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Breckinridge, John (02 December 1760–14 December 1806), lawyer, planter, and statesman, was born on a farm near Staunton, Virginia, the son of Robert Breckinridge, a farmer and member of the local gentry, and Lettice Preston. While John was still a boy the family moved to the frontier part of Augusta County that became Botetourt County. Determined to acquire an education, John entered William and Mary College in late 1780 or early 1781. His attendance was irregular, but when he left the school in 1784 he had studied for some two years, much of it under the guidance of ...

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Fitzhugh, William (1651–21 October 1701), lawyer and planter, was born in Bedford, England, and was baptized there on 10 January 1651, the son of Henry Fitzhugh, a woolen draper, and Mary King, the daughter of the vicar of Tempsford in Bedfordshire. The Fitzhughs had been a prominent middle-class family in Bedford for many generations. William received a classical grammar school education in England and read law in the office of an English lawyer before emigrating to the Northern Neck of Virginia. The exact date of his settling in Virginia is unknown, but it was sometime before February 1674. Later that year he married Sarah Tucker of Westmoreland County, Virginia. She was eleven years of age and a member of a prosperous and well-connected family. They would have six children....

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Gibbons, Thomas (15 December 1757–16 May 1826), planter, lawyer, and steamship owner, was born near Savannah, Georgia, the son of Joseph Gibbons and Hannah Martin, planters. Gibbons was schooled at home and in Charleston, South Carolina, where he also read law. He married Ann Heyword, but the date of the marriage is unknown. They had three children. Throughout his life Gibbons demonstrated a determined spirit. Contemporaries described him as a “high liver,” possessing a “strong mind, strong passions, strong prejudices, and strong self-will” (Halsted, pp. 16–17)....

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Goldsborough, Robert (03 December 1733–22 December 1788), lawyer and planter, was born in Cambridge, Dorchester County, Maryland, the son of Charles Goldsborough, a lawyer, legislator, and large landowner, and his first wife Elizabeth Ennalls. When Robert was five and a half years old, his father married Elizabeth Dickinson, half sister of ...

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Henry Laurens. Reproduction of a painting by John Singleton Copley, 1781. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-CP-213).

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Laurens, Henry (24 February 1724–08 December 1792), planter-merchant and revolutionary war statesman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of John Laurens, a saddler, and Esther Grasset. The Laurens family had fled La Rochelle, France, as Huguenot refugees in 1682. After stops in London, Ireland, and New York, they settled in Charleston about 1715. