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Fink, Mike (1770–1823), scout, keelboatman, and trapper, was born at Fort Pitt, part of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His ancestry was probably Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania German. It is hard to separate fact from fiction concerning Mike Fink. Early in his life he was an expert marksman with his Kentucky rifle. While still a teenager, he was probably a hunter who sold meat to Pittsburgh butchers and was surely a scout who gathered information for the settlements about Indian activities beyond the western frontier. The battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, followed by the Treaty of Greenville a year later, guaranteed the security of the Northwest frontier and established a boundary in the Northwest Territory between Indian lands and areas open to further white settlement. So Fink moved into his second career, that of a keelboatman....

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Grimes, Absalom Carlisle (22 August 1834–27 March 1911), Confederate mail runner and steamboat pilot, was born in Anchorage, Kentucky, the son of William Leander Grimes and Charlotte Platt Wright. He was born while his parents were visiting his father’s hometown relatives. After he was one month old, his parents took him to their home at Saverton, Missouri (near Hannibal), where his father worked as a Mississippi River steamboat pilot. During his youth in St. Louis the rambunctious Grimes disliked school intensely and at the age of twelve stowed away on a steamboat to New Orleans, only to be retrieved by his anxious parents before he could carry out his plan to go to sea as a cabin boy. When he was sixteen, he worked briefly as a messenger boy for the Morse Telegraph Company when its service was first introduced to St. Louis, but later in the year he was introduced to steamboat piloting by his father. Ab, as Grimes was familiarly known, was so short at the start of his apprenticeship that he had to stand on a box to see over the boat’s steering wheel. After obtaining his first annual license in 1852, he piloted various steamboats in the lively upper Mississippi trade between St. Louis and St. Paul until the start of the Civil War in 1861....

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Meserve, Nathaniel (1705–28 June 1758), shipbuilder and provincial military leader, was born in Newington, New Hampshire, the son of Clement Meserve, a joiner, and Elizabeth Jones. In 1725 he married Jane Libby; they had two children. Meserve soon afterward moved to Portsmouth, where he prospered as a shipbuilder and, in 1740 built one of the town’s more elegant houses adjoining his shipyard....