William S. Hamilton

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William S. Hamilton
Representative to the Legislative Assembly of the Wisconsin Territory from Iowa County
In office
December 5, 1842 – December 4, 1843
Serving with Robert M. Long and Moses Meeker
Preceded byThomas Jenkins, David Newland, Ephraim F. Ogden, and Daniel M. Parkison
Succeeded byGeorge Messersmith, Robert M. Long, and Moses Meeker
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
from the Sangamon County district
In office
November 15, 1824 – December 4, 1826
Preceded byStephen Stillman
Succeeded byElijah Iles
Personal details
William Stephen Hamilton

August 4, 1797
Albany, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 9, 1850(1850-10-09) (aged 53)
Sacramento, California, U.S.
Cause of deathCholera
Resting placeSacramento City Cemetery, Sacramento, California
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/serviceIllinois Militia
Years of service1827, 1832
CommandsGalena Mounted Volunteers, various U.S. aligned indigenous bands
Battles/warsWinnebago War, Black Hawk War

William Stephen Hamilton (August 4, 1797 – October 9, 1850), a son of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, was an American politician and miner who lived much of his life in the U.S. state of Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory. Hamilton was born in New York, where he attended the United States Military Academy before he resigned and moved to Illinois in 1817. In Illinois he lived in Springfield and Peoria and eventually migrated to the lead-mining region of southern Wisconsin and established Hamilton's Diggings at present-day Wiota, Wisconsin. Hamilton served in various political offices and as a commander in two Midwest Indian Wars. In 1849 he moved to California during the California Gold Rush. He died in Sacramento, most likely of cholera, in October 1850.

Early life[edit]

William Stephen Hamilton[1] was born August 4, 1797 in Albany, New York,[2] sixth child and fifth son of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler.[3] His maternal grandparents were General Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer.[4]

William was a month shy of his seventh birthday in 1804 when his father was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. In 1814, he was admitted to the United States Military Academy, resigning three years later in 1817.[3] Following his resignation from West Point, Hamilton moved to Sangamon County, Illinois.[5][6] He lived in Springfield and Peoria, Illinois until 1827 when he moved to the lead mining region around the Fever River.[3]


Political and militia service[edit]

Hamilton first held elected office in 1824 as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from Sangamon County in 1824.[3] While working in the legislature Hamilton sponsored a bill that imposed a statewide tax intended to fund road repair and maintenance. The tax was proportional to property value, to be paid in labor or money, and replaced an older system which required every able-bodied man to work on the roads five days per year. The bill passed, and the new law was met with much opposition; it was repealed by the next legislature in 1826–27.[7] Hamilton served as aide de camp to Governor Edward Coles, and while living in Illinois, first in Springfield and later in Peoria, Hamilton worked for the General Land Office as Deputy Surveyor of Public Lands.[8] In that position he surveyed Springfield's township. He was also an incorporator of the original Illinois and Michigan Canal Company, along with Coles and other prominent Illinoisans.[9]

In late 1827, Hamilton served during the Winnebago War in the volunteer Illinois Militia as a captain. Hamilton commanded a company raised in Galena, Illinois known as the Galena Mounted Volunteers. Hamilton's company was under the command of Henry Dodge and was mustered into service on August 26, 1827 and released on September 10, 1827.[10] Hamilton moved to Wisconsin and established Hamilton's Diggings in 1827.

