Alexander Hamilton Historical Society Keeps the Past Alive
Many people are familiar with the musical “Hamilton,” but if you ask Lynn Olympia, founder of Louisville’s Alexander Hamilton Historical Society of Kentucky, there’s much to learn about the founding father and his political philosophy.
“He loved America,” Olympia says. “He was brilliant. He started the first bank and the Coast Guard.”
Olympia began the society after reading the bestseller “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow about 13 years ago. The book was chosen as one of the 10 best books of the year by the “New York Times,” and helped to inspire the award-winning musical as well.
Olympia says Chernow’s book includes comprehensive coverage of Hamilton’s story, and allows the reader to become familiar with his life and successes.
“He’s such a gifted writer, and a brilliant person,” says Olympia, who also cofounded the Beargrass-St. Matthews Historical Society. “He writes like a poet. Once you start you can’t put it down. He wrote about George Washington too.”
There are also Hamilton societies in Philadelphia and New York. The society here in Louisville meets to discuss topics in history.
“We have a full house, and a big crowd,” says Olympia, who has retired from a leadership role but is still active with the group.
There are typically speakers through year who talk about the era of the founding fathers. In January it was John McLeod from University of Louisville, who spoke about the book “Contest for Liberty.” Past events have focused on Thomas Paine, Paul Revere’s ride, and the First Amendment.
Each February the Society hosts a symposium with Bellarmine University’s Political Science Department on the subject of the Constitution. Bellarmine Professor Dr. Aaron Hoffman is on the board.
The Society began meeting in St. Matthews Eline Library, but moved to Crescent Hill due to schedule conflicts with the library. The organization was first promoted by an article in the local newspaper, and grew from there according to Olympia.
“We always have good speakers – that’s key,” she says. “We have professors from the University of Louisville, Bellarmine and Spalding to review and recommend books, most about early history. There’s no political agenda.”
In 2006 Olympia was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and saw a New-York Historical Society exhibit titled “Future of America,” which included life-sized statues depicting Hamilton’s duel with Aaron Burr.
“Author Richard Brookhiser was a guest speaker,” she says. “It was quite a thrill. Replicas of the two statues were brought for a program at the main library. It was a thrill to be part of.”
Board Member Ann Durbin has been involved with the group since she and her late husband, an American history buff, met Olympia at the library.
“Lynn finds great speakers every month,” Durbin says. “She has speakers lined up for a year, and still attends meetings. It is Lynn’s baby.”
Upcoming speakers include Dr. William Nash and McLeod.
“Hamilton is so important in the founding of our country,” Olympia says. “That’s why I started the society after reading the book. Hamilton is my favorite person. He grew up in Nevis. He wrote about a hurricane for the local newspaper and no one could believe a 12-year-old could write so well. His boss (Nicholas) Cruger sent him to America to attend Columbia.”
Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis in the West Indies. At King’s College, later Columbia, he wrote his first political pamphlet in support of the first Continental Congress. In 1775 he joined the New York state militia, later becoming an aide to George Washington. He later helped found the Bank of New York and the “New York Evening Post,” and was a member New York Manumission Society, an anti-slavery group. Washington nominated him as the first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789. He died in 1804 after being shot in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.
The society typically meets every third Saturday at the Masonic Home on Frankfort Avenue, but meetings have gone virtual due to COVID-19 and are now held via Zoom.
For more information, visit ahhsky.wixsite.com/ahhs-ky, or send an email to AHHSKY@gmail.com.