This article is about the year 1786.
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Year 1786 (MDCCLXXXVI) was a common year starting on Sunday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Thursday of the 11-day slower Julian calendar.
- August 11 – Captain Francis Light acquires the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah on behalf of the British East India Company, renaming it Prince of Wales Island in honour of the heir to the British throne, the first colony of the British Empire in Southeast Asia.
- August 17 : The paternal nephew of Frederick the Great, Frederick William, becomes King of Prussia, as Frederick William II.
- August 29 – Shays' Rebellion begins in Massachusetts.
- September–December – Goethe undertakes his Italian Journey (published in 1817).
- September 2 – A hurricane strikes Barbados.
- September 11–14 – Annapolis Convention held, resulting in scheduling of the Philadelphia Convention.
- September 26 – Eden Agreement: Commercial treaty signed between the Kingdoms of Great Britain and France.
- November 7 – The oldest musical organization in the United States, the Stoughton Musical Society, is founded.
- November 30 – Peter Leopold Joseph of Habsburg-Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany, promulgates a penal reform making his country the first state to abolish the death penalty. November 30 is therefore commemorated by 300 cities around the world as Cities for Life Day.
- December 4 – Mission Santa Barbara is founded by Padre Fermín Lasuén as the tenth of the Spanish missions in California.
- January 8 – Nicholas Biddle, President of the Second Bank of the United States (d. 1844)
- January 12 – Sir Robert Inglis, Bt, English politician (d. 1855)
- January 23 – Auguste de Montferrand, French architect (d. 1858)
- February 16 – Maria Pavlovna of Russia, Grand duchess of Saxe-Weimar Eisenach (d. 1859)
- February 24 – Martin W. Bates, U.S. Senator from Delaware (d. 1869)
- February 26 – François Arago, French astronomer, physicist and politician (d. 1853)
- February 24 – Wilhelm Grimm, German philologist and folklorist (d. 1859)
- March 22 – Joachim Lelewel, Polish historian (d. 1861)
- May 12 – Jean-François Barrière, French historian
- May 29 – Alexander Bryan Johnson, American philosopher (d. 1867)
- June 13 – Winfield Scott, American general and Presidential candidate (d. 1866)
- August 17
- August 25 – King Ludwig I of Bavaria (d. 1868)
- September 10 – William Mason, American politician (d. 1860)
- September 11 – Friedrich Kuhlau, German composer (d. 1832)
- September 18
- September 24 – Charles Bianconi, Italian-Irish entrepreneur (d. 1875)
- September 29 – Guadalupe Victoria, 1st President of Mexico (d. 1843)
- November 18
- December 12 – William L. Marcy, American statesman (d. 1857)
- January 4 – Moses Mendelssohn, Jewish philosopher (b. 1729)
- January 7 – Jean-Étienne Guettard, French physician and scientist (b. 1715)
- January 14 – Meshech Weare, Governor of New Hampshire (b. 1713)
- February 28 – John Gwynn, English architect and engineer (b. 1713)
- March 11 – Charles Humphreys, American delegate to the Continental Congress (b. 1714)
- April 10 – John Byron, British naval officer (b. 1723)
- May 15 – Eva Ekeblad, Swedish scientist (b.1724)
- May 19 – John Stanley, English composer (b. 1712)
- May 21 – Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Swedish chemist (b. 1742)
- May 25 – Pedro III of Portugal, consort of Queen Maria I of Portugal (b. 1717)
- June 19 – Nathanael Greene, major general in the Continental Army, 3rd Quartermaster General (b. 1742)
- August 17 – King Frederick II of Prussia ("Frederick the Great") (b. 1712)
- September 5 – Jonas Hanway, English merchant, traveler, and philanthropist (b. 1712)
- October 2 – Augustus Keppel, 1st Viscount Keppel, British admiral (b. 1725)
- October 17 – Johann Ludwig Aberli, Swiss artist (b. 1723)
- October 20 – Humphrey Sturt, British architect (b. 1725)
- November 30 – Bernardo de Gálvez, Spanish military leader who aided the United States in its quest for independence in the American Revolutionary War (b. 1746)
- December 26 – Gasparo Gozzi, Italian critic and dramatist (b. 1713)