During the April–August 1832 Black Hawk War, between white settlers in the lead mining regions and Sauk Chief Black Hawk's British Band, Hamilton again served in the volunteer militia. Accounts of the war indicated that Hamilton was often in charge of the militia's indigenous allies. At the war's onset it was known that many of the Sioux and Menominee were eager to join the conflict against the Sauk. Hamilton was sent to the Michigan Territory, north of Prairie du Chien, to recruit the assistance of indigenous allies. The result was successful and several parties of U.S. aligned Native Americans joined the war.[11]

In June, Hamilton's return to Fort Hamilton with a large group of militia-aligned Native Americans coincided with the arrival of one of the survivors of the June 14 Spafford Farm massacre. The survivor, Francis Spencer, arrived at the fort around the same time as Hamilton did - accompanied by U.S. aligned Menominee.[12][13] Afraid that the fort, like his party at the farm, had also been attacked, Spencer retreated back into the woods. He avoided the fort for between six and nine days, when hunger finally drove him into the open and he realized his mistake.[12][14] On June 16, about an hour after the fight at Horseshoe Bend, Hamilton arrived on the battlefield with U.S. aligned Menominee, Sioux and Ho-Chunk warriors.[15] According to Dodge, the warriors were given some of the scalps his men had taken, with which they were "delighted".[15] Dodge also reported that the allied warriors then proceeded onto the battlefield and mutilated the corpses of the fallen Kickapoo.[15]

Wisconsin Territory politics[edit]

Hamilton (a Whig) was elected as a member of the 7th Michigan Territorial Council (the "Rump Council" for what was to become the Wisconsin Territory) from Iowa County, and served as President for that body's only meeting in 1836.[16] He served in 1842 and 1843 as an elected member of the Wisconsin Territorial House of Representatives,[3] from Iowa County.[17] Hamilton lost an 1843 election for the national-level office of Wisconsin Territory delegate to the United States Congress, and in 1848 he lost an election for delegate to the Wisconsin Constitutional Convention. Though well known as a smelter and miner in the lead region of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, Hamilton, a Whig in a heavily Democratic region, was unable to achieve the political fame he desired.[8]

Mining career[edit]

When Hamilton moved from Illinois to Wisconsin in the late 1820s he established a lead ore mine that became known as Hamilton's Diggings; he later renamed the settlement Wiota.[3] During the 1832 Black Hawk War a fort was erected at Hamilton's Diggings, it was known as Fort Hamilton.[13] Two contemporary descriptions of Hamilton's Diggings provide a glimpse into the mining life of Hamilton and the others settled at present-day Wiota. An 1831 account from Juliette Kinzie noted the unkempt conditions as "shabby" and "unpromising".[18] Kinzie also decried the foul language from the miners, whom she called the "roughest-looking set of men I ever beheld."[19] The other description of early Wiota was provided by Theodore Rodolf in 1834. Rodolf, a one-time political opponent of Hamilton, contrasted the settlement's apparently rough exterior with small, finer details, such as the presence of a quarto edition of Voltaire's works, printed in Paris.[8][18]

His mother visited Hamilton at Hamilton's Diggings during the winter of 1837–38.[20] During the same period, Hamilton briefly owned the Mineral Point Miners' Free Press; he sold it to a group from Galena and the paper became known as the Galena Democrat.[21]

When gold was discovered in California, in 1848, gold fever spread into the Midwest lead-mining region. Hamilton set out for California, arriving in 1849, with high hopes, and new equipment. His life in the west would prove to be a disappointment and he later regretted moving there. Hamilton told a friend in California that he would "rather have been hung in the 'Lead Mines' than to have lived in this miserable hole (California)."[8]

Personal life; illness and death[edit]

Hamilton never married and presented a rough, garish appearance.[20]

Hamilton had been in California about one year when he died from what he called "mountain fever",[8] most likely cholera during an 1850 epidemic. Before his death Hamilton fell ill for two weeks. He suffered multiple symptoms, including dysentery, and, according to his doctor, died from "malarial fever resulting in spinal exhaustion terminating in paralysis superinduced by great bodily and mental strain."[8]

William S. Hamilton died in Sacramento, California on October 9, 1850 at age 53.[5] He was interred in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery.[22] The section of the cemetery where he is buried was named Hamilton Square in his honor.[23]



