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William Duer papers

Call Number

MS 182


1752-1836 (bulk, 1770-1800), inclusive


Duer, William, 1747-1799


13.9 Linear feet (12 boxes, 3 volumes)

Language of Materials

The documents in this collection are in English.


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.

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.


The collection is organized in nineteen series:

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

Series II. Correspondence - William Duer with Tench Tilghman, 1776

Series III. Correspondence - Catherine (Mrs. William) Duer, Undated

Series IV. Correspondence - William Alexander Duer, 1816-1824, Undated

Series V. Chancery Cases, 1790-1803, Undated

Series VI. Legal Documents, 1772-1796, Undated

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

Series VIII. Poughkeepsie Distillery Papers, 1782-1783, Undated

Series IX. Bonds, Deeds and Leases, 1763-1799, Undated

Series X. Invoices, 1770-1786, Undated

Series XI. Papers Relating to Robert Snell, 1771-1774, Undated

Series XII. Lumber Papers, 1785-1789

Series XIII. Papers Relating to Duer's Siblings, 1769-1829, Undated

Series XIV. Financial Documents, Speculation, 1782-1795, Undated

Series XV. Army Supply Papers, 1781-1785

Series XVI. Accounts, 1781-1792

Series XVII. Bills, Receipts and Notes, 1752-1798, Undated

Series XVIII. Unclassified personal and family materials

Series XIX. Bound volumes

Material within each series is arranged chronologically unless otherwise noted.

Scope and Contents

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.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as William Duer Papers, MS 182, The New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Collection processed by

Processed by Mary Jo Kline and Jan Hilley.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:46:14 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derivedfrom duer.xml


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
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New York, NY 10024