Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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CORCORAN, William Wilson, banker, born in Georgetown, District of Columbia, 27 December, 1798; died in Washington, District of Columbia, 24 February, 1888. His father, Thomas, was born in Limerick, Ireland, and, coming to this country in 1783, married Hannah Lemmon, of Baltimore county, Maryland, in 1788, and settled in Georgetown, then a busy commercial port. Here he prospered in business, and became a magistrate, member of the levy court, postmaster, and College trustee. The son. after pursuing classical and mathematical studies in private schools and in Georgetown College, entered upon business at the age of seventeen, at first under the direction of two older brothers, who combined with the drygoods trade a wholesale auction and commission business, and were very prosperous until 1823, when, in a time of general financial stringency, they were compelled to suspend, after sinking more than their capital in a resolute effort to maintain their credit. As it was, they paid in full all confidential debts, and compromised with their remaining creditors at the rate of fifty per cent. In 1828 Mr. Corcoran took charge of the large real estate held in the District of Columbia by the United States bank and the Bank of Columbia, and, after his father's death in 1830, devoted himself with unremitting assiduity to this responsible trust until 1836. In 1835 he married Louise Amory Morris, daughter of Com. Charles Morris. Mrs. Corcoran died in 1840, leaving a beloved memory, which, with that of the daughter, is shrined in "The Louise Home." In 1837 Mr. Corcoran began business as a broker and banker in Washington, and three years later he called the late George W. Riggs into partnership with him, and in 1845 the firm established itself at the seat of the old United States bank in Washington. Among the first uses that Mr. Corcoran made of his accumulations was the disbursement of $46,000 in absolute discharge of the debts for which a legal compromise had been made in 1823. He paid them all to the uttermost farthing, with interest calculated to the date of this complete settlement. The firm of Corcoran & Riggs was now strong enough to take on its own account nearly all the loans of the government. At one stage of its operations, during the Mexican war, its transactions under this head were so bold that Mr. Riggs thought it more prudent to retire from the partnership. Mr. Corcoran now found himself with twelve millions of the United States six-percent, loan on his hands, in a falling market, which had already sunk one per cent. below the price at which he had taken the whole loan. Nothing daunted, he embarked at once for London, and there succeeded, through the faith inspired by his business judgment and honor, in enlisting its greatest banking-houses in support of a loan that seemed perilous, but that subsequently rose to a high premium and proved a source of great profit to all interested in it, besides bringing a relief to the exchanges of the United States. This negotiation, so creditable to his sagacity, courage, and integrity, laid the basis of that large wealth which subsequently came to be reckoned by the millions, He retired from the banking business in 1854, and has since given himself entirely to the management of his own affairs. Plans of benevolence have taken the foremost place in his solicitudes, and in shapes so multiform that they have left no aspect of human life untouched by his beneficence. The beautiful cemetery of Oak Hill, crowning the slopes of Georgetown, marks his tender respect for the dead; the Louise Home, his provident care for impoverished gentlewomen; the Corcoran gallery of art (see illustration), with its magnificent endowment, his patronage of the fine arts ; his rich benefactions to Colleges and universities, his love of learning; countless gifts to churches, church homes, and theological seminaries, his reverence for religion; ceaseless contributions to institutions of public charity, his sympathy for human suffering. It is estimated that his charities, including private ones, exceed the aggregate amount of $5,000,000. Mr. Corcoran has long made his home in Washington the seat of an elegant hospitality and a centre of social influence, as being the favorite meeting-place of scholars, artists,, statesmen, diplomatists, and distinguished strangers.
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