@ 2011 New-York Historical Society logo

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.

Descriptive Summary

 
Title: William Duer Papers
Dates: 1752-1836 (bulk, 1770-1800)
Abstract: The Duer papers document William Duer's various mercantile and financial dealings, especially in contracts to outfit the Army during the Revolution, and his subsequent speculations leading to his incarceration in debtors' prison. They also include some correspondence to and from other members of the Duer family.
Quantity: 13.9 Linear feet (12 boxes, 3 volumes)
Location note: Manuscript cage
Call Phrase: MS 182

Return to Top »


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.

Return to Top »


Scope and Content Note

The William Duer Papers consist largely of correspondence (in English, with a few letters in French), accounts, contracts, financial documents and legal manuscripts. They are the products of William Duer, his family, and his associates. The bulk relate to financial activities, with far smaller amounts related to Duer's government work, his Revolutionary correspondence, and his personal life.

Parts of the collection have been microfilmed onto four reels; those portions of the collection will be brought to the researcher in microfilm format. In the container list below, folders that have been microfilmed are identified by a three-digit number separated by a hypen (e.g., 1-21), which denotes the reel and folder number where the material can be found. Because the physical collection has been rehoused since it was microfilmed, the physical folder and microfilm folder numbers do not always correspond.

Arrangement

Material within the series is arranged chronologically unless otherwise noted.

The collection is arranged into 19 series:

  1. Series I. Correspondence - William Duer, 1752-1799, Undated
  2. Series II. Correspondence - William Duer with Tench Tilghman, 1776
  3. Series III. Correspondence - Catherine (Mrs. William) Duer, Undated
  4. Series IV. Correspondence - William Alexander Duer, 1816-1824, Undated
  5. Series V. Chancery Cases, 1790-1803, Undated
  6. Series VI. Legal Documents, 1772-1796, Undated
  7. Series VII. Debtors' Prison, 1795-1798, Undated
  8. Series VIII. Poughkeepsie Distillery Papers, 1782-1783, Undated
  9. Series IX. Bonds, Deeds and Leases, 1763-1799, Undated
  10. Series X. Invoices, 1770-1786, Undated
  11. Series XI. Papers Relating to Robert Snell, 1771-1774, Undated
  12. Series XII. Lumber Papers, 1785-1789
  13. Series XIII. Papers Relating to Duer's Siblings, 1769-1829, Undated
  14. Series XIV. Financial Documents, Speculation, 1782-1795, Undated
  15. Series XV. Army Supply Papers, 1781-1785
  16. Series XVI. Accounts, 1781-1792
  17. Series XVII. Bills, Receipts and Notes, 1752-1798, Undated
  18. Series XVIII. Unclassified personal and family materials
  19. Series XIX. Bound volumes

Return to Top »


Access Points

Subject Names

  • Bird, Mark, 1739-1812.
  • Deane, Silas, 1737-1789.
  • Duer family
  • Duer, Catherine Alexander.
  • Duer, William Alexander, 1780-1858.
  • Livingston, Edward, 1764-1836.
  • Peebles, Hugh
  • Snall, Robert, fl. 1771-1774.
  • Tilghman, Tench, 1744-1786.
  • Wilson, James, 1742-1798.

Document Type

  • Account books
  • Accounts
  • Bills of exchange
  • Contracts
  • Correspondence
  • Deeds
  • Indentures
  • Invoices
  • Leases
  • Legal documents
  • Letter books
  • Receipts
  • Vouchers

Subject Organizations

  • England and Wales. ROyal Navy -- Equipment.
  • New York (State). Court of Chancery.
  • Scioto Land Company
  • United States. Army -- Supplies and stores.
  • United States. Continental Army -- Supplies and stores.

Subject Topics

  • Debt, Imprisonment for -- New York (State.
  • Distilleries -- New York (State) -- Poughkeepsie
  • Finance -- New York (State)
  • Jails -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Land settlement -- Illinois.
  • Lumber trade -- United States.
  • Sawmills -- New York (State) -- Fort Miller.
  • Speculation.

