Stephen Girard

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Stephen Girard
Stephen Girard by JR Lambdin.jpg
Stephen Girard, late in life
Born (1750-05-20)May 20, 1750
Bordeaux, France
Died December 26, 1831(1831-12-26) (aged 81)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Occupation Sailor, banker, entrepreneur
Net worth USD $7.5 million at the time of his death (approximately 1/150th of US GNP)[1]
Religion baptized a Roman Catholic; later a lapsed Catholic or even Irreligious
Spouse(s) Mary Girard
Children Mary Girard (died in infancy)
Stephen Girard signature.svg
Stephen Girard

Stephen Girard (May 20, 1750 – December 26, 1831; born Étienne Girard) was a French-born, naturalized American, philanthropist and banker. He personally saved the U.S. government from financial collapse during the War of 1812, and became one of the wealthiest people in America, estimated to have been the fourth richest American of all time, based on the ratio of his fortune to contemporary GDP.[2] Childless, he devoted much of his fortune to philanthropy, particularly the education and welfare of orphans. His legacy is still felt in his adopted home of Philadelphia.

Early life[edit]

Girard was born in Bordeaux, France. He lost the sight of his right eye at the age of eight and had little education. His father was a sea captain, and the son cruised to the Caribbean and back, was licensed captain in 1773, visited California in 1774, and thence with the assistance of a New York merchant began to trade to and from New Orleans and Port au Prince. In May 1776, he was driven into the port of Philadelphia by a British fleet and settled there as a merchant.[3]


In 1776, Girard met Mary Lum, a Philadelphia native and nine years his junior. They married soon afterwards and Girard purchased a home at 211 Mill Street in Mount Holly Township, New Jersey.[4] She was the daughter of John Lum, a shipbuilder, who died three months before the marriage. Girard became a citizen of Pennsylvania (1778). By 1785, Mary had started to succumb to sudden, erratic emotional outbursts. Mental instability and violent rages led to a diagnosis of mental instability that was not curable. Although Girard was at first devastated, by 1787 he took a mistress, Sally Bickham. In August 1790, Girard committed his wife to the Pennsylvania Hospital (today part of the University of Pennsylvania) as an incurable lunatic. After he gave her every luxury for comfort, she gave birth to a girl whose sire is not entirely certain. The child, baptized with the name Mary, died a few months later, while under the care of Mrs. John Hatcher, who had been hired by Girard as a nurse. Girard spent the rest of his life with mistresses.[4]

Yellow fever[edit]

In 1793, there was an outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia. Although many other well-to-do citizens chose to leave the city, Girard stayed to care for the sick and dying. He supervised the conversion of a mansion outside the city limits into a hospital and recruited volunteers to nurse victims, and personally cared for patients. For his efforts, Girard was feted as a hero by the City Hall after the outbreak subsided.[5] Again during the yellow fever epidemic of 1797-1798 he took the lead in relieving the poor and caring for the sick.[3]

Merchant and mariner[edit]

As a merchant Girard sailed on "La Julie" in 1773, along with "La Jeune Babé", "Sally" and "Les deux Amis". Girard trained Martin Bickham (Sally's brother) as a merchant and he acted as Girard's agent in Mauritius from 1798 to 1825.

"L'Aimable Louise" and "La Jeune Babé" captain between 1773-1776 and part-owner with Thomas Randall, ex-privateer and marchand of New-York escape capture on "La Jeune Babé" in May 1776, sold his part and take residence in Philadelphia as a merchant.

the brig "Flora" armed in course and marchandises,partenership in 1780 with Captain Baldesqui, dissolution of the society in 1787 in favor of Girard

Investor with sixteen partners in the first Philadelphia-build ship for the China Trade: Asia of 292 tons, Master, John Barry

Build the brig "Two Brothers 1787" part-owner with his brother Jean Girard sold in 1792 : 60000 dollars for Jean and 30000 dollars for him part of the trade between San Domingo and Philadelphie, renamed "Les deux Amis"

Brig "Kitty 1790" of less 100 tons,Captain William Waters,condemned at Basseterre,Guadaloupe

