CLOSE
Wikimedia Commons (Portraits) // Public Domain // Collage: Chloe Effron
Wikimedia Commons (Portraits) // Public Domain // Collage: Chloe Effron

Here's What Happened to 15 Key Players in Hamilton After the Duel

Wikimedia Commons (Portraits) // Public Domain // Collage: Chloe Effron
Wikimedia Commons (Portraits) // Public Domain // Collage: Chloe Effron

The death of former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton—murdered by Vice-President Aaron Burr in a duel on July 12, 1804—shocked a young nation and laid bare partisan tensions that make modern politics look like a badly acted reality show. Hamilton’s bitter adversary, President Thomas Jefferson, was chillingly silent (at least publicly) about the death of his fellow Founding Father, while Hamilton’s erstwhile rival in Constitutional disputes, James Madison, was only concerned his death might stir sympathy for the moribund Federalists. The grand old man, George Washington, dead since 1799, would probably have mourned his brilliant young aide-de-camp, along with his own vision of a virtuous, non-partisan Republic.

But what about the other men and women whose paths had crossed with Hamilton’s, inspired by his vaulting ambitions and submerged in the wake of his tragic flaws? Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece Hamilton tells their story up to his death—but what happened to them in the aftermath?

1. AARON BURR

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The most controversial (read: “shady”) Founding Father, whatever was left of Burr’s political career went up in smoke with the murder of his former friend-turned-political adversary Alexander Hamilton after their July 11, 1804 duel—which is ironic, considering the duel was meant to restore Burr’s reputation, and with it his political fortunes. While dueling was a common way of settling “affairs of honor”—itself a fairly foreign concept in today’s world—duels very rarely actually got to the point of shooting, with various efforts being made to prevent it from getting that far. Actually killing your opponent was considered bloodthirsty in addition to being illegal (at least in New York; the authorities in New Jersey, where the duel took place, had a reputation for looking the other way).

After the duel, Burr was charged with murder in both New York and New Jersey and fled the area, going into hiding (still as Vice-President!) in Georgia—not quite another country, but close enough in an age when trains were maxing out at 10 miles per hour. Burr then returned to Washington, D.C. to finish his term as Vice-President, where he was immune from prosecution while presiding over the Senate, and benefited once again from his uncanny political luck: After the election of 1804, the victorious Democratic-Republicans and defeated Federalists decided the whole Hamilton affair was a needless political obstruction and the charges were quietly shelved. In fact, as the lame duck, VP Burr enjoyed a political swan song, presiding over the Senate’s impeachment trial of the Federalist Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, stemming in part from his previous handling of the trial of notorious muckraker James Callender (the Senate voted to acquit Chase).

Facing creditors in New York City, like so many other down-on-their luck, disreputable, or plain ol’ murderous men in U.S. history, Burr decided to try to revive his fortunes by heading to the Western frontier—which, at that time, meant Louisiana. In 1805, Burr leased 40,000 acres on the Ouachita River from Baron de Bastrop, a Dutch businessman with connections to the Spanish crown, and recruited scores of followers as he journeyed west. According to one version, Burr, anticipating a war between the U.S. and Spain in the near future, wanted first crack at the vast fertile lands of Texas when the U.S. kicked the Spaniards out, or possibly even planned to precipitate the war with his own private invasion (a practice known as “filibustering”). According to another version, Burr wanted to mount a rebellion against the U.S. government in the Louisiana Territory and form a new nation, perhaps with help from Britain.

Although it’s not clear what Burr’s plans were, what his former boss President Thomas Jefferson saw was a disgraced politician setting up a fiefdom on the borders of the United States with his own private army, and Burr’s notorious opportunism made the charges sound plausible enough—especially after one of his collaborators/“co-conspirators,” Louisiana Territory governor James Wilkinson, ratted him out (ironically, Wilkinson himself was in the pay of the Spanish crown, though this was only discovered after his death). Other statements Burr made to the British ambassador to Washington, Anthony Merry, certainly seem to indicate he was planning to detach the new western territories from the U.S.

Convinced that Burr was plotting rebellion in the Louisiana Territory, planning an illegal invasion of Spanish territory, or both, Jefferson ordered him arrested in 1806, and the next year, Burr was hauled back to Virginia to stand trial on charges of treason and high misdemeanor. Burr denied the accusations categorically and noted his long patriotic service to his country; meanwhile, Wilkinson was shown to have altered a key piece of evidence for the government’s case, a letter from Burr supposedly detailing the plans for rebellion. With no evidence beyond the fact that Burr was headed somewhere with a band of armed men, Chief Justice John Marshall found Burr not guilty in spite of overwhelming pressure from Jefferson, an important early statement of judicial independence.

