James Hamilton, Jr. (1793-1873)

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James Hamilton Jr.

James Hamilton, Jr., founder of the Hamilton Library Association and what became the Cumberland County Historical Society, was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on October 16, 1793, the only son of Judge James Hamilton (born 1752 in Belfast, Ireland, died February 13, 1819) and his wife Sarah Thomson, daughter of Rev. William and Susanna Ross Thomson. James, Jr. received his early education at several schools in Philadelphia including the Lower Dublin Academy in Holmesburg, Pennsylvania.1 He entered Dickinson College and graduated in the class of 1812. Taking up his father’s profession, he read law with Isaac B. Parker, Esq. and passed the bar in 1816.2

Hamilton’s passions were education, science and religion. He was a trustee of Dickinson College from 1824-1833, and he helped to establish the public school system in Carlisle; serving on its Board from 1836 until his death in 1873.3 Many of the letters in the James Hamilton Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania include his correspondence with former Carlisle students and academics. Bequests for educational purposes in Hamilton’s will4 included money for the purchase of books for needy scholars of Carlisle as well as bequests to the Polytechnic College of Pennsylvania, the publication fund of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Smithsonian Institute. Hamilton’s bequest to the Smithsonian specified that the interest on his $1000 gift was to be “appropriated biennially by the secretaries, either in money or a medal, for such contribution, paper, or lecture on any scientific or useful subject as said secretaries may approve.”5

Religion was also very important in Hamilton’s life. Raised a Presbyterian, he was a Sunday School Superintendent and Trustee of the Second Presbyterian Church of Carlisle. At his death, he left money to its Boards of Foreign and Domestic Missions as well as money for the church.

Hamilton lived in the family home on West High Street. He was the last survivor of his family. His sister Adelina died at the age of one. Sisters Mary and Emmeline both died unmarried, and although his sister Susan married Reverend John Van Epe Thorn, they had no children. Hamilton died January 23, 1873. He made bequests in his will to many friends as well as to relatives on his mother’s side of the family, but the bulk of his fortune went to members of his father’s side of the family. He is buried in the family plot in Carlisle’s Old Graveyard.

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References (Sources Available at CCHS in bold)

[1]James Hamilton Collection, 1733-1899. Collection 1612: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. (Microfilm copy at Cumberland County Historical Society). Information from the HSP Finding Aid for the collection and from letters in the collection.

[2]William Homer Ames, “History of the Hamilton Library” (Read at a meeting of the Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA., November 23, 1923).


[4] Will Book P 154-167, Cumberland County Register of Wills.

[5]Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, V. 18: 414, 579. http://books.google.com/books?id=nEwtAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA414&lpg=PA414&dq=smithsonian%2Bjames+Hamilton&source=bl&ots=93dSTjM4jM&sig=cPeVomgt44uvF1-DcsQBDT1Ki08&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yrPlUqHNAa_fsATe-oBY&ved=0CGUQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=smithsonian%2Bjames%20Hamilton&f=false