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William Duer.

William Duer (March 18, 1743[1] – May 7, 1799) was an 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.

He was the son of John Duer, of Devonshire and the West Indies. Before inheriting his father's estate, he served in the British army, and was secretary to Robert Clive. 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 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.

Duer was originally a somewhat reluctant Whig, but 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, and a member of the Continental Congress in 1778 and 1779. He married Catherine Alexander, daughter of Major General William Lord Stirling Alexander, in 1779, and returned to private business the same year, 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. He went bankrupt as a result of the Panic of 1792, and remained in debtor's prison for the rest of his life.

His son William Alexander Duer was a justice of the New York State Supreme Court, and for many years the President of Columbia University. His grandson William Duer served in the U.S. Congress.

William Duer appears as a major character in The Whiskey Rebels, an historical novel by David Liss (Random House, 2008).


  1. ^ Robert F. Jones, "The King of the Alley": William Duer; Politician, Entrepreneur, and Speculator, 1768-1799 (1992), p. 1; Jonathan J. Bean. "Duer, William"; American National Biography Online, February 2000. Most older sources give Duer's year of birth as 1747.

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