Subject Places

  • Fort Miller (N.Y.) -- Commerce.
  • New York (State) -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783 -- Equipment and supplies.
  • Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) -- Commerce
  • United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783 -- Equipment and supplies.

Return to Top »


Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Portions of the collection that have been microfilmed will be brought to the researcher in that format and can be made available by Interlibrary loan.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.) Researchers on site may print out unlimited copies from microfilm reader-printer machines at per-exposure rates. See guidelines in Reading Room for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote, to

Library Director
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as William Duer Papers, The New-York Historical Society.

Return to Top »


Container List

Series I. Correspondence: William Duer, 1752-1799, Undated

Scope and Contents note

Ranging from his earliest mercantile activities to his last days in debtors' prison, these letters to and from Duer contain a wealth of information pertaining to his financial career. They include, among other topics, descriptions of the work being done at Fort Miller and the Poughkeepsie distillery, Duer's contracts to supply military troops, and land and stock speculation including letters regarding the Scioto company. The papers also include a few letters dealing with Duer's work in public service. There is also a family tree of the English Duers compiled in 1895.

The correspondence is arranged in chronological order and is available on microfilm.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Correspondence (reel 1-1)
1752-1777
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Correspondence (reel 1-2)
1777-1781
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Correspondence (reel 1-3)
1782 January - June
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Correspondence (reel 1-4)
1782 July - August
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Correspondence (reel (1-5)
1782 September - December
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Correspondence (and accounts) relating to the Poughkeepsie distillery (reel 1-6)
1782
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Correspondence (reel 1-7)
1783
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Correspondence (reel 1-8)
1784 January - May
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Correspondence (reel 1-9)
1784 June - December
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Correspondence (reel 1-10)
1785 January - June
Box: 1 Folder : 11 Correspondence (reel 1-11)
1785 July - October
Box: 2 Folder : 1 Correspondence (reel 1-12)
1785 November - December
Box: 2 Folder : 2 Correspondence (reel 1-13)
1786 January - June
Box: 2 Folder : 3 Correspondence (reel 1-14)
1786 July - December
Box: 2 Folder : 4 Correspondence (reel 1-15)
1787 January - June
Box: 2 Folder : 5 Correspondence (reel 1-16)
1787 July - December
Box: 2 Folder : 6 Correspondence (reel 1-17)
1788 January - June
Box: 2 Folder : 7 Correspondence (reel 1-18)
1788 July - December
Box: 2 Folder : 8 Correspondence (reel 1-19)
1789
Box: 2 Folder : 9 Correspondence (reel 1-20)
1790 January - May
Box: 2 Folder : 10 Correspondence (reel 2-21)
1790 June - August
Box: 2 Folder : 11 Correspondence (reel 2-22)
1790 September
Box: 2 Folder : 12 Correspondence (reel 2-23)
1790 October
Box: 3 Folder : 1 Correspondence (reel 2-24)
1790 November
Box: 3 Folder : 2 Correspondence (reel 2-25)
1790 December
Box: 3 Folder : 3 Correspondence (reel 2-26)
1791 January - February
Box: 3 Folder : 4 Correspondence (reel 2-27)
1791 March - April
Box: 3 Folder : 5 Correspondence (reel 2-28)
1791 May - June
Box: 3 Folder : 6 Correspondence (reel 2-29)
1791 July - December
Box: 3 Folder : 7 Correspondence (reel 2-30)
1792 January - June
Box: 3 Folder : 8 Correspondence (reel 2-31)
1792 July - December
Box: 3 Folder : 9 Correspondence (reel 2-32)
1793
Box: 3 Folder : 10 Correspondence (reel 2-33)
1794
Box: 3 Folder : 11 Correspondence (reel 2-34)
1795
Box: 3 Folder : 12 Correspondence (reel 2-35)
1796
Box: 4 Folder : 1 Correspondence (reel 2-36)
1797-1799
Box: 4 Folder : 2 Correspondence (reel 2-37)
Undated

Return to Top »