  1. ^ As aide de camp to Illinois Governor Edward Coles, Hamilton's name was recorded as "William Schuyler Hamilton". This was incorrect. See Reed, The Bench and Bar of Wisconsin.
  2. ^ Chernow, Ron (2004). Alexander Hamilton. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-59420-009-0., chapter "Too near the sun"
  3. ^ a b c d e f Reed, Parker McCobb. The Bench and Bar of Wisconsin, (Google Books), Reed: 1882, pp. 427–28. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  4. ^ Hendrickson, Robert A. The Rise and Fall of Alexander Hamilton, (Google Books), Van Nostrand Reinhold: 1981, (ISBN 0442261136), p. 188. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  5. ^ a b Lusk, David W. Politics and Politicians: A Succinct History of the Politics of Illinois From 1856–1884, (Google Books), H. W. Rokker: 1884, pp. 455–56. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  6. ^ Smith, William Rudolph. The History of Wisconsin: In Three Parts, Historical, Documentary, and Descriptive, (Google Books), B. Brown: 1854, pp. 339–42. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  7. ^ Ford, Thomas. A History of Illinois, from Its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847, (Google Books), Ivison & Phinney: 1854, pp. 58–59. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Gara, Larry. ed. "William S. Hamilton on the Wisconsin Frontier: A Document," (PDF), Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 41, No. 1, Autumn, 1957, pp. 25–28. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  9. ^ Putnam, James William (1918). The Illinois and Michigan Canal: A Study In Economic History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 15. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  10. ^ "Muster Role of Captain William Hamilton's Company, via Old Lead Regional Historical Society, transcribed by Jim Hanson and Marjorie Smith from muster rolls in Record Group 94 at the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D. C. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  11. ^ Smith, The History of Wisconsin: In Three Parts, Historical, Documentary, and Descriptive, p. 263.
  12. ^ a b Wakefield, John Allen; Stevens, Frank Everett, ed. History of the War between the United States and the Sac and Fox Nations of Indians, and Parts of Other Disaffected Tribes of Indians, in the Years Eighteen Hundred and Twenty-Seven, Thirty-One, and Thirty-Two; Reprinted as: Wakefield's History of the Black Hawk War, Original Publication: Jacksonville, Ill.: Calvin Goudy, 1834. Reprint Publication: Chicago: The Caxton Club, 1908, Chapter 4, Section 70. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  13. ^ a b Butterfield, Consul Willshire. History of Lafayette County, Wisconsin, (Google Books), Western Historical Co.: 1881, p. 476. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  14. ^ Trask, Kerry A. Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America, (Google Books), Henry Holt Company, New York: 2007, pp. 230-231, (ISBN 0805077588).
  15. ^ a b c "June 16: Henry Dodge Describes The Battle of the Pecatonica," Historic Diaries: The Black Hawk War, Wisconsin State Historical Society. Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  16. ^ Schafer, Joseph, ed. The Rump Council Separate No. 211 from the Proceedings of the Society for 1920. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin [1920?; pp. 151-152 and passim]
  17. ^ Wisconsin, State Historical Society of (1921). Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Madison: The Society. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  18. ^ a b Murphy, Lucy Eldersveld. A Gathering of Rivers, (Google Books), University of Nebraska Press: 2004, p. 111, (ISBN 0803282931). Retrieved September 25, 2007.
  19. ^ Trask, Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America, p. 62.
  20. ^ a b Williams, Kenneth P. Grant Rises in the West: The First Year, 1861-1862, (Google Books), University of Nebraska Press: 1997, (ISBN 0803297939), p. 6. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  21. ^ Thwaites, Reuben Gold and Bradley, Isaac Samuel. Annotated Catalogue of Newspaper Files in the Library of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, (Google Books), Democratic Printing Co.: 1898, p. 164. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  22. ^ Self Guided Tour (PDF). Historic City Cemetery, Inc. January 2006. Retrieved January 29, 2011.
  23. ^ Old City Cemetery Committee, Inc.. "Hamilton Square Perennials", Sacramento, 2005. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.