After the trial, Burr spent several years in Europe, perhaps plotting another invasion of Mexico with help from Britain or France, and then in 1812 returned to New York City, where he worked as a lawyer and suffered the loss of his beloved daughter Theodosia at sea in 1813. After practicing law for two decades, in 1833, at the age of 77, Burr married Eliza Jumel, reputedly the wealthiest widow in America. She accused him of mismanaging her finances and filed for divorce not long after (her lawyer: Hamilton's second son, also named Alexander). Their divorce was finalized on September 14, 1836—the same day Burr died in a boardinghouse in Port Richmond, Staten Island, age 80. Shortly before his death Burr heard that American colonists in Texas had rebelled against the Mexican government, is said to have exclaimed: “What was treason in me 30 years ago is patriotism now!” He is buried in Princeton, New Jersey.

2. ELIZABETH SCHUYLER HAMILTON, A.K.A ELIZA OR BETSEY

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Hamilton’s devoted and long-suffering wife, Eliza, endured a barrage of losses around the time of the duel, including the deaths of her mother Catherine, and, three years before, the deaths of her sister Peggy and her son Philip, who was also fatally wounded in a duel. The strong-willed widow, who never remarried, now found herself scrambling to manage her late husband’s substantial debts (the former Secretary of the Treasury and the force behind the First Bank of the United States was not so great with his own money). Friends and family tried to help out, but she was forced to give up their house, The Grange—which was completed just two years before Hamilton’s death—in a public auction. Not long after, she was able to repurchase it because of yet another tragedy, the death of her father Philip just four months after her husband, which left her a modest bequest.

Although Eliza had secured their family home, she would spend most of the rest of her life in (relative) poverty. Nonetheless, she played a major role in securing her husband’s legacy and contributing to the young country’s civic life. Over the next five decades, she corresponded with all the leaders of the Federalists as well as their associates and descendants, flattering, coaxing and pleading with them to turn over important papers and letters written by Alexander over the years, most of which are now held by the Library of Congress. Among the items curated by Eliza was a letter from her husband to George Washington, proving his authorship of part of the first president’s famous Farewell Address.

Eliza also helped found the first public orphanages in New York City and Washington, D.C., serving as the director of the New York orphanage from 1821 to 1848. She also successfully lobbied Congress to have Alexander’s army pension, which he had waived, reinstated. She spent the last six years of her life living in Washington, D.C. with her widowed daughter, also named Eliza, where she helped another Revolutionary widow, Dolley Madison, raise funds for the Washington Monument. After her death in 1854 she was buried alongside her husband in the Trinity Church cemetery in New York City.

3. ANGELICA SCHUYLER CHURCH

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Eliza’s older sister Angelica—who dazzled New York society, carried on a lifelong flirtation (and possibly affair) with her brother-in-law Alexander, and was a close friend of both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette—lived only 10 more years after Hamilton’s death. During that period, her husband, John Barker Church, had received 100,000 acres of land on the Genesee River in western New York State as repayment of a loan to Robert Morris, famous as “the Financier of the Revolution.” Her son Philip founded a town on the land, which he named Angelica in her honor; John built the family mansion, Belvidere, there. She divided her time between Belvidere and New York City until her death at the age of 58 in 1814; she is buried in the Trinity Church cemetery in New York City.

4. MARIA REYNOLDS

After Hamilton’s ill-advised affair with Maria Reynolds—which her husband James used to blackmail Hamilton before the whole thing blew up with the Reynolds Pamphlet scandal—Maria paid the heavy penalty of any woman of “ill fame,” in keeping with the double standard of the time. Before the affair became public knowledge, Maria divorced her husband (her lawyer: Aaron Burr), and married James’ co-conspirator, Jacob Clingman, before divorcing him in 1800. Reviled as a prostitute, she lost her daughter Susan, who was taken away by the courts to be raised in foster care, although this doesn’t seem to have helped much: In 1803, Susan eloped with a certain Francis Wright, who dumped her a few weeks later, and she wound up in a brothel, another victim of her mother’s infamy. Maria herself died in 1832 at the age of 64.

5. JAMES REYNOLDS

Not much is known about Maria’s lowlife husband, who pretty much disappears from the pages of history after the publication of the Reynolds Pamphlet in 1797. It’s not hard to imagine James Reynolds assuming a new identity and disappearing into the crowd, aided by the lack of official records, identity papers, photographs, or electronic communication of any sort in early 19th century America. The young Republic was a good place to be a career criminal.

