“I was a captain under General Montgomery,” Aaron Burr explained. This man had been droning on to General Washington for the last hour about why he would be such an asset to the Continental Army. The general was rightly bored, but I was fuming. I didn’t like this Aaron Burr; he reminded me too much of some of the worst soldiers I’d ever had to deal with. The soldiers who would tell anyone and everyone what they wanted to hear if it meant that they could get ahead. The ones whose morals and ethics could change on a dime depending upon who was listening and how much power that person had. And if they didn’t get what they wanted, they were more than happy to betray their original loyalties to the highest bidder.
Burr was the third member of the Continental Army who gave me these feelings. Benedict Arnold and Charles Lee were the other two. One of them was bound to betray us, so we needed to be careful who we gave power to. At least, that was what I had told General Washington several times. As much as he had grown to trust me and my judgment, he would not believe me when it came to Arnold or Lee. I wasn’t too hopeful that things would be different with Burr.
Finally, the knock we had been waiting for interrupted the monotony that was Burr’s voice. “Come in,” the General called with authority. One of the soldiers guarding the door opened it and escorted in the short, familiar man who could change a room with his mere presence. Alexander Hamilton. At least General Washington listened to me on that front.
The moment Alexander and Aaron set eyes on each other, there was a definite shift in the room. It wasn’t the shift that was usually associated with Hamilton’s presence. This practically came with the words, What the hell are you doing here? attached to it. They knew each other, and they didn’t get along. Or if they did, it was in that friendly-rivalry way where they were always trying to one-up one another.
“Your Excellency,” Hamilton said, turning his attention to General Washington before saluting. “You summoned me.”
“Yes, Hamilton. Please come in.” Hamilton did as the General ordered, lowering his arm but refusing to go at-ease until he was given expressed permission. Burr looked stunned that we had all taken to ignoring his presence so easily.
“I believe you’ve met my dear friend, Miss Ada Driscoll.” General Washington gestured to me, reintroducing me to both men. Both Hamilton and Burr gave me looks of familiar confusion. Hamilton was surprised that I was there at all. When we first met, he just assumed I was another woman in the street. My presence in Washington’s office let him know that I had a bit more power than the average woman in the colonies. Burr, on the other hand, was looking at me like he wanted to kill me. He was projecting all of his frustrations with Hamilton onto me, knowing full well that I was the reason that man even got his foot into Washington’s door. It took all my strength to not smirk at both men’s’ reactions. Both were amusing in their own right.
As frustrating as this society’s prejudices against women were, it was so enjoyable every time I broke the rules. It would either irritate the worst of the worst, or make the best of the best respect me. I could already see which groups Hamilton and Burr were going to fall into.
“And this is Mr. Aaron Burr,” General Washington said, finishing the introductions.
“Yes, Your Excellency. We’ve actually met before,” Hamilton explained, refusing to initiate the expected handshake.
Mr. Burr was doing the same as he said, “Yes, we both attend King’s College.” Oh, they definitely competed for the top spot in their classes. “As I was saying, Your Excellency,” Burr said, turning his attention from Hamilton back to the general. Oh, please don’t let him start again. “I look forward to strategizing with you more.” I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep myself from scoffing.
“Burr,” General Washington interrupted before the man could go any further. “Respectfully, this meeting is of vital importance and cannot wait. Would you be available to finish this conversation some other time?” I had to admire the general in this. With all the power he had, politeness wasn’t a necessity. He could be honest, tell Burr to get the hell out, make his life easier, and save so much time. But he chose not to and instead opted for firm politeness.
Now, to be fair, there was an external force behind that choice. The Continental Congress was still arguing about whether or not they really thought the Virginian plantation owner had what it took to lead the army. At any moment, his command could be taken away for any reason; too many lives lost, not enough wins, or even just rubbing too many people the wrong way. The amateur soldiers of the American army wouldn’t follow anyone they didn’t respect. Washington needed as many people to respect him as possible. Even Aaron Burr.
“… Of course, Your Excellency.” Burr plastered the most artificial smile on his face, doing his best to hide the injury to his pride. “I’m at your leisure. Good day to you, sir. And to you, miss.” There was a definite venom to Burr’s tone with that final word. If he could vow vengeance on me without doing more damage, he would have. Instead, he gave a curt bow and left of his own accord before the door guard could escort him out.
“Ahem,” Hamilton cleared his throat, doing his best to calm the energy in the room and get the attention of the general back on him. “Have I done something wrong, sir?” Hamilton looked to me, wondering if maybe I had told Washington something that the general was displeased by. I chose to keep my face as straight as possible. To keep him guessing.
“Not at all, Hamilton,” the general assured as he stood from his desk. “In fact, according to Miss Driscoll, you did something very right. She told me of the cannons you stole from the British battery. Even while taking fire from the HMS Asia, you and your men managed to get away relatively unscathed.
