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Jonathan Hamilton: Citizen, Merchant, Community Leader - Epilogue: The Downfall of the Hamilton Family
Article Index
Jonathan Hamilton: Citizen, Merchant, Community Leader
Introduction
Jonathan Hamilton as Community Leader
Jonathan Hamilton as Merchant and Ship Owner - Part I: Domestic Interests
Jonathan Hamilton as Merchant and Ship Owner - Part II: Voyages Abroad
Jonathan Hamilton as the Well-Connected Portsmouth Businessman
Epilogue: The Downfall of the Hamilton Family
Bibliography
Appendices
All Pages

 Epilogue: The Downfall of the Hamilton Family

     The history of Jonathan Hamilton turns immediately from a success story to a tragedy following his death in September 1802. Hamilton died young and unexpectedly, without leaving any provisions for the division of his estate. Hamilton had lived in his mansion a mere fourteen years, and his business was at its height; obviously, he was not thinking about death in 1802. He ended his career by importing in one year 2800 gallons of molasses, 6900 pounds of sugar, 5500 gallons of rum, 18,000 pounds of coffee, 7400 bushels of salt, 11,500 gallons of wine and large quantities of sailcloth. (51) He still owned six vessels: the JOSEPH, complete with its cargo of coffee, rum, brown sugar, and molasses from Demerara; remnants of the MARY which had been lost at sea; the CATO sitting at Norfolk after being recovered from its capture, and the OLIVE, POLLY, and GEORGE. "Long & Hamilton" was doing a booming business, as an advertisement in the Gazette two months before Hamilton's death indicates (see appendix 9).

     After his death, appraisers took an inventory of the contents of Hamilton's house and store, and divisions were made among the children. John, the eldest son, received the mansion and half of the Portsmouth store, while Oliver received some lands and the other half of the store. Olive Haven, Mary, Joseph, and George all inherited large sums of money from the estate. Jonathan Hamilton's mansion and Portsmouth store were valued at $6000 each, minus contents.

     The next tragedy occurred in December 1802, when a fired raged through Portsmouth, destroying many buildings in the center of town including Hamilton's store (see appendices 7 and 8).(52) The extent of the damage is uncertain, but since the store and wharves were still divided in half between John and Oliver Hamilton, we can assume that something remained.

     All four of Jonathan Hamilton's sons attempted to follow in their father's path, yet there is no evidence that they were very successful in the short time they were active. John Hamilton, the eldest son, acquired his father's brigs POLLY and OLIVE and sent them on voyages to Grenada, Copenhagen, Demerara, and Tobago. He also had the brig JOHN ADAMS built in 1800 in Durham, and co-owned it with Edward Long. Yet John Hamilton, like his father, died an untimely death. He died in November 1805 at the age of 28 of "paralytic consumption."(53) The mansion house and John's share of the Portsmouth store went to Oliver Hamilton, who had sold them all before the time of his death.

     Oliver, the second eldest son, also tried his hand at the mercantile business, but he was unsuccessful and maybe unpopular as well. He took more than three years to settle the estate of his brother, while creditors became quite impatient. Oliver was finally asked to appear in court in 1809, and eventually did complete the settlement.(54) When Oliver died in 1813, no one appeared to administer his estate, and someone had to be appointed several years later. Considering he still had sisters and other relatives in the area, it is odd that no one came forward after his death to settle his affairs.

     Oliver, George, and the youngest son Joseph all lived and worked in Portsmouth as merchants. Tax lists for the city of Portsmouth trace the downfall of their businesses, especially Oliver's. Between 1807 and 1812, the taxes on his property were lower each year: 1807: $61.30, 1808: $49.30, 1809: $45.00, 1810: $54.50, 1811: $37.50, 1812: $3.30.(55) Whether the embargoes of 1812 destroyed his business, or whether it was Oliver's own mismanagement, we cannot be certain. Oliver was forced to take a mortgage out on his part of the store in 1808, even though he had sold John's share of the store the previous year. He finally sold the store to Nathaniel A. and John Haven in 1811.(56) Joseph and George Hamilton both died in 1812, and Oliver died a year later, in 1813.(57) The cause of these deaths is unknown.

     After 1813, no male descendents of Jonathan Hamilton remained to carry on the name (see appendix 1). John Hamilton, who had died earlier, married Mary Eastham (possibly from Exeter) in 1796, but there is no record of any children.(58) All of Hamilton's daughters eventually married: Betsey married Peter Clark in 1792, Olive married Joshua Haven in 1802, Mary married John Parker in 1804, and Polly married Emery Goodwin, probably before her father's death. Olive and Joshua Haven, who lived in the Hamilton House from 1811 to 1815, had four small children living there with them. Appropriately, the eldest two were named Jonathan Hamilton Haven and Mary Hamilton Haven.(59)

     A decade after Jonathan Hamilton's death, very little remained to remind others of his once powerful influence in both Berwick and Portsmouth, save the gracious mansion which still stands today. Although it has seen many owners and changed its appearance several times, the house still bespeaks Hamilton. Today it stands as a monument to the success of a self-made man, one who rose from humble origins to become one of the most important members of his community.