Oct. 19,2007 -- Local experts on Alexander Hamilton and residents simply wanting to know more about one of the Founding Fathers' connection with St. Croix crowded the Florence Williams Library Friday.
More than 50 people took in the traveling exhibition "Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America" as it formally opened in Christiansted.
"With activities like this, it shows there is more than just reading at the library," said Zoraida Jacobs, the library's reading campaign coordinator.
The exhibition is made up of panels displaying letters, paintings, maps and quotes. They are arranged in chronological order, giving the story of Hamilton's life, which began in the West Indies.
He was born on Nevis in 1757 and moved to St. Croix in 1765. The circumstances of his early years were sad, with abandonment by his father, the death of his mother and the apparent suicide of his cousin, his legal guardian.
On St. Croix, he saw the plight of slaves working the cane fields, which probably shaped his progressive ideas on racial equality.
William Cissel, a historian formerly with the National Park Service, will present a talk Oct. 26 called "Alexander Hamilton: Myth and Reality" in conjunction with the exhibit.
"This will cover the persistent myths and legends about Hamilton, in particular about his life on St. Croix," Cissel said.
On Nov. 23, Arnold Highfield, professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, will give a presentation called "St Croix in the Time of Alexander Hamilton." The last presentation on Dec. 7 will be "Young Hamilton" by William Taylor, historical preservationist.
Historian Robert Johnson, who also attended the opening, has loaned the library two letters written by Hamilton. They are on display in the Caribbean Collection located on the third floor. The Caribbean Collection houses numerous books on Hamilton that may be used as reference material but are not to be checked out. There are rare books in this collection, such as one published in 1890 donated by the Robert Armstrong Family.
Wallace Williams, retired director of the library and a member of the National Library Association, keeps tabs on programs such as the exhibit. In 2004, he planted the seed for the project to come to St. Croix.
"We are fortunate to be one of the 45 libraries to have the exhibit and the only one offshore," Williams said. "I was not sure it would get here on time -- it got here on Tuesday."
The exhibit had to be flown to the territory at cost of almost $8,000. The exhibit was organized by the New York Historical Society, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the American Library Association, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Two hundred students from Elena Christian Jr. High School are scheduled to visit the library to see the exhibit. Eighth graders from Good Hope came to the opening because they are currently studying Hamilton in social studies.
"The setup is great, and I learned a lot that will help me in class," said Sonny Christopher.
St. Croix's connection to Hamilton appears to be getting more publicity recently.
A PBS documentary on Hamilton will be shot in the spring with St. Croix settings, according to local writer Robert Hoffman. The library currently has DVDs on Hamilton from PBS presentations.
The Friends of the Library helped sponsor the free exhibit, which will continue through Dec. 7.
"It's wonderful to see something like this come to fruition," Cissel said.
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