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|Member of the
|Member of the New York State Senate for the Eastern District|
September 9, 1777 – June 30, 1778
|Preceded by||Inaugural holder|
|Succeeded by||Ebenezer Russell|
|Member of the
|Born||March 18, 1743
Devon, Great Britain
|Died||May 7, 1799
New York City, New York, U.S.
(m. 1779; his death 1799)
|Relations||William Duer (grandson)|
|Children||8, including William, John|
William Duer (March 18, 1743 – May 7, 1799) was a British-born American lawyer, developer, and speculator from New York City. A Federalist, Duer wrote in support of ratifying the United States Constitution as "Philo-Publius." He had earlier served in the Continental Congress and the convention that framed the New York Constitution. In 1778, he signed the United States Articles of Confederation.
Duer was born in county Devon, Great Britain, in 1743. He was the son of John Duer, a planter of Antigua in the West Indies, who had a villa in Devonshire. His mother was Frances Frye, daughter of Sir Frederick Frye, who held a command in the West Indies, where she married John Duer.
Duer was educated at Eton, and while still under age, was put into the army as ensign, and accompanied Robert Clive as aide-de-camp on his return to India as governor general in 1762. He suffered severely from the climate, so Lord Clive sent him back to England, where he remained five years until his father's death, upon which he inherited his father's estates in Dominica.
Having left the army, he went to Antigua, and thence to New York State, for the first time in 1768, to arrange for a regular and constant supply of lumber for his plantations in Antigua and Dominica. As a planter, he traded extensively with Philip Schuyler, who persuaded him to move to New York early in the 1770s. On a previous trip to the area, he had purchased tracts of land on the upper 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. In 1773 he went again to England and obtained a contract to supply the Royal Navy with timber for masts and spars. By 1776, had built a moderately successful mercantile business based primarily on lumber production.
Duer was originally a moderate Whig, somewhat reluctant to become involved in active resistance to the British government. Nonetheless, he became a member of the Provincial Congress in 1775; he was one of the committee which drafted the original New York Constitution the next year.
Duer was a member of the 1st New York State Legislature, serving in the New York State Senate for the Eastern District from September 9, 1777 to June 30, 1778.[a] and a member of the Continental Congress in 1778 and 1779, serving as the only representative from New York State. While in Congress, he reportedly impressed future president John Adams and financier Robert Morris, with whom he served on the finance committees as well as the "Board of War," the precursor to the War Department.
In 1779, he returned to private business, in partnership with John Holker, the French commercial agent. He also did well out of supplying the American army, under contracts arranged for him by Robert Morris.
He was a prominent speculator after the peace; he was also elected to the New York General Assembly in 1786. When Alexander Hamilton, Schuyler's son-in-law, became first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789, Duer became the first Assistant Secretary. He continued to speculate in American bonds, including the failed Scioto Company scheme to buy up the American debt to France at a discount.
Duer went bankrupt as a result of the Panic of 1792, and remained in debtor's prison for the rest of his life. His failure has been cited as a cause of the panic, reportedly the first in New York caused by speculation. The loss was estimated at $3,000,000, and impoverished many in all classes.
In 1779, he married Lady Catherine Alexander (1755–1826), second daughter of Sarah (née Livingston) Alexander and General William Alexander, the claimant of the Scottish earldom of Stirling, and a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. The marriage took place at Alexander's country seat, “The Buildings,” near Basking Ridge, New Jersey, which was designed to imitate the residence of an English nobleman, with all the appointments of an English country seat. Catherine's paternal grandparents were New Jersey Attorney General James Alexander and merchant Mary Spratt Provoost Alexander and her maternal grandparents were Catherine Van Brugh Livingston and Philip Livingston, 2nd Lord of Livingston Manor. She was, therefore, descended from the De Peysters, Livingstons, and Schuylers, and occupied a prominent place in the society of the period. Together, they were the parents of eight children, including:
Duer died in New York City on April 18, 1799 at the age of 57. He was buried in the family vault under the old church of St. Thomas, and later reinterred in Jamiaca, Long Island, New York. After his death, his widow remarried to William Neilson on September 15, 1801.
Through his eldest son William, he was the grandfather of Denning Duer,[b] great-grandfather of James Gore King Duer, and the great-great-grandfather of Alice Duer Miller (1874–1942), the feminist poet and writer.
Duer appears as a major character in The Whiskey Rebels, a historical novel by David Liss (Random House, 2008).