Maria Reynolds (nee Lewis) (March 30, 1768 – 1832) was the wife of James Reynolds, and was Alexander Hamilton's mistress. She became the source of much scrutiny after the release of the Reynolds Pamphlet and central in America's first political sex scandal.
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 Sarah, lived to adulthood.
The Lewises do not appear to have been well-off: Richard Lewis was a merchant and/or laborer, and couldn't sign his name. 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 fifteen, Maria Lewis married James Reynolds. 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.
Maria had one child with Reynolds, a daughter named Susan, born August 18, 1785.
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 a twenty-three year old Maria visited Hamilton at his Philadelphia residence and asked for help after her husband abandoned her. Due to Hamilton's political office, he could very easily help her relocate back to New York City. Hamilton organized a meeting for later that evening to give Maria the money. Once Hamilton arrived at the Reynolds household, Maria brought him upstairs, and he recounts that he felt "other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable” for their conversation.
During the summer and fall of 1791, Maria and Hamilton continued the affair, while Hamilton's wife and family were in Albany. On December 15, James Reynolds returned, and Maria sent a letter warning of Reynolds' anger:
I have not tim [sic] to tell you the cause of my present troubles only that Mr. has rote [sic] you this morning and I know not wether [sic] you have got the letter or not and he has swore that If you do not answer It or If he dose not se [sic] or hear from you to day he will write Mrs. Hamilton he has just Gone oute [sic] and I am a Lone [sic] 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 mutch [sic] unhappiness do not rite [sic] to him no not a Line but come here soon do not send or leave any thing in his power.
On December 17, Reynolds sent a threatening letter to Hamilton, and instead of seeking redress from dueling, he asked for financial compensation. Hamilton complied, sending $1,000 to Reynolds. Maria, most likely manipulated into the scheme, began to write to Hamilton whenever her husband was out of the house and seduced him. After each of these exchanges, Reynolds would write to Hamilton under the guise of being friends, and Hamilton would in return send $30-$40 back.
In November 1792, James Reynolds, after illegally purchasing Revolutionary War soldiers' pensions and back-pay claims, and was imprisoned for forgery. He then called Hamilton, who refused to help, and then informed Hamilton's Republican rivals of blackmail against Hamilton. James Monroe, Frederick Muhlenberg and Abraham Venable visited Reynolds in jail, where Reynolds claimed that Hamilton had forced Maria into the affair and treasury misconduct.
In December 1792, Monroe and Muhlenberg went to Hamilton with evidence of the affair, including Maria's letters to him. Fearful of what a scandal could do to his career, Hamilton asked them to keep it private as he was innocent of any wrongdoing. They agreed, although Monroe created copies of the letters and sent them to Thomas Jefferson. John Beckley also created copies of the correspondence.
Divorce and second marriage
In 1793, Maria enlisted the aid of Aaron Burr and successfully petitioned for a divorce from Reynolds. Two years later, she married a Virginian named Jacob Clingman, and took up residence in Alexandria, Virginia.
The "Reynolds Pamphlet" and aftermath
In 1797, James Callendar published a collection of pamphlets entitled The History of the United States for 1796, in which he promised to uncover wrongdoing on Hamilton's part. Several months later, unwilling to let the charges 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.
After the Pamphlet was released, Maria was publicly scorned. Back in Philadelphia, without her second husband, she went by the name of Maria Clement. Soon thereafter, she became the housekeeper of a Dr. Mathew.
Maria wrote a pamphlet of her own, giving her side of the story that Hamilton had told in his Reynolds Pamphlet, but it was never published.
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.
In 1806 Maria married Dr. Mathew, for whom she had worked as a housekeeper. 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 as "highly amiable and handsome," Maria Reynolds, now Mathew, became highly respectable and respected with her marriage to the doctor. 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," wrote a friend. She died in 1832 or 1834.
In popular culture
Maria is portrayed by Jasmine Cephas Jones in Hamilton, a 2015 Broadway 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.
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