On Oct. 25, 1819, the Tennessee General Assembly met at "Murfreesborough," and set up a new county out of lands acquired from the Indians two years earlier in the Hiwassee Purchase. The original boundaries of Hamilton County included the land south of Rhea County and north of the Tennessee River. Poe's Tavern in today's Daisy was the first county seat. The land south of the river ( including Ross's Landing, later Chattanooga) did not become part of the new county until the Cherokee Removal in 1838.
The naming of the new county in 1819 came 15 years after Alexander Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr, the vice president of the U.S. Why county founders settled on the name "Hamilton" is a mystery. The record simply states that the people "shall constitute a county by the name of Hamilton, in honor and to perpetuate the memory of the late Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States." Numerous places around the world have also honored Hamilton.
Alexander was born a poor immigrant to an adulterous mother and father on the British Island of Nevis in the West Indies. His dad left him when he was 9 years old. His mom died of yellow fever when he was 11. His guardian and cousin, Peter Lytton, took his own life shortly after Alexander became an orphan. Young Hamilton had every reason to think his life would never amount to anything but believed in himself, was intelligent and worked hard.
After a hurricane devastated Christiansted, St. Croix, where he worked as a clerk in a trading house, Alexander wrote a story about the disaster for the local newspaper. Mentors saw a gifted young man and offered him a scholarship in America hoping that he would return to the islands as a doctor.
When the War for Independence broke out in the mid 1770s, Alexander joined George Washington's army during its retreat through New York. Seven years after leaving the Caribbean, he had worked his way up to become Gen. Washington's aide-de-camp.
When Washington became our nation's first president, Hamilton joined him as Treasury Secretary. He established a market economy, consolidated the 13 colonies' debt into one national obligation, established a national bank which after interruptions later became the Federal Reserve, brokered a deal to move the nation's capitol from New York to the District of Columbia, promoted manufacturing, founded the Coast Guard and started The New York Post, which still publishes. If Washington was the father of our country and Madison the father of our Constitution, Hamilton was the father of our national form of government.
Hamilton was the youngest, yet the most prolific writer of the Founding Fathers. Of the 85 Federalist Papers published to promote the adoption of our constitution in 1787, Hamilton wrote 51. He felt the 13 colonies might never unite again as it did to defeat the superpower, England, that just tried to subjugate the fledgling republic. A unified government was necessary for survival and future prosperity.
The reason this county chose to honor Hamilton is especially interesting in that the people in Tennessee were Democratic Republicans rather than Federalists. Our county's founders held to more of the Jefferson and Jackson agrarian, small government mindset than the strong government, Federalist convictions of Hamilton and Washington. When George Washington, our first president, gave his farewell address to Congress in 1796, all but one of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives rose. The exception was the new representative from the new state of Tennessee, Andrew Jackson. East Tennessee did not admire Hamilton in early days of our republic.
So why was Alexander Hamilton honored by our county? Was it because we tend to be forgiving of those who are deceased? Was it because the people began to value his work toward a centralized government? We may not know the exact answer, but we can learn a valuable lesson. We can honor those with whom we differ. Not every disagreement in politics has to be a zero sum game. We can listen to men and women on all sides. If our county's founding and namesake teach us nothing else, it should teach us to respect others with whom we have diverse political views.
Greg Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the District 3 county commissioner for Hamilton County. For more visit chattahistoricalassoc.org.