(As a preface to his Biography of Stephen Girard (1852), Henry W. Arey
wrote the following:)
wrote the following:)
No contribution hitherto made in this country to the great cause
of human charity, has excited more general interest, or become
more widely known, than the Bequest of Stephen Girard to establish
and maintain a College for orphans. The character of the
benevolence, the magnitude of the fund, and the splendor of the
building, have all contributed to bring his institution prominently
before the public eye, and to make it the object of pride to every
citizen, and of attraction to every stranger.
The history of any man, whose kind heart could conceive, and
whose vast means could accomplish a purpose fraught with so
much good, would be interesting ; but the life of Mr. Girard is
more than this, it is instructive. It teaches us what we can do
in the face of obstacles, when we are patient, zealous, and self-reliant;
it shows that there is at least a partial omnipotence about
the human will, that can supply the want of wealth, of friends,
and of education ; but above all, it exemplifies how the hard toil
of a life-time, and the thirst for gold, may be elevated and sanctified
by being devoted to the claims of humanity.
Although comparatively humble in his origin, and without the
advantages of wealth or education and the influences of friends,
he has reared to his memory the proudest and most enduring of
monuments. Yet splendid as is the marble structure which stands
above his remains, it yields in beauty to the moral monument.
The benefactor sleeps among the orphan poor, whom his bounty
is constantly rearing. Thus for ever present, unseen but felt, he
daily stretches forth his " invisible hands "
to lead some friendless child from ignorance and vice, to usefulness
and perhaps distinction.
And when, in the fullness of time, many homes have been made
happy, many orphans have been fed and clothed and educated, and
many men rendered useful to their country and themselves, each
happy home, or rescued child, or useful citizen will be a living
monument to perpetuate the name and embalm the memory of the
dead "Mariner and Merchant'."
The retiring disposition and unobtrusive character of Mr. Girard,
refused to gratify the curiosity, which was not unfrequently
expressed during his life-time, to learn something of his early history.
It is not therefore remarkable that hitherto, in the absence
of all means of knowledge, no reliable information, particularly of
this portion of his life, has existed, and that many erroneous statements
have been so frequently made.
(Arey goes on to describe the will of Stephen Girard and the deposition of his papers
And comments on the early life of Girard.)
Among the provisions of his will is the direction,
that his books and papers shall be deposited in a room of his
College, and be therein carefully preserved. Fortunately these
musty records have afforded in a material degree the light which
has hitherto been wanting, and to them the writer has "been principally
indebted for the materials of this brief Biography.
Stephen Girard was born in Bordeaux on the 21st day of May
1750. He was the eldest of five children who were descended
from Pierre Girard, described in the registry of Baptism, now
preserved in that city, as a sea-captain, and Mlle. Lafargue his wife.
Without wishing to trespass upon the sacred privacy of domestic
life, it is painfully evident even from the scanty light afforded
by his letters, that the early life of Stephen was by no means a
happy one. In every one of the few references which are found
in this portion of his history for it was a subject that he seldom
referred to, there is the same proof, that his childhood had no
pleasant or sweet remembrances.
Sixty-three years afterwards, Girard thus wrote of this portion
of his history: "I have the proud satisfaction to know that my
conduct, my labor, and my economy have enabled me to do
one hundred times more for my relatives, than they altogether
have ever done for me since the day of my birth. While my
brothers were taught at College, I was the only one whose
education was neglected. But the love of labor, which has
not left me, yet, has placed me in the ranks of citizens useful
The correct cause of this unhappiness is now difficult
to ascertain, but one reason is at least suggested in that not infrequent
source of similar difficulties, a second marriage by his father.
In a letter written in 1789, he thus again refers to this
period of his life: “I was very young when my father married again,
-and since then, I can say with truth, I have made my way
alone, with means gained from my nurse, the sea."