6. SAMUEL SEABURY

The Anglican bishop—who, in the musical, Hamilton memorably mocks in "The Farmer Refuted"—initially opposed independence but later played a central role in the founding of the Episcopal Church in America. By the time of his death in 1796, Seabury had helped craft the Episcopalian liturgy and established continuity between the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, healing the religious rupture caused by the Revolution and thus maintaining the direct line of succession running back to the early Apostles. Among other contributions, Seabury persuaded the American Episcopal Church to adopt the Scottish Prayer of Consecration rather than its shorter English counterpart. Today the anniversary of his consecration in Aberdeen, Scotland, on November 14, 1784, is a feast day in the Episcopal Church.

7. GEORGE EACKER

The New York City lawyer who killed Alexander Hamilton’s son Philip in November 1801 only ended up outliving him by a few years. Eacker, a supporter of Burr, insulted Hamilton senior in a speech by implying he was open to treason against the Jefferson administration, causing Philip and his friend Richard Price to demand satisfaction (a.k.a. an apology). Instead, Eacker cussed them out, an insult to their honor that could not be overlooked. The fracas resulted in two duels on November 22 and 23, 1801, both held at the same popular dueling ground in Weehawken, New Jersey, where Burr and Hamilton would later duel. First Eacker faced off against Price, with the expected result—two shots fired, no injuries, honor maintained. The next day, Eacker killed Philip in the second duel. Eacker didn’t get to savor his victory for long, however: He died, likely of consumption (tuberculosis), on January 4, 1804, six months before Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.

8. CHARLES LEE

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Considered by some a traitor to the Revolutionary cause, the hard-drinking Lee (who sings "I'm a General, wee!" in Hamilton) never achieved the notoriety of Benedict Arnold because his attempt at treason (if that’s what it was—he wrote to William Howe about the best way to defeat the Americans) never really went anywhere. After his capture by British forces in 1776, Lee was freed in a prisoner exchange and returned to service in 1778. He led—or rather, failed to lead—the Continental attack at the Battle of Monmouth later that year, when he ordered his troops to retreat and left Washington to sort it all out.

Some historians claim his disobedience was a deliberate gambit hatched with the British during his captivity, while sympathetic biographers note that Washington’s orders were vague and Lee’s troops outnumbered 2-to-1. Whatever the truth was, Washington was furious and relieved Lee of command on the spot. Lee demanded a court martial to clear his name. He was found guilty, and retreated to live in his Virginia (now West Virginia) estate Prato Rio—then earned himself even more disfavor by attacking Washington’s character, resulting in a duel with Washington’s aide John Laurens.

While at his estate, he drew up plans for a utopian society without clergy, in which citizens would cultivate virtue through music, poetry, and philosophy. He died of fever in Philadelphia in 1782. In his will, Lee—a Deist who made no secret of his scorn for organized religion—specified: “I desire most earnestly, that I may not be buried in any church, or church-yard, or within a mile of any Presbyterian or Anabaptist meeting-house; for since I have resided in this country, I have kept so much bad company when living, that I do not chuse [sic] to continue it when dead.” So they buried him in the churchyard of Christ Church in Philadelphia. Fort Lee in New Jersey is named after him.

9. THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The elegant, idealistic young French nobleman led an equally adventurous life after the American Revolution, including a star role in another, far more violent uprising across the Atlantic. After returning to France a military hero for his role in the American Revolution, in 1791, during the first, moderate phase of the French Revolution, Lafayette helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen with help from Thomas Jefferson, elaborating on the idea of universal rights set forth in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

When the Revolution took a radical turn, however, Lafayette’s noble status became a liability, as the Jacobins led by Robespierre accused him of secret monarchist sympathies for defending the royal family from a mob. In 1792, he fled to the Austrian Netherlands (today Belgium), where he was promptly arrested by the Austrians as an anti-monarchist, proving sometimes you just can’t win (if anyone cared to ask, he wanted a moderate constitutional monarchy).

After spending five years in an Austrian prison, during which the Revolution burned itself out, Lafayette was freed at the request of Napoleon Bonaparte—then busily laying the groundwork for (another) dictatorship—in 1797. Disagreeing with Napoleon’s authoritarian tendencies, Lafayette wisely sat out most of the Napoleonic era, grieving the death of his wife Adrienne in 1807 and only returning to public life in 1815 to help force the emperor to abdicate after his second, short-lived return to power.

