Maria Reynolds

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Maria Lewis Reynolds
Maria Lewis

(1768-03-30)March 30, 1768
DiedMarch 25, 1828(1828-03-25) (aged 59)
Other namesMaria Clement
James Reynolds
m. 1783; div. 1793)
  • Jacob Clingman
Dr. Mathew
m. 1806)
ChildrenSusan Reynolds
Parent(s)Richard Lewis
Susanna Van Der Burgh

Maria Reynolds (née Lewis; March 30, 1768 – March 25, 1828) was the wife of James Reynolds, and was Alexander Hamilton's mistress between 1791 and 1792. She became the object of much scrutiny after the release of the Reynolds Pamphlet and central in America's first political sex scandal.

Early life[edit]

Maria Lewis was born in New York City on March 30, 1768, the daughter of Susanna Van Der Burgh and her second husband, Richard Lewis. She had one half-brother, Col. Lewis DuBois, and five full siblings, at least two of whom (older sisters named Susanna and Sara) lived to adulthood.[1]

The Lewises do not appear to have been well-off: Richard Lewis was a merchant and/or laborer, and couldn't sign his name.[1] Susanna Van Der Burgh Lewis, however, could write at least her name, and Maria Lewis grew up literate though largely uneducated.

On July 28, 1783, when she was 15, Maria Lewis married James Reynolds.[2] Reynolds had served in the Revolutionary War in the commissary department, and was older than Maria by at least several years. After the war, he tried frequently to claim damages and get reimbursed for them by the government.[3]

Maria had one child with Reynolds, a daughter named Susan, born August 18, 1785.[2]

Hamilton affair[edit]

At some point before 1791, James Reynolds moved with Maria and their daughter from New York to Philadelphia. It was there in the summer of 1791 that 23-year-old Maria visited 34-year-old Hamilton at his Philadelphia residence and asked for help, claiming her abusive husband had abandoned her. Due to Hamilton's political office, he could very easily help her move back to New York City. Hamilton organized a meeting for later that evening to give Maria the money. Once Hamilton arrived at the boarding house where Maria was lodging, she brought him upstairs and led him into her bedroom, where he recounts that "Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable”. Thus beginning the infamous Reynolds Affair.[4]

During the summer and fall of 1791, Maria and Hamilton continued the affair while Hamilton's wife, Eliza, and their children were in Albany, visiting her parents. A short time into the affair, Maria informed Hamilton that her husband had sought a reconciliation with her, to which she agreed without ending the affair with Hamilton. She then obtained an interview for James Reynolds, who applied to Hamilton for a position in the Treasury Office, which Hamilton refused. After Hamilton had shown unequivocal signs that he wanted to end the affair[5] on 15 December 1791, Maria sent him a letter warning of Reynolds's anger over the supposed discovery of the affair :

I have not time to tell you the cause of my present troubles only that Mr. Reynolds has wrote you this morning and I know not whether you have got the letter or not and he has swore that if you do not answer it or if he does not see or hear from you today he will write Mrs. Hamilton he has just gone out and I am alone I think you had better come here one moment that you may know the cause then you will the better know how to act Oh my God I feel more for you than myself and wish I had never been born to give you so much unhappiness do not write to him no not a line but come here soon do not send or leave any thing in his power.[6]

From 15 to 19 December 1791, Reynolds sent threatening letters to Hamilton, and after a personal meeting instead of seeking redress from dueling, he asked for financial compensation.[7][8][9] Hamilton complied, paying to Reynolds the requested $1,000 and discontinuing the affair, as he had wished to do for some time.[10] However, on 17 January 1792, Reynolds wrote to Hamilton inviting him to renew his visits to his wife.[11] Maria, most likely manipulated into the scheme, also began to write to Hamilton whenever her husband was out of the house and seduced him anew. After each of these exchanges, Reynolds would write to Hamilton under the guise of being friends, and Hamilton would in return send $30 to $40. Hamilton's last "loan" of $50 to James Reynolds and possibly the end of the affair dates June 1792.[12]

In November 1792, James Reynolds, after illegally purchasing Revolutionary War soldiers' pensions and back-pay claims, was imprisoned for forgery with Virginian Jacob Clingman, his partner in crime. Reynolds wrote to Hamilton,[13] who refused to help and likewise rejected Maria's letters and requests for further money.[14] Clingman then informed Hamilton's Democratic-Republican rivals that Reynolds had information against the Treasury Secretary. James Monroe, Frederick Muhlenberg, and Abraham Venable visited Reynolds in jail, where Reynolds hinted at some unspecified public misconduct on Hamilton's part whose details he promised to expose after coming out of prison, only to disappear immediately after his release on 12 December 1792.[15] The congressmen also personally interviewed Maria who corroborated her husband's accusations of speculation against Hamilton by producing the notes in Hamilton's disguised hand that had accompanied his payments to Reynolds.

