Penn Medicine News Blog

April 29, 2016 // By Robert Press // Comments

Witness to History: David Hosack and the Deaths of Two Hamiltons (pt. 2)

Education // Emergency Medicine // General Interest // Infectious Disease // Trauma


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This is the second part of a piece on Dr. David Hosack—a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania medical school (now known as the Perelman School of Medicine)—and his work as physician for the family of our nation's first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton. The first part can be found here.


The Elgin Botanic Garden in New York City 
Credit: University at Buffalo Libraries

In the late 1790s and very early 1800s, Dr. David Hosack was dedicating a significant chunk of time to his love for botany. He’d just put together the Elgin Botanic Garden, and worked with some level of fame as a botany professor at Columbia College. Alexander Hamilton—the former secretary of the treasury who, weary of personal attacks, shrunk from public life and dedicated himself fully to his family—was building a house on a large chunk of land near what is now West 143rd Street and Convent Avenue, in an area now called Hamilton Heights, and made frequent trips to Hosack’s garden for ideas and materials.

On the afternoon of November 22, 1801, Hasock was at home when he received a frantic knock at the door. In strode Hamilton. He was, according to a letter Hasock would later write, “so much overcome by his anxiety that he fainted and remained some time in my family before he was sufficiently recovered to proceed.”

Hamilton was panicking because he’d heard that negotiations between his son, Philip, and a young Republican lawyer named George Eacker had broken down—and a duel was imminent. Negotiations had been underway because during a Fourth of July celebration, Eacker made a speech in which Alexander Hamilton’s character and ambition were thoroughly insulted. Philip, possessing his father’s hotheaded streak and intense desire to protect the pride of his family, confronted Eacker and eventually challenged him to a duel.

The sides agreed to meet on the dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey—the same grounds Hosack would find himself on just three years later with Philip’s father, under grotesquely similar circumstances.

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