L.M. Elliott: Hamilton and Peggy!

Wednesday, Nov. 7, 7 p.m., free

Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh

Of the three Schuyler sisters seen on stage in Hamilton, imminently opening at DPAC, Peggy Schuyler is hardly the showiest part. Founding father Alexander Hamilton’s sister-in-law has, in author Laura Elliot’s estimation, fewer than forty words of solo dialogue in the musical. But she played a much more important role in Hamilton’s life, and in history.

The Schuyler sisters—Eliza, Angelica, and Peggy—are highlighted in fan-favorite Hamilton song “The Schuyler Sisters,” a Destiny’s Child-type R&B-empowerment number in which the sisters declare they want a “revelation” rather than a revolution, noting that they want Thomas Jefferson to “include women in the sequel” to the Declaration of Independence.

Two of the sisters play big parts in the musical: Eliza married Hamilton, and her organization of his letters is a major reason there is a musical about him today. Angelica, a prominent member of the social elite, serves as an intellectual sparring partner for Hamilton on stage. (There’s also an implied but fictional attraction between her and Hamilton.)

Peggy, however, has no arc in the play, something Elliott’s new book helps to rectify.

Elliott, a New York Times best-selling author with a master’s degree in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill, is celebrating her ninth historical young-adult novel at Quail Ridge Books on November 7, as part of a Hamilton-themed event. When asked by her editor—for obvious reasons—to write a Hamilton-related book, Elliott chose Peggy because “Hamilton’s sacrosanct at this point, and other people were already doing things about Eliza.” She discovered Peggy was more than just a little sister: “I found very quickly she was an extraordinary person in her own right, and there just wasn’t time in the musical to incorporate the totality of her life.”

Hamilton and Peggy!: A Revolutionary Friendship focuses on Peggy Schuyler’s search for her own identity, the role she played in bringing her sister Eliza and Hamilton together, and her relationship with her father, the Revolutionary War general Philip Schuyler.

“Peggy was the only sister who stayed home in Albany, and that provided a window to talk about her father and his spy ring,” Elliot says. A former journalist, she drew heavily from letters in the National Archive to research the book. She found that while Peggy Schuyler’s words were lost to the sands of time, she had a major presence in history.

“There was nothing really left of her in her own handwriting, but a lot of people talked about her,” Elliott says. “They called her a ‘wicked wit.’ She was ‘endowed with a superior mind and a rare accuracy in judgment of men and things.’ One of Hamilton’s aides called her, in a letter, a ‘Swift Vanessa,’ referring to a poem by Jonathan Swift about an intellectual woman who alienated men because she wanted to talk politics and philosophy with them. It’s like eighteenth-century code for calling someone an Elizabeth-Warren type.”

Elliott got to see Hamilton with the original cast “before it became this unstoppable thing,” she says, and she has nothing but praise for the musical. “History is real-life theater,” Elliott says. “And when theater can capture that, what a gift that is!”

And it certainly hasn’t hurt her book sales.

“Before the book was even done, I’d already gotten kids at schools singing the Schuyler sisters song when I mentioned I was writing about Peggy,” she says. “The sisters are really encouraging this generation of young people who want to be part of the narrative, who want to be smart and empowered.”