George Washington Riggs

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George Washington Riggs
Born(1813-07-04)July 4, 1813
DiedAugust 24, 1881(1881-08-24) (aged 68)
Resting placeRock Creek Cemetery
Washington, D.C., U.S.
EducationRound Hill School
Alma materYale College
Janet Madeleine Cecilia Shedden
(after 1840)
Children9, including T. Lawrason Riggs
Parent(s)Elisha Riggs
Alice Lawrason

George Washington Riggs (July 4, 1813 – August 24, 1881) was an American businessman and banker. He was known as "The President's Banker." He was a trustee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Peabody Education Fund.

Early life[edit]

Riggs was born in Georgetown, D.C. (now part of Washington), the son of Elisha Riggs and his first wife, Alice (née Lawrason) Riggs.[1] After his mother's death in 1817, he father remarried to Mary Ann Karrick with whom he had several more children, in 1822.[2]

His grandfather was silversmith Lt. Samuel Riggs,[3] and his great-grandfather was John Riggs, who was mentioned in a will in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, as early as 1716. George was brought up in Baltimore, to which his father removed after he took George Peabody into partnership and established the firm of Riggs & Peabody there. He went to the Round Hill School kept by George Bancroft and Joseph Green Cogswell at Northampton, Massachusetts, and entered Yale College in 1829, but left some time in his junior year. He traveled abroad, and, returning to America, worked for his father in the mercantile firm of Riggs, Taylor & Company in New York City.[4]


In 1840, William W. Corcoran took him into partnership in the banking firm of Corcoran & Riggs at Washington, D.C. The firm was immediately successful; it was able to obtain a major share of the loans required by the federal government, acquired a reputation in financing the Mexican–American War, and made large profits. In 1848 he gave up his connection with the firm, to which, however, his younger half-brother Elisha succeeded so that the firm name remained the same. When Corcoran retired in 1854, Riggs bought his interest. Under the firm name of Riggs & Company (since 1896 Riggs Bank), he directed the business until his death.[4]

Gravesite of George Washington Riggs

From 1855 to 1862 he served on the Levy Court of Washington County. The Levy Court acted as County Commission for what was by then all of Washington, DC.[5]

He was a member of the board of aldermen of the District of Columbia, in 1873 was chairman of a committee to present to Congress a petition asking for an investigation into the conduct of the board of public works, helped to obtain a committee report favorable to the abolition of the existing territorial form of government, and was active in the establishment of the present (1934) form of government that vests all authority in Congress. He built and owned the Riggs House, a famous hotel of his time, and was one of the organizers of the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company. He was a trustee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and of the Peabody Education Fund. He was for many years the treasurer of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union. In 1864 he advanced the money to maintain Mount Vernon until the return of peace should make it possible for the society again to raise funds.[4]

Personal life[edit]

On June 23, 1840, he was married to Janet Madeleine Cecilia Shedden,[6] the daughter of Thomas Shedden of Glasgow, Scotland. They had nine children, including:[7]

  • Alice Lawrason Riggs (1841–1927), who died unmarried.[8]
  • Catherine Shedden Riggs (1842–1881), who married Louis de Geofroy, French Ambassador to China and French Minister to Japan.[9]
  • Cecilia Dowdall Riggs (1844–1907), who married the British diplomat Sir Henry Howard in 1867.[10]
  • Janet Madeleine Riggs (1845–1861), who died young.[11]
  • Mary Griffith Riggs (1847–1849), who died young.[11]
  • George Shedden Riggs (1849–1856), who died young.[11]
  • Elisha Francis Riggs (1851–1910), who married Medora Thayer, a daughter of James Smith Thayer, in 1879.[12]
  • Jane Agnes Riggs (1853–1930), who died unmarried.
  • Thomas Lawrason Riggs (1858–1888).

Riggs died at his home, Green Hill, in Prince George's County, Maryland.[13] The Green Hill estate included much of the nearby Maryland suburbs northeast of Washington including Adelphi, Chillum, and Lewisdale. Although a Episcopal Protestant in early life, he received the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. He is buried at Rock Creek Cemetery, near Riggs Road in Washington, D.C.

Relations and descendants[edit]

His grandniece, Kate Cheeseman Riggs, married Edward Newton Perkins, the grandson of U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senator William M. Evarts and the brother of famed editor Maxwell Perkins; uncles of Watergate Scandal special prosecutor Archibald Cox.[4]

In fiction[edit]

George Riggs is a character in the historical novel Forty-Ninth[14] by Boris Pronsky and Craig Britton.


  1. ^ Wallace, John Hankins (1901). Genealogy of the Riggs Family: With a Number of Cognate Branches Descended from the Original Edward Through Female Lines and Many Biographical Outlines. The Author. pp. 112–120. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  2. ^ Warfield, Joshua Dorsey (1905). The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland: A Genealogical and Biographical Review from Wills, Deeds and Church Records. Kohn & Pollock. p. 359. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  3. ^ "Samuel Riggs". Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "George Washington Riggs." Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007.
  5. ^ Tindall, William (1903). Origin and Government of the District of Columbia. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 6. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  6. ^ Chase, Salmon Portland (1993). The Salmon P. Chase Papers - Volume 1; Volume 5. Kent State University Press. p. 649. ISBN 9780873384728. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  7. ^ "Riggs, George Washington, 1813-1881". Frick Art Reference Library. Retrieved 15 December 2021.
  8. ^ Times, Special to The New York (4 September 1927). "ALICE LAWRASON RIGGS.; One of Last Survivors of Noted Washington Family Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  9. ^ TIMES, Special to THE NEW YORK (22 September 1946). "M. ANTOINE DE GEOFROY; Ex-Member of French Diplomatic Corps Dies in Switzerland". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  10. ^ Lodge, Edmund (1882). The Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire as at Present Existing. Hurst and Blackett. p. 445. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  11. ^ a b c Rose, Ann (1990). Portrait of a Family. A. Rose. p. 4. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  12. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. J.T. White. 1916. p. 229. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  13. ^ "Obituary -- GEORGE W. RIGGS, BANKER". The New York Times. 25 August 1881. Retrieved 15 December 2021.
  14. ^ Forty-Ninth. pp. 62–68, 99–105, 175–179. ISBN 9798201386238.

Further reading[edit]

A few letters in the Lib. of Cong.; information from his son, the Rev. T. Lawrason Riggs, New Haven, Conn., and from the Riggs National Bank, Washington; Third Record of the Class of 1833 in Yale College (1870); Report of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, 1866, 1882; Grace King, Mount Vernon (1929); A Hist. of . . . Washington . . . by The Washington Post (1903), ed. by A. B. Slauson; W. B. Bryan, A Hist. of the National Capital, vol. II (1916); H. W. Crew, Centennial Hist. of . . . Washington, D. C. (1892); J. H. Wallace, Geneal. of the Riggs Family, vol. II (1901); Evening Star (Washington), Aug. 24, 1881.

External links[edit]