Andrew Hamilton was born in Scotland around 1676 and is believed to have been educated at St. Andrew’s University in Fife. About 1697, using the assumed name of Trent, Hamilton arrived in Accomac County, Virginia and it is believed that he fled Scotland because of his political involvement in the Jacobite cause. In Virginia, he at first taught school and later became a plantation steward. He studied law, adopted the name of Hamilton and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1703. The plantation owner died not long afterwards and Hamilton married his widow in 1706.
By 1708, Hamilton had moved to Maryland and established a highly respected and thriving legal practice. By then, Queen Anne was on the throne of England and it was safe for Hamilton to return to the British Isles. He went to London and on January 27, 1714 (folio 1,398) he was admitted to Gray’s Inn. He quickly established his good character and knowledge of the law, and was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn on February 10, 1714.
Lawyers called to the bar at the English Inns of Court were greatly respected in the colonies and, on his return to America, Hamilton was appointed to the office of attorney general of Pennsylvania. He also held office as Provincial Agent of Pennsylvania and was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. In 1727, Hamilton became Speaker of the Pennsylvanian Assembly, an office that he was to hold until 1739.
Andrew Hamilton is best known for taking over the defense of John Peter Zenger when Zenger’s lawyers were disbarred for political reasons. Despite the very real legal issues, Hamilton’s eloquence convinced the jury to return a verdict of “not guilty.” This victory was widely celebrated; the Common Council of New York presented Hamilton with the freedom of the city and the citizens gave him a golden box.
In 1737, Hamilton was appointed judge of the vice-admiralty court and held this office until his death. Andrew Hamilton died at his estate, Bush Hill, Philadelphia, on August 4, 1741.
The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law, edited by Roger K. Newman