1906 Newspaper Article Describes Possible Slave Quarters in New York

Stephen Girard - Slave Dealer or Not?

Stephen Girard - Slave Dealer or Not?

Sometimes when you are looking for something, you find something else entirely.  Many times what you stumble across is better.  Take, for example, a bit of information gleaned from the New York Daily Tribune, Sunday, October 21, 1906, entitled Slave Cells Exhumed:

“The charge that Stephen Girard, philanthropist, was a slave dealer, is being forced upon the unwilling attention of the world by the recent discovery, in demolishing his old house at No. 22 North Water street, Philadelphia, of three tiers of underground cells that seem to have been used for the purpose of incarcerating human beings.  The dungeons are entered through a narrow corridor, the windows of which are heavily barred.  This corridor has all the appearance of being constructed for the prison patrol.  The barred windows of the cells look upon this corridor, and here.  If prisoners were kept in the rooms, the jailors could pass to give them food.  The walls at this part of the house are a foot and a half thick, of solid stone, and any unfortunate thrown into one of these dungeons would be unable to make his cries heard beyond the corridor outside the cells.  Whether they were the prisons for the old philanthropist’s rebellious slaves, whether he punished refractory seamen from his ships by giving them a course of bread and water in a dark dungeon, or whether the gloomy vaults were the temporary abiding place of slaves that Girard had bought to sell again, it seems impossible to decide.  But the cells are there as mute evidence that some queer work was done in the old Girard house and how to explain away their existence is taxing the ingenuity of more than one admirer of the patriot who lent his money to finance the war with Great Britain.”

Interestingly enough, Mr. Girard was one of the richest men in America by the time he died – behind Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Astor.  He created the Girard Bank which merged with Mellon Bank in 1993 (yes, that is not a typo) according to Wikipedia.   It appears that he all but financed the War of 1812 as well.  No wonder the good folks of Philadelphia did not want to think of him as a slave dealer.  Although Wikipedia does not mention anything about this finding, it does mention that Girard did extensive works with orphans.

In any event, it is a story worthy of follow-up for this blog and I will see what I can dig up…no pun intended. 

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