David Greene was born in Boston in 1749 into the wealthy mercantile family of Thomas and Martha (Coit) Greene. After graduating as valedictorian of his class at Harvard in 1768 and earning a second degree from Yale in 1772, Greene entered the import/export trade in partnership with his brothers, Daniel and William Hubbard, operating from a store located on a portion of Greene's Wharf that he had inherited. By 1772, Greene had become prominent enough in the Boston mercantile community to win election as Clerk of the Market, but two years later he cut himself off from all hopes of public office when he allied himself with the Loyalist cause by signing the merchants' testimonial to Governor Thomas Hutchinson. Such an unpopular public stance in a city as radicalized as Boston was not only personally risky, it soon made it impossible to continue business. As a result, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in the spring of 1775, Greene was forced into exile.
Arriving in London, Greene was taken into the home of Thomas Fraser, partner in the firm of Lane, Son & Fraser, known for its cordial relationship with Loyalist refugees. Never one to stray far from business, even as a refugee, Greene soon hooked up with a merchant from Antigua, John Rose, with whom he went avidly into partnership. A substantial credit line from Lane, Son & Fraser enabled Rose and Greene to finance their new enterprise, and although the firm was established in London, Greene accompanied Rose to the West Indies early in 1777 to gain better access to the West Indian markets. In November, this new commercial relationship was sealed with a personal twist when Greene married Rose's eldest daughter, Rebecca (d. 1800).
An astute businessman, Greene used the base in Antigua to develop advantageous associations with a number of mercantile firms in America, the West Indies, and the Pacific. Rose & Greene pursued a trade in West Indian produce, including rum, sugar, tobacco, rice, and molasses, as well as oak staves and lumber from East Florida, marketing most of the raw materials in England. Occasionally, they also dealt in goods captured from French ships, such as gauze, soap, wine, and brandy. Like many in the West Indies in the 1770s, Greene and Rose suffered their share of hardships from several seasons of crop failure and from the periodic interruption in trade due to the War. Greene also seems to have suffered physically from an unnamed illness.
When the French entered the War on the side of the Americans, the safety of Antigua and other British West Indian colonies was compromised. Greene became involved in the island's defense effort, working as an unpaid subaltern, and he did his best to keep abreast of the naval skirmishes off shore. Throughout, his most ardent hope was less for British victory than for the settlement of a lasting peace so that he could resume his money-making efforts at home. He finally arranged to return to New England in August, 1781, settling with his wife and two sons in New London, Conn., due to legal proscriptions in Massachusetts on exiles. While awaiting a decision on his status by the Massachusetts General Assembly, Greene appears to have lived in Norwich, Conn., maintaining the New London store that he owned with his old partner, William Hubbard. Though suffering in the post-war economic malaise, Greene and Hubbard carried on a trade in flour, pine boards, butter, and pickled fish, and occasionally in oxen, horses, flaxseed, and pot- and pearl ash. At one point, Greene floated the idea before John Rose of re-establishing a three-way trade between Boston, London, and Antigua, but these plans never materialized, and he was interested in entering the slave trade, if nothing more.
Greene submitted a petition to the Governor and Council of Massachusetts in April, 1784, for a license to return to Boston, and was added to the list of Loyalists permitted to return. Although not formally naturalized for several years more, Greene returned with his family to their manor home in Boston by the summer of 1784, and re-established his business, probably in conjunction with the Hubbard brothers, as he had long planned. Once home, he became singularly civic-minded, taking memberships on the Boston School Committee and in the Boston Tontine Association, and serving as the second vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce, director of the Union Bank, and president of the Union Insurance Company. He was also appointed Justice of the Peace.
Greene died on June 12, 1812, in Ballston Springs, N.Y., where he had gone seeking treatment for ill health. An excerpt from his obituary speaks highly of his achievements, emphasizing his skill in business and his personal integrity:
"Very few persons have passed through this life so much beloved and esteemed as Mr. Greene, by a numerous circle of friends and acquaintance -- His singular sweetness of temper, his undeviating politeness, his uncommon attention to strangers, and his extensive connections in business, made him known and admired in every part of the Union; and he was justly considered, both at home and abroad, as one of the most accomplished gentlemen of New England. He was... alike esteemed for his integrity and his attention to business."