William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Finding aid created by
George Hamilton Papers, 1783-1786
Philip Heslip, November 2009
George Hamilton papers
Hamilton, George, b. 1757
George Hamilton's 1783-1785 journals record his travels in England and the United States and describe the modes of transportation, the local inhabitants and businesses, and the landscapes of Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. His 1786 journal chronicles his early life, from birth to his trip to America.
Language: The material is in English
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown
Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.
George Hamilton papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
This collection consists of 6 items organized chronologically.
George Hamilton was born in Scotland in 1757. His father wanted him to join the clergy but his aunt supported his desire to study law. He was educated in Edinburgh and in 1777, traveled with an uncle around southern Ireland. In 1783, Hamilton sailed from London to America in hopes of pursuing a legal career there. He traveled through Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New England, and made it as far north as Niagara Falls. Discouraged by his prospects as a lawyer, he returned to England to become a clergyman.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The George Hamilton papers contain five journals that record Hamilton's travels in England and the United States between 1783 and 1785, and a journal written in 1786 that chronicles his early life, from birth to his return to England. The journals are full of details and opinions about the people he met and lifestyles he observed in London, on board ship, and in the eastern United States. He recorded details on American culture and city life, as well as on modes of transportation and the physical features of the land. Hamilton commented on some of the battles and incidents of the American Revolution, which had just recently ended, and related amusing anecdotes of various adventures and notable characters he met during his travels.
The first diary (May 9, 1783-March 1784, 50 pages) documents his trip from London to America in the spring of 1783, and his trip between Philadelphia and Richmond. The journal is full of descriptions of the characters he met on his journey. For instance, on page 7, Hamilton playfully described a fellow passenger named Foulke: "He has the affected beliefs of the Frenchman with the rough plainness of the Quaker. The rancor of a Whig with the servility of a Tory, and the illiberality of a Methodist with the principles of a Deist." The journal's last page includes a list of towns where Hamilton stopped during his travels in Pennsylvania and Virginia; he marked the towns with good and bad taverns.
The second item (October 16-November 8, 1783, 14 pages) is a daily diary of his trip from Philadelphia to Mahoning Creek and the Susquehanna, 85 miles from their starting point. Along the way, Hamilton wrote of his interactions with the local population and described, in detail, the natural beauty of the area (rivers, mountains, cascades etc.). He also provided his impressions of the Moravians in the frontier town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The third item (May 12-28, 1784, 20 pages) contains entries from Hamilton's "Tour to the Northward," which document travels from Philadelphia through Trenton, New Jersey; to Princeton (where he noted the gardens, storms, and locals meals); to Elizabeth Town; New York City; Long Island; and finally Connecticut. About New York City he wrote: "all the woods being cut down, the fields neglected and the fencing carried away. The Town is by no means remarkable for elegant streets or handsome buildings. The streets are irregular and excessively dirty" (page 9). He also mentioned a statue of King George that had been severely vandalized.
The fourth item (July 17-August 1, 1784, 31 pages) documents Hamilton's travels from Long Island to Boston and throughout New England and the eastern part or New York (Albany, Saratoga, Fishkill). He stopped at Stillwater, New York, and remarked that the British General John Burgoyne had penetrated this far north (to 27 miles from Albany) "…where the German lines were forced by a lucky mad strike of Arnold. Upon this they retreated to Saratoga" (page 29). He journeyed as far north as Fort Edward near Saratoga Springs. Throughout these pages, he recounted events of the Revolutionary war, including a detailed, though second hand, eyewitness account of George Washington's resignation of his commission to Congress (page 11). He also mentioned Generals Greene, Cornwallis, and Clinton.
The fifth item (1784-May 29, 1785, 28 pages and 29 blank pages) is the final travel journal. Hamilton started it in Ticonderoga and continued his entries while traveling to Mount Independence, and eventually to Niagara Falls.
The sixth item is a 14-page reflection on Hamilton's early life, written from Edinburgh, June 29, 1786. He noted that his mother died when he was two years old, that his father had wanted him to join the church. He wrote about his education and travels through 1783, when he set off from London for America.
- Burgoyne, John, 1722-1792.
- Clinton, Henry, 1771-1829.
- Cornwallis, Charles Cornwallis, Marquis, 1738-1805.
- Edinburgh (Scotland)
- Greene, Nathanael, 1742-1786.
- New England--Description and travel.
- New York (State)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
- Niagara Falls (N.Y. and Ont.)
- Ocean travel.
- Pennsylvania--Description and travel.
- Saratoga Campaign, N.Y., 1777.
- United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
- United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Participation, German.
- Virginia--Description and travel.
- Washington, George, 1732-1799--Resignation of military commission.
| Container / Location
|Box 44, Small Collections
George Hamilton papers [series]:
May 9, 1783-March 23, 1784
October 16-November , 1783
May 12-28, 1784
July 17, 1784-August 1, 1784
[August] 1784-May 29, 1785
June 29, 1786