Girard, Stephen

Girard, Stephen (1750-1831) Financier and Philanthropist: Stephen Girard was born on May 24, 1750, near Bordeaux, France. As a young child, he lost one eye, which disfigured his face and caused him to become somewhat sour in disposition. At an early age, he sailed as a cabin-boy to the West Indies, and from there to New York. After he gained his employer's confidence, he became mate, then captain of a small vessel; with which he made several voyages to New Orleans. Soon, Girard was a part-owner of the ship. In 1769, he established himself in trade in Philadelphia, and went back and forth between being a merchant and being shipmaster. The Revolutionary War ended his enterprises, so he opened a small grocery store and establishment to bottle cider. From about 1777 to 1779, he earned money selling alcohol to soldiers of the Continental Army. In 1780, Girard returned to his West Indian trade; taking the lease of a range of stores in 1782, which he subletted at a big profit. During the insurrection in Haiti, several individuals placed their treasures on two of his vessels, for safe keeping. In the course of the insurrection, some of these individuals and their families were killed, leaving Girard with about $50,000. Investing some of this money in the First Bank of the United States in 1810, he purchased a building in 1812 and continued the business contained in it in his own name. He became a major private funder of the War of 1812. Upon the establishment of the Second Bank of the United States in 1816, Girard was became a director and strong positive influence on the nation's finances. When the government was unable to pay back a substantial loan owed to Girard, he offered to wait for repayment, or receive repayment in treasury notes. Girard was an enigmatic figure. He was rough and inhospitable, yet he had several close friends. He was a miser in small matters and strictly frugal in personal affairs, yet he gave generously to the national government and the city of Philadelphia. He was a disbeliever in Christianity; yet he gave money to Christian churches, among other institutions. Upon his death on December 26, 1831, in Philadelphia, his property was valued at $9,000,000. His nine-page will gave specific directions for the bulk of the money to be given to various charities, including the establishment of a college for orphans.