Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway musical Hamilton


Lin-Manuel Miranda stars as Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway musical Hamilton.

Joan Marcus

I was recently given a vivid reintroduction to the revolutionary history of the United States when I attended Hamilton, the Broadway musical written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role of Alexander Hamilton. Set to hip-hop music and showcasing a multiracial cast in the roles of the Founding Fathers and other historical figures, Hamilton traces the ascendance of Hamilton from an orphan who emigrated from the British West Indies as a teenager to become, in short order, George Washington’s military aide-de-camp and later treasury secretary and the architect of the American government. Hamilton also features stunning choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, who is bound to win another Tony Award. It’s the reason I was at the show: to see the contributions of alumna Stephanie Klemons, the associate choreographer who assisted him and who, as the dance captain, taught all the members of the cast their dance steps (“Taking Revolutionary Steps”).

In 1766, when the precocious Hamilton was 11 years old and already handling the accounting books for a West Indian trading company, an institution called Queen’s College was founded, the precursor to what is today Rutgers. This year, the university is celebrating its 250th anniversary, which will culminate on November 10 when, all those years ago, governor William Franklin signed the charter that established Queen’s College, making it the eighth college to open its doors in the colonies.

Like the highly unlikely success of Hamilton and his remarkable legacy, who could have imagined that Queen’s College, a seminary for young men affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church, would become, as Rutgers has, one of the top research universities in the nation? But, by fits and starts in its early years, and with a collective determination, vision, and spirit that Hamilton would have appreciated, Rutgers persevered and grew and prospered. The size of the university really took off following World War II, when returning veterans sought a college education, which the G.I. Bill made affordable. By 1956, Rutgers was officially recognized as The State University of New Jersey.

Hamilton even had the occasion to be at Queen’s College. After the Continental Army was routed in various battles around New York City and forced to retreat through New Jersey in early December 1776, Hamilton and his artillery company, most likely taking a position where Kirkpatrick Chapel stands today at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, unloaded cannon fire on the British troops to impede their advance across the Raritan River. Even though the British soon occupied New Brunswick and forced the temporary relocation of the college, Washington’s troops safely retreated to Pennsylvania and regrouped. They were soon recrossing the Delaware River  to stage their surprise attack on Hessian soldiers during  the Battle of Trenton on December 26. The victory, one in  which Hamilton played a key role, turned the tide in the American Revolution.