In 1824, at the age of 68, Lafayette returned to the United States with his son Georges Washington to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of independence. Riding an unprecedented wave of public adulation, Lafayette reunited with Revolutionary War veterans and undertook a 16-month grand tour of the nation he helped create, including a visit to the aging Jefferson and Madison at Monticello, and a separate visit to John Adams in Boston. Before he left, Congress awarded him the stupendous sum of $200,000 along with land in Florida. When Lafayette returned to France, he carried with him a case of American soil, which was later spread on his grave after his death in 1834 at the age of 78.

10. HERCULES MULLIGAN

One of Hamilton’s best friends during his footloose youth in New York City, the Irish-born Mulligan, 17 years Hamilton's senior, helped convert him to the Revolutionary cause and continued to play a central role organizing resistance to British rule in New York during the Revolution, using his position as a tailor for British officers to gather key information which his slave Cato then passed to the rebels. After the Revolution, many Patriots, ignorant of Mulligan’s secret wartime service, accused him of being a British collaborator and wanted to tar and feather him—usually a fatal procedure. Thankfully, George Washington intervened by visiting Mulligan in New York the day after the British evacuated the city in 1783, later employing him as his personal tailor. This endorsement by the Father of the Country was enough to bring Mulligan lifelong fame and prosperity, and presumably a bunch of awkward apologies.

In 1785, Mulligan joined Hamilton in founding the New York Manumission Society, one of the first official organizations devoted to ending slavery, and a predecessor to William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society. He continued working as a tailor until his retirement at age 80 in 1820, his business doubtless benefiting from the sign reading “Clothier to Genl. Washington” out front. He died in 1825 and was buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church, along with his old friend Hamilton.

11. KING GEORGE III

King George III, the “tyrannical” monarch (who was actually fairly conciliatory before Parliament pushed him into open confrontation with the colonists) had his good days and bad days after the colonies went their own way, the latter mostly due to his habit of going nuts for long periods of time. (The lyrics in "You'll Be Back" are a subtle nod to his fits of madness: "When you're gone / I'll go mad ..." he sings.) The king’s madness has often been attributed to porphyria, a genetic condition that also causes the victim’s urine to turn blue, but historians and medical experts have also suggested that he suffered from a mental illness like bipolar disorder, while others point to arsenic poisoning.

Whatever the cause, George III’s bouts of insanity began almost three decades into his 60-year reign from 1761-1820, with the first episode of prolonged derangement recorded in 1788. From then on, he would alternate between periods of apparent normality and increasingly bizarre behavior—talking for hours on end until foam starting coming from his mouth, for example (the story that he shook hands with a tree is a myth, though).

Given the primitive state of medicine in general and mental healthcare in particular, it’s no surprise the treatments tried out on the king proved more or less useless, including harsh chemical applications and forcible restraints. In 1789, Parliament attempted to pass a bill to create a regency, which would allow his son, the future King George IV, to carry out royal duties in his place. But George III recovered before the bill was passed, and the idea was shelved. George III relapsed in 1801 and 1804, and a final relapse in 1810 (possibly aggravated by the stress of the wars with Napoleon) led to the formal creation of the Regency in 1811, which continued until George III’s death in 1820. Despite his madness, King George III was remembered in England as a kind, considerate monarch who was concerned for the welfare of his people.

12. ANGELICA HAMILTON

In Hamilton, the Treasure secretary's oldest son, then 9, raps that he "has a sister but I want a little brother!" That sister was Angelica, the Hamiltons' second child, who was destroyed by Philip's 1801 death. Grief drove her insane, and she remained institutionalized until her death at the age of 73 in 1857. For the rest of her life, she continued to speak about Philip as if he were still alive even as she sometimes failed to recognize her own family members. Her one pleasure was playing the piano, as her father had taught her when she was a girl.

13. AND 14. WILLIAM P. VAN NESS AND NATHANIEL PENDLETON (THE "SECONDS")

Van Ness, who served as the second to Aaron Burr in the famous duel, and Pendleton, who served as the second to Hamilton, became respected judges in later years, despite technically being complicit in the criminal affair of the duel, as they freely admitted. In fact, hours after the duel, they cooperated to write a joint statement giving their combined eyewitness account, which they submitted to the court on July 17, 1804. The statement reads, in part:

The pistols were discharged within a few seconds of each other and the fire of Col: Burr took effect; Genl Hamilton almost instantly fell. Col: Burr then advanced toward Genl H——n with a manner and gesture that appeared to Genl Hamilton’s friend to be expressive of regret, but without Speaking turned about & withdrew… No farther communications took place between the principals and the Barge that carried Col: Burr immediately returned to the City. We conceive it proper to add that the conduct of the parties in that interview was perfectly proper as suited the occasion.

