The Scandalous Hamiltons
A Gilded Age Grifter, a Founding Father's Disgraced Descendant, and a Trial at the Dawn of Tabloid Journalism
Published by: Citadel Press
Imprint: Citadel Press
It's a story almost too tawdry to be true—a con woman prostitute who met the descendant of a Founding Father in a brothel, duped him into marriage using an infant purchased from a baby farm, then went to prison for stabbing the couple's baby nurse—all while in a common-law marriage with another man. The scandal surrounding Evangeline and Robert Ray Hamilton, though little known today, was one of the sensations of the Gilded Age, a sordid, gripping tale involving bigamy, bribery, sex, and violence.
When the salacious Hamilton story emerged in during Eva's trial for the August 1889 stabbing, it commanded unprecedented national and international newspaper coverage thanks to the telegraph and the recently founded Associated Press. For the New York dailies, eager to capture readers through provocative headlines, Ray and Eva were a godsend.
As lurid details emerged, the public's fascination grew—how did a man of Hamilton's stature become entangled with such an adventuress? Nellie Bly, the world-famous investigative reporter, finagled an exclusive interview with Eva after her conviction. Hamilton's death under mysterious circumstances, a year after the stabbing, added to the intrigue.
Through personal correspondence, court records, and sensational newspaper accounts, The Scandalous Hamiltons explores not only the full, riveting saga of ill-fated Ray and Eva, but the rise of tabloid journalism and celebrity in a story that is both a fascinating slice of pop culture history and a timeless tale of ambition, greed, and obsession.
"Shaffer gives a detailed account of the scandal surrounding Robert Ray Hamilton (1851–1890), great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, and his secret marriage to a prostitute and attempted murderer. Historical true crime buffs will be engrossed." – Publishers Weekly
"If legal-thriller star John Grisham thought up the story of Robert Ray Hamilton and Eva Steele one morning, by lunch he would have abandoned the idea as too far-fetched. Yet historian Shaffer shows that these seemingly implausible events not only happened in the late-nineteenth century, they played out for millions, thanks to the telegraph and the nearly 16,000 newspapers in existence at the time. Ray, great grandson of Alexander Hamilton, and Eva, from a poor background in rural Pennsylvania, met in a Manhattan "bawdy house." Eva became Ray's mistress; four years later, they were married by a minister whose last name was, ironically, Burr. Eva and Ray's marriage fell apart over a concealed marriage, skullduggery involving a baby girl Eva said was Ray's daughter, a stabbing, and a final bizarre twist. Shaffer has an appealing writing style and a talent for sneaking up on the reader with each big reveal. Though it can feel as though Ray and Eva don't warrant book-length treatment, this concern is mitigated by the rich period detail Shaffer provides as context for their "scandalous" story." - Booklist
“Shaffer has an appealing writing style and a talent for sneaking up on the reader with each big reveal…Rich period detail.” – Booklist
“Historical true crime buffs will be engrossed.” – Publishers Weekly
"Adultery? Check. Attempted murder? Check. Baby-trafficking? Check. These are just a few of the missteps of the woman who rained humiliation onto the House of Hamilton." —Marlene Wagman-Geller, author of Women of Means: Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls
“This eye-opening take on the birth of society journalism kept us riveted. Fans of Erik Larson–style histories and anyone who just loves a fun, gossipy read will love The Scandalous Hamiltons.”—Apple Books, Best of the Month Selection