Archive for the ‘Panic of 1792’ Category

“a fine woman . . . with most accomplished manners”

More on “LADY” KITTY ALEXANDER (see previous post). Kitty was married to Colonel William Duer on July 17, 1779, at the family home in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, with George Washington in attendance. After the war, the Duers made their home on Broadway, in New York City, not far from Wall Street. William Duer was an investor, stockbroker, and speculator always looking to turn a quick profit. The couple were active in the social life of the city and Lady Kitty was a popular hostess. After attending a dinner party at the Duers in 1787, the Reverend Manasseh Cutler noted:

Lady Kitty, for so she is called . . . is a fine woman, though not a beauty, very sociable, and with most accomplished manners. She performed the honors of the table most gracefully, was constantly attended by two servants in livery, and insisted on performing the whole herself. Colonel Duer . . . lives in the style of a nobleman. I presume he had not less than fifteen different sorts of wine at dinner, and after the cloth was removed, besides most excellent bottled cider, porter, and several other kinds of strong beer.

When George Washington became president in 1789, he and his family occupied the Samuel Osgood house at 2 Cherry Street in New York City, the nation’s first capital. Lady Kitty was one of the women consulted on the decor and furniture. Sarah Franklin Robinson, in a long letter to her cousin Catharine Wistar, wrote: “Aunt [Mary] Osgood & Lady Kitty Duer had the whole management of it.”

I went the morning before the General’s arrival to take a look at it—the best of furniture in every room—and the greatest Quantity of plate and China that I ever saw before—the whole of the first and secondary Story is paperd and the floors Coverd with the richest Kind of Turkey and Wilton Carpets—the house realy did honour to my Aunt and Lady Kitty; they spared no pains nor expense on it—thou must Know that Uncle [Samuel] Osgood and [William] Duer were appointed to procure a house and furnish it—accordingly they pitchd [settled] on their wives as being likely to do it better—

Unfortunately Kitty’s husband’s speculations caught up with him in 1791 and 1792 and involved the sale of stock in the newly formed Bank of the United States. Promises of huge dividends and a guarantee that the bank could not fail because of its political connections led to a buying frenzy, causing prices to skyrocket. Bankers, in an attempt to stabilize the market began to cut credit to investors eventually resulting in a crash—the Panic of 1792. Having borrowed large sums of money that he could not repay, Duer found himself in debt to the tune of $3,000,000. He landed in debtors’ prison where he would die in 1799. In greatly reduced circumstances Kitty moved with her children to a small house on Chambers Street where she took in boarders. Her subsequent marriage to William Neilson produced several more children. She died in 1826.

One of the positive results of the Panic that Duer and friends had precipitated was a meeting of a group of concerned bankers and investors who pledged to conduct their securities business in an honest way. This was the beginning of the New York Stock Exchange.

Information about Kitty Duer, as well as Cutler’s observation, can be found HERE. Details concerning Washington’s relocation to New York City can be found HERE. The excerpt of Sarah Franklin Robinson’s letter can be found on pages 296-97 of In the Words of Women. A description of Duer’s part in the Panic of 1792 can be found HERE.

posted January 25th, 2018 by Janet, Comments Off on “a fine woman . . . with most accomplished manners”, CATEGORIES: Duer, Catherine Alexander "Lady "Kitty",Duer, William,Panic of 1792,Washington, George

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