15. DAVID HOSACK

The physician who attended both Alexander Hamilton and his son Philip after their duels (and who served as the physician for Aaron Burr and his daughter) continued a long and successful medical and scientific career after their deaths. Motivated by the death of his son Alexander in 1792 and the death of his first wife Catharine during childbirth in 1796, Hosack made the care of pregnant women the subject of lifelong study; he was also an early advocate of the smallpox vaccination, in addition to advancing the treatment of yellow fever. In addition to previous appointments as a professor of natural history and botany at Columbia University, he was named Professor of Surgery and Midwifery, the precursor to obstetrics, in 1807. From 1801 to 1805, Hosack created America’s first botanical garden, Elgin Botanical Garden, in New York City (it was eventually given to New York State, which gave it to Columbia College, who would ultimately lease it to the Rockefellers—who turned the site into Rockefeller Center). He later founded the New York Horticultural Society and recruited a number of luminaries to join it, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette. In 1821, Hosack was honored with membership in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which today hands out Nobel Prizes—kind of a big deal. Following the death of his second wife Mary in 1824, Hosack married a wealthy widow, Magdalena Coster, and eventually purchased a large estate in Hyde Park on the Hudson River Valley in addition to their Manhattan townhouse. He died in 1835 at the age of 66, apparently due to shock after a disastrous fire destroyed much of his beloved New York City.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
arrow
History
The Sky Was No Limit: The WASP Women Pilots of WWII
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Shirley Slade sat on the wing of a plane and looked off into an uncertain future. Slade—clad in her flight suit with pigtails guarding against Texas wind—was posing for the July 19, 1943 issue of Life magazine, and the composition between the aircraft and its operator was a juxtaposition spelled out in the cover headline: "Air Force Pilot."

Slade was one of more than 1000 women who had been solicited by the U.S. government to enter an intensive seven-month training course that would make them the first female pilots to enter the Air Force. What had been a boy's club was being forced into a kind of reluctant gender neutrality as a result of World War II and severe pilot shortages. By recruiting women, the Air Force could maintain delivery of aircraft, ferry supplies, and perform other non-combative functions that fueled the war efforts. Collectively, the group would become known as WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots.

While all of these women risked their lives—and more than a few lost them—they were not perceived as equals. Because they were designated as civilians, they were denied military honors and compensation. As the war wound down, men returning from combat jockeyed to take the WASPs' places as active-duty pilots. Occasionally, the women would be used in target practice. It would be decades before the women of WASP would finally get their due.

 
 

America's entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor heralded a new policy of rationing. Food, materials, and manpower were doled out carefully, but demand for pilots quickly exceeded the available personnel. By 1942, the Air Force realized they would have to tap into new sources in order to continue their campaign.

Jacqueline Cochran had a solution: A pilot in her own right and a contemporary of Amelia Earhart, Cochran knew there was a strong contingent of female fliers who had licenses and had logged air time who could be recruited for support missions. She petitioned the Air Force, including commanding general Henry Harley "Hap" Arnold, to approve a training program that would ultimately relocate volunteers to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. Another pilot, Nancy Harkness Love, submitted a similar proposal.

WASP pilot Elizabeth Remba Gardner looks out from her plane while on a Texas runway
WASP pilot Elizabeth Remba Gardner
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Cochran and Love were up against considerable resistance to involving women in military efforts. General Dwight D. Eisenhower once admitted he was "violently against" the idea (before concluding that none of his concerns came to light and women were an integral part of the effort). Internally, there was concern as to whether women would even be capable of handling a massive aircraft like the B-29 bomber, so superiors hedged their bets by creating two organizations.

Love was put in charge of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS)—an organization to ferry planes—while Cochran was put in charge of the Women's Flying Training Detachment, which did whatever the Army Air Corps required of it. A little under a year later, these two groups were merged into a single organization: the WASPs. This new group demanded that incoming women logged at least 35 hours of flight time before coming to Sweetwater. More importantly, the women would be considered civilians, not military personnel.

Roughly 25,000 women applied; around 1900 were accepted and 1100 completed training. On their own dimes, these women streamed into Texas to begin the seven-month program that taught them every aspect of military flying except for gunnery duty and formation flying. Every day in the barracks included intensive lessons, physical fitness training, and studying. At night, the women would dance, sing, or play ping-pong. Life described their ambitions as "piloting with an unfeminine purpose" and noted that some of the women needed cushions in order to sit comfortably in planes designed for male bodies. Their mascot, a tiny winged sprite named Miss Fifinella, was designed by Disney, and the patch appeared on many of their jumpsuits and plane noses.

