s father, Alexander, in a duel at Weehawken, NJ. According to Paul Wiltsach in his book, Hudson River Landings, Alexander Hamilton used the same brace of pistols his son had used in his duel with Eacker. Eacker was 28 when he died and was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan.
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An earlier version of this article appeared in the Recorder when it was owned by Mcleary Media.