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Tavern Tales: The Final Installment on the "Other" Alexander Hamilton

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

A Map of the West-Indies & c. Mexico or New Spain, Herman Moll, c.1732
A Map of the West-Indies & c. Mexico or New Spain, Herman Moll, c.1732

A Map of the West-Indies & c. Mexico or New Spain, Herman Moll, c.1732

This week’s #TavernTales takes place in Newport, Rhode Island, on August 22, 1744

At this point in Dr. Hamilton’s journey (read part one and part two), he has decided to stay at Newport for a few days to enjoy the town and talk with a number of residents. On August 22nd, he meets two acquaintances, Dr. Keith and Captain Williams, at Hassey’s coffeehouse.

While talking amongst themselves, Hassey joins the conversation to offer up his thoughts about shipping and trade. At first he tries to convince Hamilton and his friends that an instrument of whalebone and cartilage can be used to determine longitude (historical note – longitude was very difficult to determine at sea; an accurate method was not adopted until the 1760s).

After trying to explain how he would determine longitude, Hassey then goes on to explain that they should cut “the American (Panama) isthmus in two, so to make a short passage to the south seas.”

Hamilton describes Hassey as an “old whimsical fellow” who as been dismissed as “a crazy gentleman.” From Hamilton’s journal it is clear that he, and his friends, did not believe this was a conceivable idea.

Of course, it would be another 170 years until Hassey’s idea became a reality.

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