Facts first: Yes, Stephen Girard technically was a “drug dealer,” although the term “trafficker” probably would have fit better.
Stephen Girard (b. 1750, d. 1831) was a Frenchman who ended up in America the year 1776, forced by the British during one of his early shipping expeditions. Based in Philadelphia for the rest of his life, Girard would join John Jacob Astor as America’s second millionaire. Jonathan Goldstein’s Stephen Girard’s Trade with China 1787 – 1824 focuses on Girard’s shipping enterprise, the source of his early cash (he later made money on railroads and related enterprises, too).
Girard dallied with opium trafficking right until the opium trade got really competitive (leading to the Opium Wars). As the substance was illegal even at the time, official records were scant, but Goldstein was able to assemble a remarkable log of shipping journeys and inventory based on the Girard archives at the American Philosophical Society. Interesting read and definitely helped me appreciate the man whose name is all around this city.