Debunking History: Alexander Hamilton and the June 1776 raid on the Sandy Hook lighthouse
In addition to discovering many interesting facts pertaining to Alexander Hamilton, which I’ve been sharing with you over the past few weeks, another major goal in writing Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years was to check on stories told about Hamilton, either to verify their accuracy or to debunk them. One such story involving Hamilton was introduced by Ron Chernow in his Alexander Hamilton (page 75). The following extract from Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years analyzes this story:
On June 21, 1776, an American force with some light artillery attacked the Sandy Hook lighthouse in New Jersey, seventeen miles south of New York City. According to biographer Ron Chernow, “Hamilton gallantly led a nighttime attack of one hundred men against the Sandy Hook lighthouse outside New York harbor” and then reported the news to The Royal Danish American Gazette, which printed the account in its issue of August 14, 1776. However, the same report had already appeared in The New-York Gazette; and the Weekly Mercury on June 24, 1776. As The Royal Danish American Gazette printed this account alongside a number of extracts and reports from around the world, it is clear that the St. Croix newspaper simply copied this out of the New York paper. Furthermore, it is known with certainty that Hamilton did not lead the attack. According to contemporary sources, the mission was led by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Tupper* with Major John Brooks assisting and Captain Jotham Drury in command of the two pieces of artillery. None of these sources mention anything that would suggest Hamilton’s involvement. No one prior to Chernow—not Mulligan, Troup, Fish, John C. Hamilton, no one—ever mentioned Hamilton’s participation. The evidence is clear that Hamilton neither participated in the strike on the lighthouse nor wrote about it afterwards, and he most certainly did not lead the attack.
* A year earlier, Benjamin Tupper led a similar raid against a Boston lighthouse.
Supporting evidence and citations will be found in the endnotes of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years.