Series II: Correspondence: William Duer with Tench Tilghman, 1776

Scope and Contents note

This series contains letters between Tench Tilghman, aide-de-camp to General Washington, and the Committee of Correspondence of the New York State Convention. The purpose of the Committee was to obtain and communicate war intelligence. Duer was a member of this Committee and was the primary writer of letters to Tilghman. The letters from Tilghman contain comprehensive reports on the status of the American troops, the British troops and the progress of the war. Duer's letters contain questions and observations as well as advice on the war. Note: The letters are 1881 copies of 1776 transcripts.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 4 Folder : 3 Correspondence (reel 1-1A)
1776

Return to Top »


Series III. Correspondence: Catherine (Mrs. William) Duer, undated

Scope and Contents note

These letters deal with family matters and Duer's financial situation.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 4 Folder : 4 Catherine (Mrs. William) Duer letters (reel 4-38)
Undated

Return to Top »


Series IV. Correspondence: William Alexander Duer, 1816-1824, undated

Scope and Contents note

The majority of the correspondence of Duer's son, William Alexander Duer, consists of letters to Hugh Peebles about his financial affairs. The one letter not addressed to Peebles is to John Rutherfurd concerning a speech Duer was to give at the New-York Historical Society on federal and state constitutions.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 4 Folder : 5 William Alexander Duer correspondence
1816-1824, undated

Return to Top »


Series V. Chancery cases, 1790-1803, undated

Scope and Contents note

The bulk of these cases were heard in the chancery court of New York during the 1790s. Also included are a few cases from other states. In the majority of cases the direct relationship to Duer is unclear. The New York cases were presided over by Chancellor Robert B. Livingston, Esq. All cases in the collection are incomplete; materials are arranged alphabetically by plaintiff.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 4 Folder : 6 Chancery cases: Fenwick - Forrester
1796-1800, undated
Box: 4 Folder : 7 Chancery cases: Frean - La Herriere
1791-1803
Box: 4 Folder : 8 Chancery cases: Laight - Laplante
1790-1799
Box: 4 Folder : 9 Chancery cases: Law
1794-1802
Box: 5 Folder : 1 Chancery cases: Lawrence - Leroy
1795-1800
Box: 5 Folder : 2 Chancery cases: Livingston - Schroeppel
1796-1803, undated
Box: 5 Folder : 3 Chancery cases: Sternbergh
1797-1801
Box: 5 Folder : 4 Chancery cases: Stevens - Watkins
1793-1800, undated

Return to Top »


Series VI. Legal documents, 1772-1796, undated

Scope and Contents note

This series consists of legal documents relating to Duer, his business associates, and others. The papers include contracts, agreements and indentures, as well as summons, affidavits, court opinions and other documents. They are arranged in chronological order.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 5 Folder : 5 Legal documents (reel 4-45)
1772-1775
Box: 5 Folder : 6 Legal documents (reel 4-46)
1781-1789
Box: 5 Folder : 7 Legal documents (reel 4-47)
1791-1796, undated

Return to Top »


Series VII. Debtors' Prison, 1795-1798, undated

Scope and Contents note

Duer was held in debtors' prison from 1792 until his death in 1799. In order to preserve order and harmony there, some of the prisoners established a "court" to hear disputes between prisoners. Certain prisoners were elected "judges." Duer was elected a "judge" in 1797. These papers consist of documents of that court, including the facts in various cases, judgments rendered, court attendance records, and records of the elections of the court officers.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 5 Folder : 8 Debtors' prison (reel 4-39)
1795-1796
Box: 5 Folder : 9 Debtors' prison (reel 4-40)
1797-1798
Box: 5 Folder : 10 Debtors' prison (reel 4-41)
Undated

Return to Top »


Series VIII. Poughkeepsie Distillery papers, 1782-1783, undated

Scope and Contents note

The series includes bills, receipts, notes and other documents pertaining to Duer's Poughkeepsie Distillery.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 1 Poughkeepsie distillery records
1782-1783, undated

Return to Top »


