It is suspected by historians and gay and lesbian supporters that Alexander Hamilton, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and favored Washington aide, and Lt. Col. John Laurens, esteemed soldier and aide-de-camp, engaged in a homosexual affair in the late 1700s. Firsthand accounts detailing the romance between Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens during the time of the Revolutionary War are no longer available, which makes it difficult to interpret the extent of their relationship. However, historians far and wide agree that the communications exchanged between Hamilton and Laurens included homoerotic overtones that insinuate a sexual relationship was once had by the two men.
Hamilton was born in 1757 to poor parents in the West Indies. He was sent to college in New York by well-to-do relatives, however he dropped out to assist the war effort as a pamphleteer supporting colonial freedom. In 1776, he fought alongside General George Washington and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and became a favored aide. He later became the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, in addition to serving in the Continental Congress and helping to write the Constitution. An extra-marital affair in 1791 nearly ruined his reputation. However, he continued to work in law and politics. He lost a duel to an old adversary in 1804; Aaron Burr and he had quarreled many times throughout their lifetimes and their differences were eventually settled in a duel that Hamilton lost. Historians indicate that part of their differences stemmed from Hamilton’s previous homosexual relationship with Laurens.
Laurens was born to a prominent South Carolina family in 1754. He was well educated, having been schooled in both England and Switzerland. He joined Washington’s staff (and army) as a volunteer aide and fought bravely in several battles, being wounded in many of them. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and selected to journey to France in efforts to raise funds for the war. Additionally, he was responsible for organizing a regiment of slaves to fight in the war, in exchange for the promise of freedom. Laurens was captured as a prisoner of war in 1780 when the Revolutionary troops lost the battle at Charleston. He was killed in battle in 1782.
The two men exchanged many letters while young. The letters were quite passionate and included many passages that suggest the men knew each other quite intimately. One passage written by Hamilton in 1778 reveals Hamilton’s true feelings toward Laurens:
Cold in my professions, warm in my friendships, I wish, my Dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words to convince you that I love you. I shall only tell you that ’til you bade us Adieu, I hardly knew the value you had taught my heart to set upon you. Indeed, my friend, it was not well done. You know the opinion I entertain of mankind, and how much it is my desire to preserve myself free from particular attachments, and to keep my happiness independent of the caprice of others. You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent. But as you have done it, and as we are generally indulgent to those we love, I shall not scruple to pardon the fraud you have committed, on condition that for my sake, if not for your own, you will always continue to merit the partiality, which you have artfully instilled into me…
Lt. Col. Atherton (also serving in the Continental Army at the time) said
[Laurens] took Hamilton by storm, capturing judgment as well as heart, and loving him as ardently in return.
Homosexual relationships or activities between soldiers were not only not condoned during the Revolutionary War, but they were sometimes punished with public beatings or military discharge. Soldiers brought their slaves or servants with them to war, with the intention of them acting as modern-day escorts and providing “certain” services to them. Most often, these instances were ignored. However, relations between officers were another matter.
General George Washington (later the Commander in Chief) insisted that the soldiers in the Continental Army uphold a strong moral and ethical code that did not involve the tolerance of “sodomy” or other acts of a homosexual nature. Open relations between men that resembled escort services were not accepted and usually punished.
Relations with female escorts were also shunned during this time period. Women who were considered harlots or “professionals” were sometimes banned from camp and saddled with a reputation that restricted them from respectability, even in later life.
The relationship between Hamilton and Laurens was a long way from being a simple escort — client relationship; it was an unrequited love affair that was not meant to be and rarely acknowledged, especially due to their strong involvement in the U.S. military and early government.