Johann Michael Lavien
Johann Michael Lavien
|Died||February 28, 1771 (aged 53–54)|
|Nationality||Danish West Indies|
|Other names||John Lavien|
|Children||Peter Lavien (1746–1781)|
Johann Michael Lavien (or John Lavien) (c. 1717 – February 28, 1771) was a merchant and planter who lived on the Caribbean islands of Nevis and Saint Croix. He was the first husband of Rachel Faucette, who later became the mother of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States.
Lavien, "who had peddled household goods and now aspired to planter status", moved from Nevis, an island in the British West Indies, to St. Croix in the Danish Virgin Islands. On St. Croix, Lavien purchased a sugar plantation (later known as Estate Ruby),:142 and by 1744, he had established himself as a planter and cultivated the appearance of wealth.
From 1748 to 1760, he owned at least sixteen slaves, including 5 to 7 children. After incurring significant debts, Lavien sold his last remaining plantation in 1753, after which he worked his slaves on the properties of other planters. In 1761, Lavien moved to Frederiksted, on the opposite side of St. Croix, where he speculated in real estate, and had some income from renting out his remaining slaves.
By 1768, a steep decline in his fortunes had left him working as a hospital janitor in Frederiksted.
Marriage and divorce
In 1745, Lavien met and married Rachel Faucette, then sixteen years old. Her mother, Mary Uppington Faucette, was British, and her father John was a French Huguenot physician who had recently died. Shortly before the marriage, Rachel had inherited what her son Alexander Hamilton would later call "a snug fortune". Hamilton characterized Lavien as "a fortune hunter ... bedizened with gold" whose expensive clothes caused Rachel's widowed mother to be "captivated by the glitter" of his flashy appearance, and to push Rachel into reluctantly agreeing to what became a "hated marriage".
Lavien and Rachel had one son, Peter, born in 1746. However, in 1750, Rachel refused to live with Lavien any longer, an offense for which Lavien had her jailed under Danish law.:145 She spent several months in a 10 by 13 foot cell with one small window, in the Fort in Christiansted, St. Croix. Soon after being released, she fled to the British West Indies, where she met James Hamilton, fourth son of a Scottish laird.:145 James Hamilton and Faucette moved together to her birthplace, Nevis, and had two sons together, James Jr. and Alexander.
Lavien divorced Rachel in 1759 on grounds of adultery and desertion, under Danish law, which left her legally unable to remarry. Possibly to spare her from charges of bigamy, James Hamilton abandoned Rachel and their sons in 1765. Soon afterward, Rachel moved with the boys to Christiansted.
After learning of Faucette's death in 1768, Lavien used the 1759 divorce decree in probate court to prevent James Jr. and Alexander Hamilton from inheriting any of her property, due to their illegitimate birth. The entire estate went instead to his son Peter.
Second marriage and death
At some time after his divorce from Rachel, Lavien remarried. With his second wife, he had two sons and a daughter, all of whom died in childhood.:5 Lavien's second wife died in 1768, one month before Rachel's death.
On February 28, 1771, Lavien died in Frederiksted.
Ethnicity and religion
Based on the phonetic similarity of "Lavien" to a common Jewish surname, it was often suggested that Lavien may have been Jewish or of Jewish descent. According to historian Ron Chernow, "if he was Jewish he managed to conceal his origins. Had he presented himself as a Jew, the snobbish Mary Faucette would certainly have squelched the match [with Rachel] in a world that frowned on religious no less than interracial marriage."
The belief that Lavien was Jewish may have originated with a fictionalized biography of Alexander Hamilton published in 1902 by novelist Gertrude Atherton. No documented evidence that Lavien was Jewish has been shown to exist. On the foundation of Johann Lavien's hypothesized Judaism, one historian has publicized a theory that Hamilton was Jewish, while acknowledging that this theory "clash[es] with much of the received wisdom on Hamilton".
Peter Lavien, born in 1746, was the only child of Johann Lavien and Rachel Faucette, and the half-brother of Alexander Hamilton. Peter moved to South Carolina in 1764, where he became a prominent shipping merchant. He briefly returned to St. Croix in November 1769 to take possession of his inheritance from his mother's estate.
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