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Federalist Papers


Fishkill Ridge Poughkeepsie Journal
Saturday, December 18, 2004

'Federalist Papers' had start at Dennings Point
Hamilton wrote ideas in Beacon
By Dan Shapley

BEACON -- In the spring of 1781, with the American Revolution still raging, Alexander Hamilton sat down at his rented home on DePeyster's Point and turned his thoughts to the future of an independent nation.
Then in his mid-20s, he wrote a long letter on April 30 to Robert Morris, whom Congress would soon appoint superintendent of finance. In it he outlined his ideas about the financial policy of the new nation -- ideas Hamilton would later put into motion as the nation's first and most influential secretary of the treasury.

It's likely he also penned the first four of his six ''Continentalist'' articles while living in a stone and brick home on the point. Published between July 12 and Aug. 30 in 1781 in the influential newspaper, the New York Packet and the American Advertiser, the articles argued for a strong central government. They influenced the Federalist Papers Hamilton later wrote with James Madison and John Jay. That series of articles helped convince New York to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

DePeyster's Point, now known as Dennings Point, is an arm of the City of Beacon jutting into the Hudson River at the mouth of the Fishkill Creek. Fishkill, at that time, encompassed a wider area than it does today, and present-day Beacon was called Fishkill Landing.

Though at least one Hamilton scholar uncovered the point's connection to the founding father's influential writings, it has only come to light locally in recent weeks, as Jim Heron, plumbs the history of the 64-acre state park.

The retired Episcopal priest is volunteering his time as the project historian for the Rivers and Estuaries Center on the Hudson, which is to be built there beginning next year. Heron is also writing a book about the history of Dennings Point for Black Dome Press. Proceeds from the book will benefit the center Gov. George Pataki has envisioned as a worldwide hub for research into rivers and estuaries.

It is well known to historians that Hamilton lived for a few weeks on DePeyster's Point, but many local historians were unaware he did such seminal thinking there. And there are some doubts about the theory, with some placing the DePeyster's Point of Hamilton's inspiration in the Bronx, where the battle of Kingsbridge was fought in July 1781.

''We are continuing to look into this possible link,'' said Wendy Gibson, spokeswoman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Hamilton's fruitful time in Beacon is recounted in Ron Chernow's ''Alexander Hamilton,'' a biography published in April. The book describes Hamilton's ''brick and stone Dutch dwelling'' on the point, visible from George Washington's quarters across the Hudson in New Windsor.

The footprint of Hamilton's rented home has yet to be identified, and could have been disturbed by later generations that transformed the point into, among other things, a brickyard that dug out large volumes of clay. The remnants of some small Dutch dwellings remain, as does a mansion built after Hamilton's time that may have replaced the house he rented, Heron said.

General near

Hamilton was drawn to Dennings Point because he wanted to be near the general, Chernow said.

Hamilton had been Washington's aide-de-camp, or military aid, and he wrote Washington's correspondence for the better part of four years. Washington was then general of the Continental Army, part of which was encamped in New Windsor. Washington's quarters were in the home of Col. Thomas Ellison. That home no longer exists but once sat just south of present-day Newburgh, directly across the Hudson from Dennings Point.

The two men were feuding in the summer of 1781 because Hamilton wanted Washington to appoint him as a military field commander, Chernow said. Hamilton chose to live at DePeyster's Point so he could badger Washington for the appointment -- which he eventually won. Later that year, he commanded an infantry battalion under Marquis de Lafayette that stormed the outer ramparts at Yorktown, Va., an ultimately successful American campaign.

''Hamilton fantasized about battlefield glory and had been constantly lobbying Washington to give him a battlefield command,'' Chernow said. ''Washington decided Hamilton's pen was more important than his sword at that point.''

Indeed, it was after relinquishing Washington's pen and picking up his own that Hamilton began to cement his place in history.

At least two pieces of evidence support Beacon as the location, Heron said.

For one, during this period, Hamilton and Washington exchanged letters that passed between them in the span of one day. And second, Hamilton brought his new wife to DePeyster's Point, and he would have been unlikely to bring his wife to the Bronx, in the midst of the battle of Kingsbridge.

Dennings Point's newly illuminated connection to American history has excited the handful of people aware of the discovery.

Beacon was already known to be a staging area for American troops during the Revolution, as a departure point for supplies to the fort at West Point, and as the place where captured British soldiers crossed the Hudson after the pivotal Battle of Saratoga, said Joan Van Voorhis, Beacon's historian.

''It's another little piece to add to it,'' Van Voorhis said, ''and it delights us anytime we find a little piece that can, well, make us a little more important.''

The Rivers and Estuaries Center plans call for improving the park to introduce more people to its unique history and ecology, Managing Director John Cronin said. American Indian artifacts found at the site date back thousands of years, and the point has seen settlement or industry throughout virtually all of colonial and American history.

''The story of Dennings Point is the story of America,'' Cronin said. ''It all played out on those 64 acres.''

More on Hamilton's writings in Beacon…

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