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Girard, Stephen (20 May 1750–26 December 1831), merchant, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Bordeaux, France, the son of Pierre Girard, an officer in the French navy, and Odette Lafargue. He was blind, or partially sighted, in one eye at birth and, therefore, probably received less formal education than his peers. At age fourteen he signed on as a cabin boy for vessels sailing to the West Indies. His first American port of entry was New Orleans. After receiving a license to serve as a ship captain at age twenty-three, Girard was named an officer on a voyage to Port-au-Prince, Saint Domingue (now Haiti), in 1774. He departed the West Indies and set sail for New York with a consignment of sugar and coffee. Rather than returning to France, Girard remained in New York and became an employee of the shipping firm of Thomas Randall & Son. He purchased a half-interest in the ship ...


Kelly, Eugene (25 November 1808–19 December 1894), merchant, banker, and philanthropist, was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, the son of Thomas Boye Kelly. His mother’s name and his parents’ occupations are unknown. Little is known of his family background save that his father, heir to a formerly prominent and prosperous line, lost the balance of his fortune because of his participation in the rebellion of 1798. Following the rebellion, the elder Kelly changed his name from “O’Kelly” to the more common “Kelly” as a precaution against reprisals for his activities. Eugene received his education in a local hedge school, after which he became a draper’s apprentice....


George Peabody. Engraving by John Chester Buttre, second half of the nineteenth century. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98992).


Peabody, George (18 February 1795–04 November 1869), merchant, investment banker, and philanthropist, was born in South Danvers (now Peabody), Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Peabody, a leather worker and a farmer, and Judith Dodge. His parents, though not wealthy, managed to provide their son with a basic education. As a boy George came to know the value of work. At age eleven he worked in Sylvester Proctor’s grocery in Danvers, and for a short time in 1811 he served as a clerk in the dry-goods store of his brother David....