Stephen Girard was born near Bordeaux, France, on May 20, 1750, the son of Pierre Girard, an officer in the French navy, and his wife, Odette Lafargue. From his teenage years into his early twenties, he worked as a cabin boy on merchant ships engaged in West Indian trade. In 1774, he became an officer on a ship bound for Saint-Domingue, which then sailed to New York City with a consignment of goods. He stayed in New York until 1776, when he moved to Philadelphia. He remained there for the rest of his life. Girard built a successful international shipping business and owned several trading vessels, including the Good Friends and the North America .
Stephen Girard amassed a fortune from his later work in banking and finance. When Congress failed to re-charter the First Bank of the United States in 1810, Girard purchased the Bank's headquarters and ran the re-named, unchartered Bank of Stephen Girard until his death. He supported the founding of the Second Bank of the United States, and became a notable philanthropist. In his will, Girard established Girard College, a boarding school for boys who were from single-parent families or who had been orphaned. Today, Girard College in Philadelphia is a co-ed boarding school for qualified students whose families have limited financial resources. Stephen Girard married Mary Lum in 1777, but had no children. He died on December 26, 1831.