Early Life

Stephen Girard began life with a handicap which was to affect his ability to be comfortable with  people. His right eye had no vision at all and served only to repulse those around him by its grotesque nature. The only person to show him unconditional love was his mother who died when he was still a boy. This is hardly an auspicious beginning.

Stephen did however have other attributes: he was intelligent, courageous and kind. As a child growing up in the outskirts of Bordeaux, France, he had his share of hurtful remarks thrown his way by mocking children. His brilliant mind however allowed him to rise above the pain he suffered by making his father understand he was more than ready to become a man. He was the eldest of nine children which did not give him much time at his mother's knee. So many births, so much fatigue weakened her and finally took her away.

Born on May 20, 1750, Girard could not have known as a boy that he would become the wealthiest person in The United States of America, that a day would come when he would put this entire fortune at risk to come to the aid of his adopted country at war. And yet, our school children never hear or read about him.

Pierre Girard, Stephen's father had gone to sea at thirteen. He was a solitary man who spoke very little to his eldest son but was pleased to see the boy interested in sailing. Pierre had been a hero in the War of the Austrian Succession. In 1744, a British fleet attacked the seaport of Brest with the intention of destroying French warships stationed there. Pierre's ship caught fire and, risking his life, he put the fire out. Louis XV awarded Pierre the Cross of Royal and Military Order. Stephen had his first experiences on board ship with his father who taught him navigation as well as cargo handling.

With his father he traveled to the West Indies and to the American colonies. Stephen very quickly made acquaintances and was hired by one ship owner after another in jobs of growing importance.
Stephen had a very inquisitive mind and would often volunteer for jobs just for the experience. When he finally qualified for the rank of captain, he was too young for the position but due to his seriousness of mission, he found that his captain had fudged on the application by a year and a half.
His unhappiness at home explains to a degree why among the hundreds of pages he was to write in his lifetime, there was hardly a mention of his early childhood.

When Stephen's mother Odette died, his father invited Odette's half sister to come and house-keep for the family. This young, sixteen-year-old girl named Anne Marie took care of the children during the day and against her better judgment took care of the whims of Pierre Girard at night. Stephen was angered at this turn of events.Not only had he lost his mother but his main confidant Aunt Anne Marie now took the side of his father in any household disputes.

Wanting to get out of the house, tired of being an office boy, Stephen asked his father if he could go aboard one of Pierre's ships as a pilotin or apprentice under Captain Courteau. The ship was the Pelerin and was to sail on a trading voyage to Haiti. Stephen was finally going to sea as a real sailor.
He was fourteen.


  1. I am so glad that you are writing an historical blog on Stephen Girard, as he is a key American colonial figure who has not received the attention he deserves in his contribution to the city of Philadelphia and the nation. Keep going and cover his amazing life.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks to Anonymous for the comment

  3. Thanks to Anonymous for the comment.