Brig "Polly ",bought in 1789,Captain Congdon,taken by privateers in April 1794

"Good Friends" buy in 1792 after been damaged by a gale and build in Bordeaux France in 1786 of 247 tons, captured during the War of 1812

"Sally 1790" of 153 tons made of mulberry, red cedar and locust wood,half-interest with John Cochran,captured and taken in 1800 to Halifax by Bermudian privateer "Entreprise"

"Aimiable Gentille" seized by British privateer "Duke of York" the first May 1794 and taken to Bermuda,cargo of gunpowder for Haiti

Brig "Kitty 1793" of 116 tons build in Philaldelphia, ship-master William D. Waters

Schooner "Betsey" ship-master Joshua Nash in 1793

"Kensington" ship-master Walter Kerr seized and brought in Morlaix by a French privateer on 28 April 1794

Schooner "Nancy" ship-master Paul Post in 1794

"Liberty 1795" of 259 tons of cedar and live-oak who cost 12000 dollars,alterd in 1801 from brig into a ship,lost going aground in 1809

"Voltaire 5 december 1795" of 305 tons lost in 1822 uninsured as many ships of Girard

and his sister-ship "Rousseau 1801" of 305 tons (97 feet long,72 feet keel,28 feet broad and 18 feet deep) build at the "cost of 32$ per tons Carpenters measurement" in contract with Nicolas Vandusen and was launched on October 1801, in 1839 whale ship of New Bedford [1][2] voir photo page 136

"Fanny" owner-ship of two-fifths of the ship and cargo worth of 43036 dollars at destination of Bordeaux in September 1801

"Modest november 1797" lost near Florida on his second voyage in August 1798 with a cargo of 94 693 dollars

"Helvétius 1804" (slightly over 100 feet long)build buy Isaac White at Kensington, finish at whaler in 1832-1834 in a wreck near Hawai

and his sister-ship "Montesquieu 1806" of 372 tons build buy Isaac White at Kensington captured by the English schooner Paz in 27 mars 1813 during the War of 1812, ramsonned for 180000 Dollars taken from the vault of his bank when the species payements were suspended, the cargo of teas, nankeens and silks was sold with 480000 Dollars of benefices for Girard, wrecked in 1824

"North America 1810" of 388 tons(112 feet on deck,92 feet keel straight)build buy Joseph Grice last ship send by Girard to China in 1824 after the Terranova Incident in 1822, finish at whaler

"Superb 1817" of 527 or 537 tons (117 feet long, 32 feet beam)loss under command of captain Collinson

After the wreck of the "Voltaire" and the "Montesquieu" his fleet was reduct to four ships: "Helvétius 1804","North America 1810","Rousseau 1801"and "Superb 1817".

Stephen Girard had not more than six ships at any time: six before the War of 1812 and five just after.

His ships were some of the best: the Rousseau ending her days as a New Bedford whaler in 1893 date of her destruction (thirteen voyages between 1835 and 1886 for Georges Howland).

His best known captains were Ezra Bowen of Rehoboth, Rhode Island and Myles McLeven of Philadelphia.

His total net worth in 1782 : 2280 livres sterlings just to buy a good ship and his cargo

in the end of 1790 : 20681 livres sterlings

in 1794 : 55211 livres sterlings

Girard's Bank[edit]

Main article: Girard Bank
Steel engraving of Stephen Girard by Alonzo Chappel

After the charter for the First Bank of the United States expired in 1811, Girard purchased most of its stock as well as the building and its furnishings on South Third Street in Philadelphia and opened his own bank, variously known as "Girard’s Bank,"[6] or as "Girard Bank." [7] or also as "Stephen Girard’s Bank" or even the "Bank of Stephen Girard." [6] Girard was the sole proprietor of his bank, and thus avoided the Pennsylvania state law which prohibited an unincorporated association of persons from establishing a bank, and required a charter from the legislature for a banking corporation.[8]

Girard hired George Simpson, the cashier of the First Bank, as cashier of the new bank, and with seven other employees, opened for business on May 18, 1812. He allowed the Trustees of the First Bank of the United States to use some offices and space in the vaults to continue the process of winding down the affairs of the closed bank at a very nominal rent.[9]

Girard's Bank was a principal source of government credit during the War of 1812. Towards the end of the war, when the financial credit of the U.S. government was at its lowest, Girard placed nearly all of his resources at the disposal of the government and underwrote up to 95 percent of the war loan issue, which enabled the United States to carry on the war. After the war, he became a large stockholder in and one of the directors of the Second Bank of the United States. Girard's bank became the Girard Trust Company, and later Girard Bank. It merged with Mellon Bank in 1983, and was largely sold to Citizens Bank two decades later. Its monumental headquarters building still stands at Broad and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia.

