Hamilton Act 1
Summary / Synopsis / Plot / Storyline
Act 1 of the musical begins with the company giving a summary of Alexander Hamilton’s early life, including events such as his birth in the Caribbean, abandonment by his father at age ten, the death of his mother at age twelve, and the destruction of his town by a hurricane at age 17. As the song ends, Hamilton is seen arriving by ship in New York Harbor (“Alexander Hamilton”).
In the summer of 1776 in New York City, Hamilton seeks out Aaron Burr, anxious to discover how he finished college in two years, a feat Hamilton wishes to repeat. Burr is impressed but concerned by Hamilton’s verbosity and passion, advising him to “Talk less; smile more.” They go out for a drink and meet three revolutionaries: abolitionist John Laurens, the flamboyant Marquis de Lafayette, and the tailor’s apprentice Hercules Mulligan. They invite Burr to join them in promoting their revolutionary ideals, but he declines, preferring to maintain some plausible deniability in case things go south (“Aaron Burr, Sir”). Hamilton joins the revolutionaries, dazzling them with his oratory skill, quickly becoming a leader in their cause (“My Shot”). The four revolutionaries bond, toasting their future and dreaming of laying down their lives for the cause (“The Story of Tonight”). Meanwhile, the wealthy Schuyler sisters – Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy – wander the streets of New York excited by the spirit of revolution in the air. The oldest, Angelica, is searching for minds that will challenge her own (“The Schuyler Sisters”).
A vocal British loyalist, Samuel Seabury preaches against the revolution, and Hamilton interrupts Seabury and refutes his statements (“Farmer Refuted”). A message arrives from across the sea and King George III appears, reminding them that he is willing and able to fight for their love (“You’ll Be Back”).
The revolution is underway, and Hamilton, Burr, and their friends join the Continental Army. Admiral Richard Howe leads the British invasion of Manhattan at Kip’s Bay, and the Battle of Harlem Heights begins. As the Continental Army retreats, General George Washington realizes he needs a close collaborator to win the war. Burr offers his services, but Washington is more interested in Hamilton, who has impressed him by stealing British cannons. Though Hamilton is worried to gain command and to fight on the front lines, he recognizes the opportunity Washington offers him, and accepts a position as his Aide-de-Camp (“Right Hand Man”).
In the winter of 1780, the men attend a ball given by Philip Schuyler, and Hamilton, eager to progress in society, sets his eyes on his host’s daughters (“A Winter’s Ball”). Eliza spots Hamilton among the men and is instantly smitten, but is too shy to go up and speak to him. Angelica goes over to Hamilton and brings him to meet Eliza. The two fall in love instantly, and begin sending letters to each other before Hamilton asks to marry Eliza (“Helpless”). At their wedding, Angelica gives a toast as the maid of honor. The action then rewinds to the night of the ball, but this time the events are shown from Angelica’s perspective. She reveals how she was instantly attracted to Hamilton intellectually and physically, but as soon as she saw how her sister reacted to him, Angelica swallowed her own feelings and introduces Hamilton to her sister, and the action returns to the wedding as Angelica resumes her blessing on the new couple (“Satisfied”).
Lafayette, Mulligan, and Laurens drink with the groom, and Burr arrives to offer congratulations. Hamilton welcomes him, but the other men are hostile, taunting him about a secret love affair. Burr privately reveals to a supportive Hamilton that his lover, Theodosia, is married to a British officer (“The Story of Tonight (Reprise)”). Hamilton questions Burr on why he continues to avoid taking action in life. Burr avoids the question and the two men part. When he is alone, Burr describes to the audience the lessons he has learned: since love and death claim their victims at random, he is content to wait until fate has decided how to treat him. He also comments on feeling threatened by Hamilton’s quick rise to success, but resolves to wait and see what life has in store for him (“Wait For It“).
As the revolution continues, Hamilton repeatedly petitions Washington to give him command, but Washington refuses and promotes instead Charles Lee. This decision proves disastrous at the Battle of Monmouth, where Lee orders a retreat against Washington’s orders, which prompts the commander to remove him from command in favor of Lafayette. The battle ends in a stalemate, but the disgruntled Lee spreads slanderous and vindictive rumors about Washington. Hamilton is offended, but Washington orders Hamilton to ignore the comments. Laurens volunteers to duel Lee (“Stay Alive”). In preparation for the duel, Lee, Laurens, and their seconds Burr and Hamilton explain the “ten commandments” of dueling, and Laurens wins the duel by injuring Lee (“Ten Duel Commandments”). Washington is enraged at the duel, makes peace with Lee, and angrily reprimands Hamilton for participating in a duel and sowing dissent in the army. Hamilton is enraged at his paternal tone, and asks Washington for a command once again. Instead, Washington orders him to return home to his wife (“Meet Me Inside”). When Hamilton returns home, Eliza tells him that she is pregnant with their first son, and reveals that she sent Washington a letter begging him to send Hamilton home a month prior. Hamilton asks Eliza how she will fare as the wife of a poor man. She responds that he is enough for her as long as he allows her to be a part of his life (“That Would Be Enough“).
Lafayette takes a larger leadership role in the revolution, convincing France to join the American cause. With France on their side, the balance shifts in favor of the Continental Army. Washington and Lafayette realize they can win the war by cutting off the British navy at Yorktown, but they will need Hamilton to do so, and the General reluctantly gives him his long-awaited command (“Guns and Ships”). On the eve of Battle, Washington recalls his disastrous first command, and advises Hamilton that no man can control how he is remembered (“History Has Its Eyes on You”). Hamilton and Lafayette reflect on their friendship, and then Hamilton leads his troops into the Battle of Yorktown. After several days of fighting, Washington, Hamilton and Lafayette, aided by John Laurens’ bravery on the field and Hercules Mulligan’s work as a spy, lead their troops to victory. The British surrender in the last major battle of the revolutionary war (“Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”). King George appears again, sarcastically asking how they’re going to govern on their own and telling them not to come crawling back to him when their people inevitably hate them (“What Comes Next?”).
Hamilton writes a message to his son Phillip about all his hopes and dreams for him, as well as explaining how much he loves him. Burr does the same to his daughter Theodosia (“Dear Theodosia”). Hamilton’s moment of peace is shattered when news arrives that John Laurens has been killed in a skirmish with retreating British soldiers after the war had already ended (“Tomorrow There’ll Be More of Us”).
At the end of act 1, Hamilton and Burr both return to New York to finish their studies and pursue careers as lawyers, collaborating on the defense of Levi Weeks. Burr is in awe of Hamilton’s non-stop work ethic and becomes increasingly irritated by his success. Hamilton is chosen as a New York delegate to theConstitutional Convention and makes a name for himself by proposing his own plan for the United States government in a six-hour speech. Hamilton asks Burr’s help in publishing a series of anonymous articles (the Federalist Papers) in support of the new Constitution, but Burr refuses, still hesitant to take action lest he choose the losing side. Hamilton, frustrated, finally asks him what he is waiting for, and Burr can only remark that he is waiting for something certain. Hamilton, along with James Madison and John Jay, write The Federalist Papers without Burr. Angelica marries an affluent husband, but remarks that she still holds affections for Hamilton. Eliza struggles to understand why she is being slowly marginalized out of his life. Hamilton is then offered the job of Secretary of Treasury by newly elected President Washington. Over Eliza’s protests, he accepts. (“Non-Stop”).