1815 Pierre Samuel du Pont

Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817) is today remembered in connection with the company founded by his son. But the elder du Pont was one of the most notable Frenchmen of his era in his own right. Pierre Samuel was the son of Samuel du Pont, a Paris watchmaker, and Anne de Montchanin. He learned watchmaking from his father but was schooled in the humanities at the insistence of his mother. By the early 1760s Pierre Samuel’s writings on the national economy had drawn the attention of intellectuals like Voltaire and Turgot. His book, "Physiocracy," advocated low tariffs and free trade among nations. It deeply influenced Adam Smith, author of the masterpiece in classical economics, "The Wealth of Nations."Show more

Influential though Pierre Samuel’s ideas were, they were too controversial for Louis XV, who suppressed his publications. In 1773 Pierre Samuel left the country to take a lucrative position as tutor to Poland’s Prince Royal. He returned to France to serve Louis XVI, who had appointed Turgot finance minister, but both men were dismissed for criticizing the spending habits of Marie Antoinette. Pierre Samuel then repaired to the estate he had purchased with his Polish salary. But despite his early retirement, he was instrumental in negotiations leading to the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution, earning him the gratitude of Thomas Jefferson and a patent of nobility from the king.


Pierre Samuel was then swept up in the political turmoil of the French Revolution. In 1790 — one year after the fall of the Bastille — he was elected president of the French National Assembly. But in 1797 his advocacy of moderate reform earned him the enmity of more radical elements and he was imprisoned twice and narrowly escaped execution. In 1799 Pierre Samuel raised funds from several investors and departed for America to speculate in land. His friend, Thomas Jefferson, warned him away from the venture however, and instead the family took up son Eleuthère Irénée’s plan to make gunpowder.

In 1802 Pierre Samuel returned to Napoleonic France to resume his political career. He was instrumental in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase for the United States, and in 1814 helped lead the movement to banish Napoleon to Elba. The next year, during Napoleon’s short lived return, Pierre Samuel fled again to America, settling with his family on the Brandywine. He died on August 7, 1817, after exhausting himself putting out a fire at the powder mills.