Alexander was born in New York City to John Spratt and Maria Shrick (née Maria de Peyster), who were both from prominent families of colonial era New York.
Her mother, Maria Shrick, was from a respected Dutch family of goldsmiths, and had first married Paulus Schrick, and then remarried to John Spratt in 1687. After Spratt’s death in 1697 she married again to one David Provoost, a merchant of Huguenot-Dutch ancestry. After Maria DePeyster died in 1700, the Spratt children went to live with their maternal grandmother.
In 1711 Mary Spratt married Samuel Provoost, a younger brother of her mother’s third husband. He was also a merchant as a haberdasher, dry goods importer and real estate agent. She invested her inheritance in his trading venture. She had three children with Provost before his death in about 1720. In 1721, she was married again to James Alexander, who had immigrated to America in 1715 and was one of the leading lawyers in New York City. During the next 39 years, Mary Alexander’s life was divided between caring for her growing family, continuing the Provoost mercantine enterprises, and supporting her husband’s political career.
Alexander had three children by her first husband, Samuel Provoost, and seven children by her second husband, James Alexander, who died in 1756.
Mary Alexander originally belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church but later became an Anglican. Her son John was the father of Samuel Provoost, the first Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York. She is buried with her husband at Trinity Church, Wall Street.
Under her leadership, the Provoost business grew extensively. She imported goods on such a large scale that it was said that hardly a ship docked in New York City without a consignment of goods for her. She sold these goods in her own store and, during the French and Indian Wars, supplied William Shirley’s Fort Niagara expedition with food, tools, cannon, and boats. In 1743 her fortune was estimated at 100,000 pounds, and she and her family lived in a mansion on Broad Street.
The Alexander Papers at the New-York Historical Society Library contain the records of the mercantile business.
- Edward T. James, ed. (1974). Notable American Women, 1607-1950 : A Biographical Dictionary (3. print. ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674627342.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Ingham, John N. (1983). Biographical dictionary of American business leaders. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 031323907X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>