According to Life, the Air Force reported that the women were faster on instruments while the men "had better memory for details." But in virtually every way that counted, the magazine wrote, there was no practical difference in ability.

Graduates were dispatched to bases around the country, though the most pressing job was ferrying new aircraft from factories to places like Newark, New Jersey, where the planes would make the jump overseas. The women shuttled 12,000 of these planes during the war. They also escorted military chaplains from base to base on Sundays for religious services and operated test flights for repaired aircraft to make sure they were safe to fly in combat. Sometimes, they'd be tasked with towing targets behind them so soldiers could use live ammunition for combat practice.

Simulated combat may have been nerve-wracking, but it was no more dangerous than the actual flying and the very real possibility that the WASPs would experience equipment malfunction or fuel issues. In the two years the squad was active, 38 women perished during missions. At the time—and for decades afterward—the families of those women were denied many of the basic privileges afforded to the families of their male counterparts. When a WASP died, her colleagues—not the government—would pitch in to pay for her burial. Their families were prohibited from putting a gold star in their windows, a sign of a military casualty, nor were they "allowed" to drape the American flag over their coffins.

 
 

On December 20, 1944, the WASPs were sent home. The war wasn't yet over, but men returning from the front lines were dismayed that jobs they expected to find waiting for them were being occupied by women. Despite Cochran's petition to have the WASPs permanently incorporated into the Air Force, Congress turned her down.

WASP pilots are photographed circa 1943
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The pride the women had felt serving their country turned to confusion. By being classified as "civilians," the WASPs found little respect for their efforts. When entering the workforce after the war, some even became flight attendants, as no commercial airline would hire a female pilot.

In the 1970s, the Air Force announced they'd be accepting female recruits for the "first time," a proclamation that angered the surviving WASPs. Their efforts had largely gone unheralded, and now it seemed like the government was wiping them from history completely. Petitioning for recognition and receiving aid from fellow war ferry pilot Senator Barry Goldwater, they were finally granted military status on November 23, 1977.

As the WASPs aged, a handful got the chance to enjoy another honor. In 2010, the women were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their efforts. After flying 77 different types of planes over 60 million miles during wartime and being largely ignored for decades, it was recognition that was long overdue.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Amergin, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
arrow
crime
The Bizarre Death of Bridget Cleary, the Irish "Fairy Wife"
The town of Tipperary, Ireland
The town of Tipperary, Ireland
Amergin, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The policemen had been combing the green yards and fields of Ballyvadlea, Ireland, for a week when they finally found Bridget Cleary. The 26-year-old's body had been wedged beneath several inches of clay and a jumble of thorn bushes, but her corpse showed wounds caused by something much worse than branches: Her spine and lower limbs were so badly burned that parts of her skeleton were exposed. She was naked, except for a stocking and one gold earring, and her head was encased in a sack.

The judge would later describe the events leading up to Bridget's death as demonstrating "a degree of darkness in the mind, not just of one person, but of several—a moral darkness, even religious darkness." It was the end of the 19th century, not exactly the Middle Ages, but those involved in the end of Bridget's life had become convinced that she wasn't really herself—and that a supernatural creature had taken her place.

GONE WITH THE FAIRIES

Bridget was the wife of a cooper named Michael Cleary, and the pair were regarded around town as a relatively happy couple. They shared their cottage, in a remote townland near Tipperary, with Bridget's father, Patrick Boland, and had no children. Michael was nine years Bridget's senior and earned a decent salary; she brought in some extra income by working as a seamstress and egg-seller. By all accounts, they were more prosperous than their neighbors, likely thanks to her resourcefulness. As a literate, independent, and fashionably dressed working woman, she was part of an emerging class in a rural society that had long been based in agriculture and the oral tradition.

It was also a society steeped in legends of the supernatural. Fairy belief, in particular, was pervasive in Irish rural societies at the time, and had long coexisted with Christian doctrine. Children grew up hearing legends of the Little People from their earliest days, and learned how to appease them by leaving untasted food on the table, for example, or saying "bless them" whenever the fairies were mentioned. The fairies were blamed for everything that went wrong—lost items, spoiled milk, bad crops. As one County Sligo man interviewed at the start of the 20th century told an anthropologist, "Nothing is more certain than that there are fairies."

