"I got to be a millionaire afore I know'd it hardly," remarked the Wall Street financier Daniel Drew (1797-1879).
An uneducated farm boy from Putnam County, New York, he became in turn a successful cattle drover, a circus clown, tavern keeper, a shrewd Hudson River steamboat operator, and an unscrupulous speculator. As the colorful "Uncle Daniel" of Wall Street-his whiskered face seamed with wrinkles and twinkling with steel-gray eyes—time and again he disrupted the financial markets with manipulations whereby he either won or lost millions of dollars.
Having "got religion" upon hearing a scary hell-fire sermon at the age of fourteen, Drew was also a fervent Methodist. Rumors of his financial operations—epic struggles that pitted him against Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk, and that subjected him to threats of arrest and even kidnapping, and on one occasion to a most undignified flight from the state-baffled and disturbed the Methodists, who admittedly had little grasp of Wall Street but knew firsthand Brother Drew's tearful repentance at prayer meetings and his generosity in founding churches and seminaries.
With its dual commitment to religion and rascality, Drew's career is a rich study in contradictions, an exciting chronicle of high drama and low comedy capped by bankruptcy. To understand Drew in his complexity, the author argues, is to get a grip on the heady and exploitative age that produced him—the yesterday of "smartness" and "go ahead" that helped engender the America of today. Based on primary sources, this is the first full-fledged biography of Drew, who hitherto has been known chiefly through a fictionalized and fraudulent account of 1910.