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Washington Duke
Statue of Washington Duke at Duke University's East Campus
Born George Washington Duke
December 18, 1820(1820-12-18)
Durham County, North Carolina
Died May 8, 1905 (aged 84)
Spouse(s) Mary Caroline Clinton (1825–1847) m. 1842-1847
Artelia Romey (1829–1858) m. 1852
Children Sidney Taylor Duke (1844–1858)
Brodie Leonidas Duke (1846–1919)
Mary Elizabeth Duke (1853–1893)
Benjamin Newton Duke
James Buchanan Duke
Parents Taylor Duke (c1770–1830)
Dicey Jones (born c1780)
For the fictional person named George Washington Duke, see George Washington Duke (fictional character)

Washington Duke (December 18, 1820 – May 8, 1905) was an American tobacco industrialist and philanthropist.


He was born George Washington Duke in Orange County, North Carolina (present day Durham County, North Carolina), to Taylor Duke (c1770–1849) and Dicey Jones (c1780–1860). On August 9, 1842, he married Mary Caroline Clinton (1825–1847) with whom he had two children: Sidney Taylor Duke (1844–1858) and Brodie Leonidas Duke (1846–1919).

After Mary Duke's death at age twenty-two, he married Artelia Romey (1829–1858) on December 9, 1852. Both Mary and Artelia died of typhoid fever. With Artelia Duke, he had three children: Mary Elizabeth Duke (1853–1893) who married Robert E. Lyon; Benjamin Newton Duke (1855–1929) and James Buchanan Duke (1856–1925).

Washington Duke served in the Confederate Navy (1863–1865) during the American Civil War against his will. He was opposed to slavery[1] possibly as the result of his being a Methodist.[2] After the war, he grew tobacco, but in 1874, he sold his rural home and moved to the city of Durham, where he began his tobacco business. His workers hand processed tobacco into a form that could be sold by the bag for pipe smokers or hand rolled into cigarettes. In 1881, the W. Duke Sons and Company was established as a tobacco manufacturer and was soon a marketer of pre-rolled cigarettes. In 1884 he was nominated by the Republican Party for North Carolina State Treasurer, an elected position, and lost.[3]

After a "tobacco war" among the five large manufacturers, Washington's son James Duke became president of the dominant American Tobacco Company and son Benjamin its vice-president. They would build the company into a multi-national corporation and a monopoly. In 1880 the Dukes were residing in Durham, and Washington was living with his son James and two sisters-in-law: Bettie Romey (born c.1830) and Annie Romey (born c.1846). Also in the household were Jennie Procter (born c.1862) as "house assistant" and two servants: Louisa Sparkman (born c.1867); and Laura Hopkins (born c.1869).

Duke used his influence to have Trinity College moved to Durham. The institution opened its new campus in 1892 with he and son Benjamin as its principal benefactors. In 1896, Duke gifted the college with $100,000 (about $2,200,000 in 2005 dollars) on the condition that it open its doors to women. Trinity College was renamed in honor of Duke in 1924, becoming Duke University.

Washington Duke was interred in Memorial Chapel in the Duke University Chapel on the campus of Duke University. He is memorialized by a statue at the entrance to Duke's East Campus.


  • Durden, Robert Franklin, "The Dukes of Durham: 1865-1929", Duke University Press, 1975. ISBN 0822303302


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