Name

William Bingham

Career

Business/Commerce

Occupation 1

maritime merchant

Identifier

Philadelphia

Region

NA/Mid-Atlantic region

Era

Maritime Republic (1751-1815)

Born

1752

Died

1804

Source

ANB

Text

Sometime after the death of his father in 1769, [William Bingham] served an apprenticeship with Philadelphia merchant Thomas Wharton. He toured Europe in 1773. By 1775 he owned several trading vessels. Although Bingham was apparently not active in the growing resistance to Great Britain, the Continental Congress's Committee on Secret Correspondence appointed him as its secretary in late 1775.
This committee sent Bingham to French Martinique as its agent in 1776, beginning his involvement in public affairs and helping him to obtain his large personal fortune. While in the West Indies, Bingham gathered political and military intelligence. He also secured munitions and produce, encouraged trade between the West Indies and the United States, authorized privateers, performed consular duties, and tried to persuade the French to support the Revolution. As expected by the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs, which oversaw him beginning in 1777, Bingham intermixed these public activities with his private business, financing one with the other. His business partner was Robert Morris, a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Until late 1777 their partner was Thomas Willing, another prominent Philadelphia merchant. Although Bingham's business ventures in the West Indies were highly successful, they were to involve him in litigation for most of his life. These ventures also provoked suspicion and jealousy from some Americans. Anna Rawle, a Philadelphia Quaker, wrote that "the greatest part of his wealth [was] acquired by the sale of some guinea negroes, in the west indies," and that he lacked what she felt should be "disagreable [sic] sensations in using riches gained in that manner" (Letter to Mrs. Samuel Shoemaker, 4 Nov. 1870, Shoemaker Papers, vol. 1).
During the 1790s Bingham's home was at the center of the Republican Court, a social network of wealthy and politically prominent Philadelphians and government officials... The moment of the Republican Court was brief. The national capital moved to Washington in 1800, Bingham's term as senator ended in March 1801, and his wife died in May 1801. Distraught, Bingham moved with his daughter and his son-in-law Alexander Baring to England in August of that year. He later died at Bath, possibly following a stroke.

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Record ID: 35