Death and will[edit]

On December 22, 1830, Stephen Girard was seriously injured while crossing the street near Second and Market Streets in Philadelphia. He was knocked down by a horse and wagon, and one of its wheels ran over the left side of his face, lacerating his cheek and ear, as well as damaging his good (left) eye. Despite his age (81), he got up unassisted and returned to his nearby home, where a doctor dressed his wound. He threw himself back into his banking business, although he remained out of sight for two months. Nevertheless, he never fully recovered and he died on December 26, 1831, coincidentally the Feast of St. Etienne--St. Stephen's Day in the Western Church. He was buried in the vault he built for his nephew in the Holy Trinity Catholic cemetery, then at Sixth and Spruce Streets. Twenty years later, his remains were re-interred in the Founder's Hall vestibule at Girard College behind a statue by Nicholas Gevelot, a French sculptor living in Philadelphia.

At the time of his death, Girard was the wealthiest man in America[10] and he bequeathed nearly his entire fortune to charitable[11] and municipal institutions of Philadelphia and New Orleans, including an endowment for establishing a boarding school for "poor, male, white orphans" in Philadelphia, primarily those who were the children of coal miners, which opened as the Girard College in 1848. Girard's will[12] was contested by his family in France, however, but was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark case, Vidal et al. vs Girard's Executors, 43 U.S. 127 (1844).[13] Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther, in their book The Wealthy 100,[1] posit that, with adjustment for inflation, Girard was the fourth-wealthiest American of all time, behind John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt and John Jacob Astor.

Girard Avenue, a major east-west thoroughfare of North Philadelphia and West Philadelphia and the location of Girard College, is named for him, as is the borough of Girardville, Schuylkill County, located roughly 110 miles northwest of Philadelphia, which is bordered by many acres of land still connected to the Girard Estate. Stephen Girard Avenue, located in the Gentilly area of New Orleans, is named for Stephen Girard, and Girard, Pennsylvania in Erie County, Pennsylvania located roughly 450 miles northwest of Philadelphia was named for him in 1832.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xi, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143 
  2. ^ In Fortune Magazine: "richest Americans:, with an estimated wealth at death of $7,500,000 Girard's Wealth/GDP ratio equalled 1/150.
  3. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Girard, Stephen". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  4. ^ a b DiMeo, Mike. "Stephen Girard". Independence Hall Association. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  5. ^ Wilson, George (1995). Stephen Girard. Conshohocken: Combined Books. pp. 121–133. ISBN 0-938289-56-X. 
  6. ^ a b "Girard's Bank". LOC Authorities. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  7. ^ Konkle, Burton Alva (1937). Thomas Willing and the First American Financial System. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 199–200. 
  8. ^ Wilson, George (1995). Stephen Girard. Conshohocken: Combined Books. pp. 249–250. ISBN 0-938289-56-X. 
  9. ^ Wilson, George (1995). Stephen Girard. Conshohocken: Combined Books. p. 249. ISBN 0-938289-56-X. 
  10. ^ Wilson, George (1995). Stephen Girard. Conshohocken: Combined Books. pp. 329–333. ISBN 0-938289-56-X. 
  11. ^ Klem, Monica. "Stephen Girard | The Philanthropy Hall of Fame | The Philanthropy Roundtable". Philanthropy Roundtable. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  12. ^ DiFilippo, Thomas J. "The Will, No Longer Sacred". Stephen Girard, The Man, His College and Estate. Joe Ross. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  13. ^ "Vidal v. Girard's Executors". Justia. U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 

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