On 15 December 1792, Monroe, Venable, and Muhlenberg went to Hamilton with the evidence they had gathered and confronted him on the possible charge of speculation. Fearful of what a scandal could do to his career, Hamilton admitted to the affair with Maria, proved with the letters from both Maria and James Reynolds that his payments to Reynolds related to the blackmail over his adultery and not to treasury misconduct and asked them to keep the information private as he was innocent of any public wrongdoing. They agreed, although Monroe created copies of the letters and sent them to Thomas Jefferson. John Beckley also created copies of the correspondence.

Clingman, on 1 January 1793, declared to Monroe that Maria claimed that the affair had been invented as a cover for the speculation scheme.[16] However, the letter from Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth to Hamilton dated 2 August 1797[14] relates how during Reynolds's detention in November–December 1792 Maria had applied to both Wadsworth and Governor General Thomas Mifflin. In the attempt to convince them to help her obtain her husband's release from prison, Maria spontaneously told both of them the story of her first acquaintance and following "amour" with Hamilton in words that match Hamilton's description of their first encounter as reported in both the first draft of the Reynolds Pamphlet of July 1797[5] (before Wadsworth's letter) and the printed version, also dated July 1797, as well as James Reynolds's first letter to Hamilton.[7][17]

Historian Tilar J. Mazzeo has advanced a theory that the affair never happened. Outside of the Reynolds Pamphlet, there is no evidence that the affair occurred; others connected with the scandal, from James Monroe, who held the papers relating to James Reynolds, to Maria Reynolds herself, said that it was a cover-up for a financial scandal.[18] Hamilton never produced the manuscript copies of Maria's letters, though the newspapers and Maria both suggested obtaining a handwriting sample. Hamilton said that they had been placed with a friend of his, who claimed that he had never seen them, suggesting that the letters could have been forged. The newspaper writers also pointed out that Maria's letters correctly spell long, complex words and yet sometimes misspelled simple words in a way that makes no phonetic sense; as Thomas Jefferson biographer Julian P. Boyd stated, the letters could resemble what an educated man believed an uneducated woman's love letters to look like.[19]

Divorce and second marriage[edit]

In 1793, Maria enlisted the aid of Aaron Burr and successfully petitioned for a divorce from Reynolds.[20] Before obtaining the divorce[21] she had gone to live with Virginian Jacob Clingman (whom she later married) who had been partner in crime in Reynolds's speculations and had been arrested with him in November 1792.[15] She took up residence in Alexandria, Virginia.[22]

The "Reynolds Pamphlet" and aftermath[edit]

In the summer of 1797, journalist James T. Callender published a collection of pamphlets entitled The History of the United States for 1796, in which he promised to uncover public wrongdoing on Hamilton's part.[23] On 25 August 1797, unwilling to let the charges of public misconduct lie, Hamilton published what is known as "The Reynolds Pamphlet", a nearly 100-page-long account of Hamilton's affair with Maria and the blackmail scheme set up by her husband.

Maria Reynolds was the victim of manipulation by her husband, James, and public humiliation after Alexander Hamilton painted himself as the victim via 'The Reynolds Pamphlet'.

After the Pamphlet was released, Maria was publicly scorned and she and her second husband decided to move to Britain. Having returned to Philadelphia without Clingman some years later, she went by the name of Maria Clement. No record of her divorce from Clingman has been found. Soon thereafter, she became the housekeeper of a Dr. James.

A merchant by the name of Peter Grotjan in 1842 reported that he had met Maria many years earlier. She had apparently told him that she had written a pamphlet of her own, giving her side of the story that Hamilton had told in his Reynolds Pamphlet. If Maria's pamphlet existed, it was never published.[24]

In 1800, her daughter Susan was sent to a Boston boarding school with the help of Congressman William Eustis, who had been petitioned by Aaron Burr to help the girl.[20]

Later life[edit]

In 1806, Maria married Dr. Mathew, for whom she had worked as a housekeeper.[24] In 1808, Susan Reynolds came to live with her mother, and spent several years with her in Philadelphia. Susan was married several times, but never happily.