“It is no easy feat to impress Miss Driscoll, especially with only one encounter. Yet, the moment she returned from meeting you and seeing your exploits, Miss Driscoll rushed to write to me, singing your praises with every stroke of the pen. When I heard of you from Major Generals Green and Knox, I thought they must’ve been exaggerating due to the disappointment that your refusal brought them both. But Miss Driscoll’s good grace proves every word to be true.”
“I thank you for your praise, Your Excellency. I know it is not easily or freely given,” Hamilton bowed in gratitude again.
“I must ask, though, Hamilton, why would you refuse such good work that would fully utilize your talents?” General Washington asked.
“I simply believe that my skills would be put to better use on the battlefield, Your Excellency. I want to do the most good for the country, and I can’t do that from behind a desk.” Liar. Well, it wasn’t a full lie. Hamilton genuinely couldn’t see what use he could be to the Revolution by just holding a pen. But there was more to it than that.
Hamilton, like everyone else during that time in history, was worried about his status and his legacy. Alexander certainly wasn’t the lowest of the low with no hope of a better life, but he didn’t have much going for him, based on what little I had come to learn. His education at King’s college—his very presence in the colonies—was completely paid for by acts of charity. He was an orphan with no fortune and no title to his name. He wanted to put his energy on the battlefield because, there, he had a chance to be promoted to the rank of an officer, allowing him to rise in social status and income. War was the easiest way for any man to go from rags to riches. It was even easier than marrying into a rich family, despite the sacrifices one made in battle. Hamilton was dead-set on walking out of this war a richer man. He would succeed or die trying.
“I understand and admire your resolve to this fight. But I do not think you give your written skills enough credit.” Hamilton raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “Alexander, I am only one man. I am trying to make an army out of farmers, ranchers, merchants—men who have never seen combat before in their lives, and never thought they ever would. On top of that, our budget is not what Congress promised it would be. Every day brings the possibility that there won’t be a Continental Army anymore. Either the soldiers will die due to battle, illness, and infection, or desert in anger, hopelessness, and exhaustion. I need someone who has a way with a pen and words. I need someone who believes in this cause with every fiber of his being. I need someone who can inspire generosity within Congress, hope within the soldiers, and pride within the citizens. I need you, Alexander Hamilton.”
Hamilton stared at the General long and hard, taking in the desperate words spoken by the man who held the colonies in the palms of his hands and the weight of their future on his shoulders. I could see Alexander weighing the heartfelt statements in his mind, and the opportunities that came with them. Was he really going to throw away this shot?
“Your Excellency,” Hamilton started. “I would be humbled and honored to serve you, the Continental Army, and America’s citizens in any way I can. I am at your command.”
TWENTY-NINE YEARS LATER…
My sleep was disturbed early in the morning. My eyes snapped open, recognizing that pit in my stomach that I had felt far too many times over the centuries. It was the complete antithesis of that night in 1775. Instead of a hero being born, that was a night that a hero was going to die.
I scrambled out of bed and rushed to put on the minimum amount of clothing that the weather and society required of me. Once dressed, I didn’t bother to take the normal means of transportation. I didn’t have time to run through the streets of New York, charter a boat, and row across the Hudson. I needed to get to Weehawken as soon as possible. It was the first time I had taken the chance to use my divine powers in…I couldn’t even remember how long it had been.
With a flash, my apartment was gone, and I was standing on the misty shore of New Jersey. The sun was just beginning to rise, turning the five men in dark coats into silhouettes. Yet, I recognized the two who stood ten paces away from one another with pistols in their hands. To the left, the blow-hard Burr, butt-hurt from losing the presidency to that peacock, Thomas Jefferson. To the right, Alexander, weary from years of hard work and fighting every day of his life. He fought for the country. He fought for his president. He fought for his marriage. If fighting could’ve helped him save his son, he would’ve. He was tired of fighting. I could see it in those weary eyes hidden behind his spectacles.
Time slowed as the duel commenced. Hamilton and Burr whipped around, raising their guns. And Alexander did just as I feared he would. Unlike Burr, he didn’t stop when his arm made a perfect angle with his body; he kept lifting his arm higher and higher until the only beings in danger of being caught in his crossfire were the morning birds.
A shot rang out, and I felt the world go silent.
I stood in silence over Alexander’s memorial for the five minutes I had before the cemetery would close for the evening. I just kept asking myself, and the man’s remains, the same questions over and over and over again. Why would you waste your shot like that? How could the world have been different if you had taken it?
I never found or received an answer to either question in the two centuries that had passed. I knew I never would.
The only thing I knew was that I couldn’t ever make the same mistake that Alexander Hamilton made. Ever.