Series IX. Bonds, deeds, and leases, 1763-1799, undated

Scope and Contents note

The series contains records of debts owed by and to Duer as well as third-party debt. Deeds and leases pertaining to Duer and others are also included. An earlier inventory noted that Box 6, folder 5, has been microfilmed on reel 4-44, but no such folder is found on the microfilm.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 2 Bonds, Deeds, Leases (reel 4-42)
1764-1774
Box: 6 Folder : 3 Bonds, deeds, leases
1782-1789
Box: 6 Folder : 4 Deeds, leases (reel 4-43)
1795-1799
Box: 6 Folder : 5 Deeds, leases, contracts, illustration of Duer's country home, Fort Miller
1795-1799, undated

Return to Top »


Series X. Invoices, 1770-1786, undated

Scope and Contents note

The series includes invoices from the entire spectrum of Duer's mercantile involvement.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 6 Invoices
1770-1774
Box: 6 Folder : 7 Invoices
1781-1785
Box: 6 Folder : 8 Invoices
1786, undated

Return to Top »


Series XI. Papers relating to Robert Snell, 1771-1774, undated

Scope and Contents note

The series includes accounts, expenditures and other records from Fort Miller, where Robert Snell, an early business associate of Duer's, managed the mercantile activities and lumber mill work. Also included are Duer's papers concerning the debt Snell had incurred while managing Duer's day-to-day business affairs.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 9 Papers
1771-1774, undated

Return to Top »


Series XII. Lumber papers, 1785-1789

Scope and Contents note

The series includes invoices and other documents relating to Duer's lumber operation, especially the production of ship masts.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 10 Lumber papers
1785-1789

Return to Top »


Series XIII. Papers relating to Duer's siblings, 1769-1829, undated

Scope and Contents note

The documents in this series involve Duer's siblings. A family tree, wills, information on the family's plantations in the Caribbean, legal papers and other documents are included. The materials are out of chronological order but mirror their order in the microfilmed version.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 1 Papers relating to Duer's siblings (reel 4-52)
1783-1829, undated
Box: 7 Folder : 2 Papers relating to Duer's sublings (reel 4-53)
1769-1807

Return to Top »


Series XIV. Financial documents and speculation, 1782-1795, undated

Scope and Contents note

The series includes financial documents pertaining, for the most part, to Duer's involvement in land, stock, bank notes, and other areas of eighteenth century speculation.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 7 Folder : 3 Speculations: Bills of exchange, loan office certificates
1782-1788
Box: 7 Folder : 4 Book of expences [sic](reel 4-48)
1788
Box: 7 Folder : 5 Speculations: Government secutrities, bank stock, loan office certificates (reel 4-49)
1789-1791
Box: 7 Folder : 6 Speculations (reel 4-50)
1792-1795, undated
Box: 7 Folder : 7 Speculations: Scioto speculation and Joseph LeTurc
1790-1794, undated
Box: 7 Folder : 8 Financial documents
Undated

Return to Top »


Series XV. Army supply papers, 1781-1785

Scope and Contents note

The series contain records and receipts from Duer's contracts to supply divisions of the American army with food and other necessities during and after the Revolutionary War.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 8 Folder : 1 Army
1781 January - 1782 March
Box: 8 Folder : 2 Army
1782 April
Box: 8 Folder : 3 Army
1782 May
Box: 8 Folder : 4 Army
1782 June
Box: 8 Folder : 5 Army
1782 July
Box: 8 Folder : 6 Army
1782 August
Box: 8 Folder : 7 Army
1782 September
Box: 9 Folder : 1 Army
1782 October
Box: 9 Folder : 2 Army
1782 November - December
Box: 9 Folder : 3 Schenectady
1782 April - 1783 January
Box: 9 Folder : 4 Army
1783
Box: 9 Folder : 5 Army
1784
Box: 9 Folder : 6 Army
1785

Return to Top »


Series XVI. Accounts, 1781-1792

Scope and Contents note

The series includes records from various accounts and an account book from Duer's mercantile enterprises. Materials are arranged by name and in approximate chronological order.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 9 Folder : 7 Accounts: Wycoff and Smith
1781-1788
Box: 9 Folder : 8 Accounts: Melancton Smith
1781 December - 1791 July, undated
Box: 9 Folder : 9 Accounts: Hugh McAdam
1782 February - May
Box: 9 Folder : 10 Accounts: Thompson and Skinner
1782 February - October
Box: 9 Folder : 11 Accounts: Edward Compston
1782 May - October
Box: 9 Folder : 12 Accounts: William Hill
1784-1790
Box: 9 Folder : 13 Accounts: Theodosium Fowler, George and Samuel Douglas
1785-1790
Box: 10 Folder : 1 Account Book
1791-1792