Described by her acquaintance Peter Grotjan as "highly amiable and handsome," Maria Reynolds, now Mathew, became highly respected with her marriage to the doctor.[24] She became religious, joining the Methodist Church, and put her past behind her. "She enjoyed...the love and good will of all who knew her".[24] She died on March 25, 1828.[25]

In popular culture[edit]

Maria was originally portrayed by actress June Collyer in the 1931 biographical film Alexander Hamilton. Mrs Reynolds's character also appeared in the 1986 TV series George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation where she was portrayed by Lise Hilboldt.[26]

Jasmine Cephas Jones played the role of Maria in Hamilton, the 2015 Broadway theatre musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton. Jones originated the roles of Maria Reynolds and Margarita "Peggy" Schuyler Van Rensselaer on Off-Broadway in Hamilton, and reprised her roles when the show made its transfer to Broadway.


  1. ^ a b Powers, Jr., William I. "Lewis and (Double) Vanderburgh Ancestry of President George Bush: A Colonial New York Excursion".
  2. ^ a b Syrett, Harold C. (ed) (1974). The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Vol 21. Columbia University Press. p. 123. ISBN 0-231-08920-1.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Reynolds, James. "To George Washington from James Reynolds, 26 June 1789". Founders Online. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  4. ^ Hamilton, Alexander. "Printed Version of the "Reynolds Pamphlet", 1797". Founders Online. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  5. ^ a b Hamilton, Alexander. "Draft of the "Reynolds Pamphlet", July 1797". Founders Online.
  6. ^ Reynolds, Maria. "Letter to Alexander Hamilton from Maria Reynolds [15 December 1791]". Founders Online. National Archives. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  7. ^ a b Reynolds, James. "To Alexander Hamilton from James Reynolds, 15 December 1791". Founders Online.
  8. ^ Reynolds, James. "To Alexander Hamilton from James Reynolds, 17 December 1791". Founders Online. National Archives. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  9. ^ Reynolds, James. "To Alexander Hamilton from James Reynolds, 19 December 1791". Founders Online.
  10. ^ Hamilton, Alexander. "Printed Version of the "Reynolds Pamphlet", 1797". Founders Online. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  11. ^ Reynolds, James. "To Alexander Hamilton from James Reynolds, 17 January 1792". Founders Online. National Archives. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  12. ^ Hamilton, Alexander. "Printed Version of the "Reynolds Pamphlet", 1797". Founders Online. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  13. ^ Reynolds, James. "Letter from James Reynolds to Alexander Hamilton, 13-15 November 1792". Founders Online.
  14. ^ a b Wadsworth, Jeremiah. "Letter from Jeremiah Wadsworth to Alexander Hamilton, 2 August 1797". Founders Online.
  15. ^ a b Hamilton, Alexander. "Printed Version of the "Reynolds Pamphlet", 1797". Founders Online. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  16. ^ Chernow, Ron (2004). Alexander Hamilton. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-59420-009-0., chapter "Too near the sun"
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  18. ^ Mazzeo, Tilar (2018). Eliza Hamilton. NY: Simon and Schuster. p. 295. ISBN 978-1-5011-6630-3.
  19. ^ Mazzeo, Tilar (2018). Eliza Hamilton. NY: Simon and Schuster. pp. 296–297. ISBN 978-1-5011-6630-3.
  20. ^ a b Isenberg, Nancy (2007). Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr. New York: Penguin. p. 121. ISBN 9781101202364.
  21. ^ Jones, Edward. "Letter from Edward Jones to Alexander Hamilton, 30 July 1797". Founders Online.
  22. ^ McFarland, Park (1879). Marriage Records of Gloria Dei Church "Old Swedes'," Philadelphia: Compiled from the Original Records. Philadelphia: McFarland & Son. p. 179.
  23. ^ Chernow, Ron (2004). Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin. p. 529.
  24. ^ a b c d Grotjan, Peter A. (2001). "Sections from Memoirs of Peter A. Grotjan," published in Scandalmonger, by William Safire. p. 487. ISBN 0156013231.
  25. ^ "Poulson's American Daily Advertiser". March 26, 1828.
  26. ^ "George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation Full Cast and Credits". Archived from the original on August 4, 2017.