Duer, William

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Duer, William

DUER, WILLIAM. (1743–1799). Congressman, speculator, militia officer. England and New York. Born in Devonshire, England, on 18 March 1743, William Duer was the third son of a wealthy owner of large plantations in Antigua and Dominica. He was educated at Eton, commissioned in the army, and went to India as aide-decamp to (Robert) Lord Clive in 1764. Unable to stand the climate, Duer returned to England, and in 1768 visited New York to buy timber on contract for the navy. In this connection he met Philip Schuyler, and on the latter's advice bought large timber tracts above Saratoga. In 1773 he settled his affairs in England and established himself in New York. Aligning himself with the moderate Patriots at the start of the Revolution, Duer was elected to the Provincial Congress, which offered him a commission as a militia colonel. He turned down the offer but became more active in politics, serving as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention, where he helped draft New York's constitution. He also sat on the Committee of Safety and Committee on Conspiracies that targeted Loyalists. In 1777 he was appointed a judge on the court of common pleas, which post he held for ten years, and was selected a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1778, where he sat on numerous committees and gained the respect of Congressional leaders.

Duer became wealthy from varied financial and commercial ventures, mostly involving the trade in military supplies, and he never hesitated to make use of inside information and political connections. In March 1786 he was appointed secretary to the Board of the Treasury. The next year he was the principal organizer of the Scioto Company, which became connected with the Ohio Company of Associates. In September 1789 Duer became assistant secretary of the new Treasury Department under his friend, Alexander Hamilton, but six months later he resigned, after he was discovered to be taking advantage of his situation to speculate in stocks and bonds. After engaging in large-scale speculations in New England lands and in other business ventures, he attempted to corner the government bonds market. When Duer could not meet his creditors' demands, he was arrested for debt on 23 March 1792 and imprisoned, setting off the first financial panic in the new nation's history. Except for a short period in 1797 he remained in jail until his death on 7 May 1799.

SEE ALSO Ohio Company of Associates.


Duer Papers. New-York Historical Society, New York City.

Jones, Robert F. "The King of the Alley." In William Duer; Politician, Entrepreneur, and Speculator, 1768–1799. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1992.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles