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Guide to the William Duer Papers
1752-1836 (bulk 1770-1800)
  MS 182

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Processed by Mary Jo Kline and Jan Hilley.

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on October 21, 2011
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

The third son of John and Francis (Frye) Duer, William Duer was born in Devonshire, England, on March 18, 1747. After a brief stint as aide-de-camp to Lord Clive in India and a few years of work on the family plantations in the Caribbean, Duer moved to the colony of New York in 1773. Duer had, on a previous trip to the area, purchased tracts of land on the North (Hudson) River near Albany. The area, known as Fort Miller, served both as Duer's first residence and as the site of his early financial ventures. Duer set up sawmills, warehouses, and a store, and, by 1776, had built a moderately successful mercantile business based primarily on lumber production.

A supporter of independence, Duer was an active member of the New York State Convention and went on to serve in the Continental Congress. Duer's public career ended in 1790 when he resigned from the Treasury Department where he had served as assistant secretary under his friend Alexander Hamilton.

Duer, however, gained much more notoriety from his financial dealings than from his contributions as a public servant. One of his first large-scale projects was to supply Continental troops with food during the Revolutionary War. Duer gained real economic stature, however, in the 1780s with his large land and stock speculations. Prominent among them was the Scioto speculation, through which Duer and his associates secured the right to purchase from the United States a large tract of western lands, which they in turn decided to sell chiefly to capitalists abroad, particularly in France and Holland.

Duer found himself severely overextended in the 1790s and he faced financial ruin when a suit was brought against him by the government regarding two unbalanced charges while he was with the treasury board. Unable to satisfy his creditors, Duer was arrested on March 23, 1792, and sent to debtors' prison. Duer's economic ties were so wide in the area that his financial collapse set off the first financial panic in New York City.

Duer remained in prison until his death on May 7, 1799.

He was married to the former Catherine Alexander, daughter of William Alexander, Lord Stirling, a general in the Revolutionary War. They had one son, William Alexander Duer (1780-1858), who later served as president of Columbia College.