Alexander Hamilton was born in Queenston, Ontario, in 1790. He was the son of Robert Hamilton and Catherine Robertson (Askin). Robert Hamilton (1753-1809) was a successful businessman and office holder who established a store in Queenston around 1785. Alexander attended school in Queenston and Niagara before being sent to further his education in Scotland. Upon his return to Queenston he worked in his father’s business. Although the business had been very successful, Alexander's brother’s inexperience, a changing economy, and a delay in settling the assets of Robert’s estate caused the business to decline. Alexander’s business activities were interrupted by the War of 1812. During the War, he served as a Captain in the Niagara Light Dragoons, and in the Provincial Light Dragoons. He was present at many of the major military engagements in the Niagara Peninsula, including the retreat from Fort George in 1813.

After the War, Hamilton resumed his business activities. Burdened by debts incurred by him and his brothers, he tried to revitalize a milling business he owned with Charles Askin in Canboro Township. Unfortunately, this drove him further into debt and the business failed in 1817. His prospects improved in the winter of 1817-1818 when he was approached by William Smith about a business venture portaging the North West Company’s goods at Niagara. The Montreal firms of the North West Company were willing to lend money for the purchase of facilities. Competition was intense, with multiple companies seeking this business. The venture failed in 1821, when the North West Company amalgamated with the Hudson’s Bay Company and their route was no longer used for shipments. Hamilton and Smith were left with debts from the business, and Hamilton was forced to use the remainder of his money from his father’s estate, as well as his land, to pay the debt.

Hamilton actively sought public offices, becoming a Justice of the Peace in 1817. He acquired several other posts between 1821 and 1839, including Postmaster and Deputy Collector of Customs at Queenston, Surrogate Court Judge, and Sheriff of the Niagara District. The Post Office at Queenston became the first distributing post office in Upper Canada in 1802. Mail from a packet steamer was loaded onto several wagons and taken to the post office to be sorted, distributed, and forwarded. At one point, 18 clerks were employed to carry out this work. In 1820, Deputy Postmaster General Daniel Sutherland decided that the best way to route mail to and from the United States on the Niagara Frontier and west would be through Queenston. This would enable faster postal service to and from the packet ships at New York from overseas. Later that year, Sutherland appointed Hamilton postmaster of Queenston.

These public offices allowed Hamilton to restore his finances. Around 1833, he began construction of a mansion at Queenston, known as Willowbank. The mansion still remains, overlooking the village of Queenston and the Niagara River, and serves as an example of Classical Revivalism architecture. Alexander Hamilton died in Queenston in 1839.

Much of the collection consists of Alexander Hamilton’s correspondence and records during the time that he was Postmaster at Queenston. Some of his business correspondence and records are also included. Documents related to his role as Surrogate Court Judge and Sheriff of the Niagara District are included here.

Click here to view Alexander Hamilton/Early Canada Postal Collection finding aid:

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