In olden times before cameras and voice recorders, friends and acquaintances often gave one another strands of hair as keepsakes. Long ago, someone placed an envelope containing strands of our first president's hair in a leather book that has now surfaced at Union College in Schenectady.
“Gaines Universal Register or American and British Kalendar for the year 1793,” unbeknownst to Union College, ended up in the school's Schaffer Library without ever having been catalogued. For decades it was stored along with some of the library’s oldest books and documents.
Recently, historical records project archivist Daniel Michelson was going through the lot, and came across the old almanac, believed to have belonged to Philip Schuyler, the son of General Philip Schuyler, one of the college’s founders.
India Spartz is head of special collections and archives at Union College. "This is in the late 1700's, so, he was in the American Revolution. He had a daughter named Eliza Schuyler, and Eliza married Alexander Hamilton. She became Eliza Hamilton. The Schuylers were fairly prominent in the area and they just had a wide social circle, and also Eliza and Alexander Hamilton were this young couple. Hamilton was colleagues and friends with George Washington. The couple, Eliza and Alexander, were friends with Martha and George Washington. So we believe, and it's pretty clear, that the hair would have been a gift from them to the Hamiltons.”
According to Union College, the hair in question belonged to founding father George Washington. It was in a yellowed envelope: Several strands of gray or whitening hair, neatly tied together by a single thread, were in a yellow envelope that had been placed between pages in the old almanac. The envelope bore an inscription that indicated... "...in handwriting, that this is George Washington's hair as given to James A. Hamilton by his mother. And his mother was Eliza Hamilton."
The handwriting believed to be James Hamilton’s is a match to Hamilton’s handwriting on a document held by that the Massachusetts Historical Society that is also accompanied by strands of Washington’s hair. The find was first reported by the Albany Times Union. "Any time you have any kind of tangible evidence of someone as important to the founding of our country as George Washington it's highly significant."
The Schuyler Mansion in Albany also has a lock of Washington's hair. Spartz says contrary to popular lore, Washington did not wear a wig. "A lot of people thought he wore a wig and he actually used powder on his hair. His hair was originally reddish-brown and so you know he powdered it so it would look white, which was fashionable at the time."
Spartz is working to preserve the hair, letter and almanac, artifacts that eventually will go on public display.