Bridget herself was known to be fascinated by the beings, and to take trips to the most fairy-ridden spots around town. She may have visited such a spot on Monday, March 4, 1895, when she went to deliver eggs to her father's cousin, Jack Dunne, near Kylenagranagh Hill. The area was home to a ringfort, an early medieval circular fortified settlement believed, in Irish folklore, to be a "fairy fort," and thus to be avoided at all costs. Yet Bridget often visited the fort, and she likely spent time there that Monday after delivering the eggs.

It was a cold morning, the mountains still covered in the snow that had fallen the previous day, and after the two- or three-mile walk Bridget couldn't seem to warm up once she got back home. She spent the following day in bed, shivering and complaining of "a raging pain in her head."

That Saturday, her father walked four miles in the heavy rain to ask the doctor to call on her. But the doctor wasn't able to visit until the following Wednesday, and by then her husband had also gone to summon him twice. They should have been reassured by the doctor's diagnoses—"nervous excitement and slight bronchitis"—but it wasn't this ailment that worried Michael. He was convinced that the bed-ridden woman in their cottage was "too fine," in his own words, to be his wife, and that she was "two inches taller" than the woman he had known. At some point, Michael had developed the belief that Bridget had been replaced by a fairy changeling as she passed near the fairy fort on Kylenagranagh Hill.

"ARE YOU BRIDGET BOLAND?"

It is likely that this idea was planted in Michael's head by his confidante, Jack Dunne. According to Irish historian Angela Bourke, who has researched the case extensively, the 55-year-old Dunne was a charismatic man rumored to have the power of divination. He was known in the area as a seanchaí, a sort of storyteller well-versed in fairy mythology.

On Wednesday afternoon, after the doctor's visit, a priest visited. He wasn't overly concerned about the illness, but decided to administer the last rites in case it worsened. The ceremony emphasized the fact that Michael could lose his wife, which distressed him even more. He talked to Dunne, who urged him to act immediately, or the "real" Bridget would be lost forever. "It is not your wife is there [sic]," the older man reminded him. "This is the eighth day, and you had a right to have gone to Ganey"—the local "fairy doctor"—"on the fifth day."

The cooper duly visited Ganey following morning. He came back with a mixture of herbs that needed to be boiled in "new milk," the nutrient-rich first milk produced by a cow after calving.

That night, Michael forced the bitter concoction down Bridget’s throat while Dunne and three male cousins pinned her down in bed. Relatives outside the house heard someone—likely Michael—shouting, "Take it, you witch, or I'll kill you!" The men threw urine at her and shook her, yelling, "Away with you; come home Bridget Boland, in the name of God!" Other relatives and neighbors came and went, witnessing her ordeal and hearing her screams, but were too scared to intervene. Michael asked his wife to answer her name three times: "Are you Bridget Boland, wife of Michael Cleary, in the name of God?" The men then brought her to the fireplace and held her over the grate—ordeals by fire were known to drive out the fairies—while they repeated the questioning.

By midnight Thursday night, the ritual seemed to be completed. Bridget was "wild and deranged," according to her cousin Johanna, but her husband seemed satisfied, and her relatives thought there had been some sort of catharsis. The following morning, at Michael's request, the priest said mass in Bridget's bedroom in order to banish the "evil spirits" that were left in the house.

"IT IS NOT BRIDGET I AM BURNING."

An image of fairies from fairies from "The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley"
Fairies from "The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley"
British Library, Europeana // Public Domain

On Friday, March 15, for the first time in 11 days, Bridget got out of bed and dressed in her usual, fashionable clothes "to give her courage when she would go among the people," as Johanna later told the magistrates. Several family members had joined them in their cottage for tea later in the day when an argument erupted. Bridget had asked for some milk, which had rekindled Michael’s suspicions; fairies are known in folklore to yearn for fresh milk.

Bridget was probably exhausted, and she didn't want to be questioned any more. "Your mother used to go with the fairies and that is why you think I am going with them," she told her husband. Michael was furious. He demanded that she eat three pieces of bread and jam—perhaps to reinforce his control over her—asking her to say her name again. She answered twice and ate two of the three pieces, but when she hesitated for a moment with the third, her husband flung her on the ground and threatened her: "If you won't take it, down you will go."

Michael jabbed his knee into her chest, forcing the bread and jam down Bridget's throat. He began tearing off her clothes, leaving only her chemise, then grabbed a hot stick from the fire and held it close to her mouth. He struck her head against the floor, then set her chemise alight. Within a few minutes, he had also poured paraffin lamp oil over her, encouraging the flames.

