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Summary Article: Duer, William
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(du'ər, dyu'–), 1747–99, political leader in the American Revolution and financier, b. Devonshire, England. He served for a time as aide-de-camp to Robert Clive in India, afterward spending some time in the West Indies looking after his father's estates. In 1768 he moved to New York and, having received a contract to supply the royal navy with masts, purchased a tract of timberland above Saratoga on the Hudson. He built a mansion, erected mills, and became a gentleman of influence. Elected (1775) to New York's provincial congress, he served prominently in the state constitutional convention and acted on the Committee of Public Safety. From Mar., 1777, until Jan., 1779, he was a delegate to the Continental Congress. During the American Revolution he was one of the largest contractors supplying the Continental army. From 1786 to 1789 he was secretary of the Board of the Treasury, and after the Dept. of the Treasury was organized (1789) he became Assistant Secretary under Alexander Hamilton. Duer aided Manasseh Cutler in securing the land grant for the Ohio Company of Associates. A speculator with great holdings, Duer was probably second only to Robert Morris as a financier of the period. His multifold plans did not succeed, however; the government sued him for certain irregularities involved in his work with the Treasury Dept. He was imprisoned for debt, and his ruin is supposed to have helped create the Panic of 1792. Except for a brief period, he spent the rest of his life in prison.

  • See J. S. Davis, Essays in the Earlier History of American Corporations (1917, repr. 1965).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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