Cast of Characters

 

Gulielma “Elma” Sands: (1777-1799) In December 1799, Elma Sands, 22, vanished into the night, never to be seen alive again. Twelve days later, her body was recovered from a well and her lover, Levi Weeks, was arrested for murder. During the trial, defense attorneys Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr labeled Elma a woman of ill repute.

 

Catherine (Caty) Ring: (1772-1855) Elma’s cousin and steadfast supporter. Caty Ring was the key prosecution witness during Levi Weeks’ trial. Legend has it that when Caty heard the not-guilty verdict, she turned to Hamilton and said, “If thee dies a natural death, there is no justice in heaven.” (Hamilton was shot dead four years later by his co-counsel, Aaron Burr.) Caty died in 1855 at her home in Cornwall, New York. The Sands-Ring House still stands there today, as does the Quaker meetinghouse where Caty worshipped.

 

Levi Weeks: (1776-1819) A handsome young carpenter with powerful connections, Levi Weeks was accused of murdering his lover, Elma Sands, after she disappeared from the boardinghouse where they both lived. His trial, in March 1800, was the first recorded murder trial in US history and hugely sensational around the country.

 

Ezra Weeks: (1773-1849) Levi Weeks’ older brother. He was a key defense witness during Levi’s trial, providing an alibi for Levi. Ezra was a successful and well-connected builder who built Alexander Hamilton’s country home, The Grange, now a national memorial, as well as New York’s mayoral residence, Gracie Mansion.

 

Cadwallader Colden: (1769-1834) New York City District Attorney Cadwallader Colden served as prosecutor during Levi Weeks’ murder trial. Colden faced two of the nation’s savviest legal minds, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. From 1818 until 1821, Colden served as the 54th mayor of New York City.

 

Aaron Burr: (1756-1836) Grandson of Calvinist theologian Jonathan Edwards, Aaron Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey. His father was president of the College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton. Burr fought in the Revolutionary War before becoming a lawyer and politician. He was elected twice to the New York State Assembly, and served as New York State Attorney General and U.S. Senator. In 1800, he became Vice President under Thomas Jefferson. Scandal plagued Burr’s political career, most notably the infamous duel with longtime rival Alexander Hamilton. On July 11, 1804, Burr mortally wounded Hamilton, then fled south to evade arrest. There, he organized an army, solicited aid from England and Spain, and devised a plot to steal the Louisiana Territory from the United States and crown himself king. The scheme was foiled when a ciphered letter to a co-conspirator was intercepted, and Burr was captured and brought to trial. Few doubt Burr’s intentions, but it was impossible to prove that he had committed an overt act of war. He was acquitted and fled, incognito, to Europe. After four years in exile, Burr returned to New York. In 1836, he died, impoverished, disgraced, and alone. He is buried in Princeton Cemetery.

 

Alexander Hamilton: (1757-1804) Hamilton was born out of wedlock in the British West Indies. When Hamilton was ten, his father abandoned the family. His mother died two years later. Raised by various relatives, Hamilton managed to distinguish himself and receive sponsorship for an education in the American colonies, and attended King’s College in New York City, now Columbia University. During the Revolutionary War, he served as Washington’s aide-de-camp. As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton was the only New Yorker to sign the Constitution. He wrote the major portion of The Federalist Papers. In 1789, he was appointed as the first Secretary of the Treasury by President George Washington. Hamilton is credited with shaping financial systems that are the basis for the United States’ economy and the engine of capitalism. A glance in one’s wallet reveals his enduring influence: Hamilton is one of two non-presidents featured on U.S. currency. (The other is Benjamin Franklin, on the hundred-dollar bill.) Mortally wounded during a duel with nemesis Aaron Burr, Hamilton is buried alongside his wife Elizabeth Schuyler at Trinity Church cemetery in New York City.