As her body was burning, Michael said in front of shocked relatives: "She's not my wife. She's an old deceiver sent in place of my wife." Relatives yelled at Michael to put out the flames, but Bridget "blazed up all in a minute," according to their later testimony. They huddled in fear in a nearby bedroom, the flames soon barricading their way.

Once the flames had died down, Michael wrapped her body in a sheet and shoved it in an old bag. Then he left the house, locking Bridget's relatives inside with the corpse. They waited for about an hour, praying. When Michael returned, he was wielding a knife and threatened to kill Bridget's cousin Patrick Kennedy if he didn't help him bury Bridget's body. "Come on out here now," he shouted. "I have the hole nearly made." The two men carried the body to a boggy area about a quarter-mile uphill from the cottage, and buried it in a shallow hole. Back in the cottage, Michael made the rest of the family swear they wouldn't tell the authorities.

ON A WHITE HORSE

The following morning, an agitated Michael arrived at Drangan church with Dunne. Dunne wanted Michael to speak to a priest, but when the priest saw him kneeling in front of the altar—weeping, tearing his hair, and asking to go to confession—he thought he wasn't fit to receive the sacrament. He spoke to Dunne instead, who hadn't been at the cottage at the time of Bridget's death, but told the priest that Michael had claimed to have burned his wife the previous night. "I've been asking them all morning to take her up and give her a Christian burial," Dunne added. Bewildered, thinking them both insane, the church minister reported their conversation to a police sergeant.

For the next few days, the police searched for Bridget and questioned her friends and relatives. Even though Michael spoke about emigrating or committing suicide to escape the law, he still hoped his "real wife" would come back: For three consecutive nights starting the day after visiting the priest, he waited at the ringfort on Kylenagranagh Hill, where he believed she would appear, galloping on a white horse. He said he would only have to cut the ropes that bound her to the animal so she would be his forever.

On Wednesday, March 20, the Royal Irish Constables issued arrest warrants for eight people from Bridget's circle, as well as Denis Ganey, the "fairy doctor." Two days later, police found Bridget's body. The prisoners were brought before the magistrates on March 25, ushered in by the angry screams of a crowd who had learned of the case through extensive press coverage. On July 5, 1895, after a two-day trial, Michael was found guilty of manslaughter and imprisoned, along with Jack Dunne, Patrick Boland, and four of Bridget’s cousins, including Patrick Kennedy. The judge ruled out a verdict of murder, explaining they all had acted out of genuine belief.

Michael was released in 1910, after which he boarded ship for Montreal. Dunne served a three-year prison sentence before returning to the area, where he kept working as a laborer. "God knows I would never do it but for Jack Dunne," Michael had reportedly said not long after burning Bridget. "It was he who told me my wife was a fairy."

ILLNESS—OR INFIDELITY?

During her illness, Bridget was visited by her aunt, Mary Kennedy, and told her, "He [Michael]'s making a fairy of me now. He thought to burn me about three months ago." Her words suggest this wasn't the first crisis of its kind.

Although we can only speculate about the couple's disagreements, there were rumors in Ballyvadlea that Bridget had a lover. Contemporary newspapers reported Michael saying his wife "used to be meeting an egg-man on the low road" [sic], but the rumors pointed to young caretaker William Simpson, who had visited the Clearys' cottage with his wife the night before Bridget’s death. In his court testimony, Simpson explained he had arrived as the four men were restraining Bridget, and he had asked them to leave her alone.

Although Michael and the other people involved in the killing were never formally psychiatrically assessed, a 2006 article from the Irish Journal of Medical Science suggested that Michael may have been suffering from a psychotic state known as Capgras syndrome, which involves the belief that a person has been replaced by an impostor. The authors suggest Michael "may have developed a brief psychotic episode" as he struggled to deal with his wife's illness, sleep deprivation, and the recent death of his father—news of which had reached him in the middle of his attempted "cure" on Thursday night. In Capgras syndrome, the socio-cultural context of the sufferer determines the nature of the impostor, which can be another person or even a supernatural being, such as an alien or a fairy changeling.

In her discussion of the supernatural beliefs related to the case, Bourke notes that the message of fairy legends is that "the unexpected may be guarded against by careful observance of society's rules." Bridget Cleary was ambitious, independent, and childless; a modern woman. She didn't conform to the patriarchal norm, which may have made her appear, to some in her life, as closer to the fairy realm than to their own.

Even today in Tipperary, her story hasn't been entirely forgotten. The local children have a nursery rhyme that runs: "Are you a witch or are you a fairy, / Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?"

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER