Trouble In Mount Holly

A year before meeting Mary Lum, Girard met a beautiful woman in New Orleans by the name of Bébé Duplessis. She was French which pleased Girard but he found her to be too light and nimble a wit. In conversation, he was unable to match her repartee. Mary was more direct and honest.

Mary did not bring many other attributes to the marriage. She had no education; she couldn’t cook; she was not good with figures and could not be counted on to tend the store. She pleased Stephen, however, by saying she wanted children. He was flattered that such a beauty wanted him.

 This time, rather than pay rent, Girard decided to buy a house in Mount Holly. On July 22, 1777, Mr. Isaac Hazelhurst sold Stephen his first home of a story and a half which included a few acres of land. The price was 528 pounds and nineteen shillings in Pennsylvania currency.

Girard benefited greatly from the arrival of Lord Howe and the British troops that occupied Philadelphia.  He made considerable money selling claret to the British officers who came to his house in Mount Holly. On returning to Philadelphia, these officers turned a profit by reselling the claret to the troops.

Stephen did not mention his marriage to his brother John; John, however, found out about it.  In 1778, John wrote to Stephen. “And now my dear brother, tell me the news with you. They say that you are married. I hope so and that you are sharing the pleasure two married people are in condition to enjoy when they are really well matched.”  Stephen did not miss his brother’s irony but he decided to write to his father about his marriage. He wrote to his father: “I have taken a wife who is without fortune, it is true but whom I love and with whom I am living very happily.”

Trouble came in the form of a twenty-one-year-old officer in Washington’s Army which was camped in Mount Holly. This fact had an impact on the life of Stephen Girard and his new wife. Colonel Stewart wandered into the shop one day while Stephen was out and being in a merry mood, perhaps helped along with a drink or two, found that his spirits were rising somewhat above the level of rigid propriety and he could not resist the temptation—perhaps an idle frolic of the moment. While the beautiful and playful Mary Girard tended to her work, she talked to the handsome colonel and shared a laugh or two with him. Then he kissed her just as Girard entered the store. He became jealous and very angry. Girard had several options. He could report the colonel to his superior officer; he could demand an apology or he could insist on getting satisfaction in a duel. The pragmatic Girard accepted the colonel’s apology.

There is every reason to believe that Girard let the matter drop. He loved his wife and was not willing to dwell on a moment of silliness. One of Girard’s biographers, James Parton, was not as generous in giving his opinion of their marriage.  He wrote: “Of all miserable marriages this was one of the most miserable. Here was a young, beautiful, and ignorant girl united to a close, ungracious, eager man of business, devoid of sentiment, with a violent temper and an unyielding will. She was an American, he a Frenchman; and that alone was an immense incompatibility. She was seventeen, he twenty-seven. She was a woman; he was a man without imagination, intolerant of foibles. She was a beauty, with the natural vanities of a beauty; he not merely had no taste for decoration, he disapproved it on principle.”

Soon after the incident with Colonel Stewart, the British evacuated Philadelphia and Girard and his wife returned to the city with a decent capital piled up from his Mount Holly trading. Seeing that the War of Independence had succeeded and believing that his other interest, that of being named French Consul would not materialize, Stephen decided to pledge his allegiance to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This meant that he would become a naturalized American citizen. Moreover, Girard understood that citizenship was a requirement to have a rental contract in Pennsylvania.

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