Return to Top »


Series XVII. Bills, receipts, and notes, 1752-1798, undated

Scope and Contents note

The series includes bills, receipts and notes.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 10 Folder : 2 Bills, receipts, and notes
1752-1769
Box: 10 Folder : 3 Bills, receipts, and notes
1771-1774
Box: 10 Folder : 4 Bills, receipts, and notes
1775-1779
Box: 10 Folder : 5 Bills, receipts, and notes
1780-1790
Box: 10 Folder : 6 Bills, receipts, and notes
1782 January - May
Box: 10 Folder : 7 Bills, receipts, and notes
1782 June - December
Box: 10 Folder : 8 Bills, receipts, and notes
1782
Box: 10 Folder : 9 Bills, receipts, and notes
1783
Box: 10 Folder : 10 Bills, receipts, and notes
1784
Box: 10 Folder : 11 Bills, receipts, and notes
1785
Box: 10 Folder : 12 Bills, receipts, and notes
1786
Box: 10 Folder : 13 Bills, receipts, and notes
1787
Box: 10 Folder : 14 Bills, receipts, and notes
1788
Box: 11 Folder : 1 Bills, receipts, and notes
1789
Box: 11 Folder : 2 Bills, receipts, and notes
1790 January - August
Box: 11 Folder : 3 Bills, receipts, and notes
1790 September - December
Box: 11 Folder : 4 Bills, receipts, and notes
1791 January - April
Box: 11 Folder : 5 Bills, receipts, and notes
1791 May - August
Box: 11 Folder : 6 Bills, receipts, and notes
1791 September - December, undated
Box: 11 Folder : 7 Bills, receipts, and notes
1792
Box: 11 Folder : 8 Bills, receipts, and notes
1793
Box: 12 Folder : 1 Bills, receipts, and notes
1794
Box: 12 Folder : 2 Bills, receipts, and notes
1795-1798
Box: 12 Folder : 3 Bills, receipts, and notes
Undated
Box: 12 Folder : 4 Bills, receipts, and notes

Return to Top »


Series XVIII. Unclassified business and family material, 1766-1836

Scope and Contents note

The series includes materials not assigned to other series at the time that the collection was microfilmed, including "…Arrangement to be Made of Mr. Duer's Papers"; "Inventory of Sundry Merchandise Remaining in the Store at Fort Miller on the 13th day of December 1773"; "an Account of Cash Received in the Store at Fort Miller," not dated; an advertisement dated 1766 that announces an upcoming survey; an undated plan for a paper mill; three items related to the donation of a canopy for a lodge in New Jersey, dated 1792 and 1793. Nineteenth century items include two indentures involving W.A. Duer (1807 and 1810) and several pieces of correspondence as well as a listing of items included in the bound volumes (see Series XIX).

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 12 Folder : 5 Items not assigned to a series
1766-1836, undated
Box: 12 Folder : 6 Calendar of bound volumes I and II

Return to Top »


Series XIX. Bound volumes

Scope and Contents note

The two volumes of correspondence include letters received by Duer related mostly to supplying the American Army during the Revolution, the Scioto Land Company, and the settlement of Illinois. They are numbered in pencil from 1-138 (volume 1) and 139-257 (volume 2). The timber contracts pertain to agreements with the governments of Spain and France to supply timber for ship masts and spars. Silas Deane, James Wilson, and Mark Bird were also associated with this enterprise. The remainder of this volume appears to have been used for penmanship practice and casual use.

Volumes 1 and 2 are available on reel 3 of the microfilm.

Container 1     Title Date
Volume: 1 Correspondence (reel 3)
1776-1783
Volume: 2 Correspondence (reel 3)
1784-1802
Volume: 3 Timber contracts
1774-1779

Return to Top »


Return to Top »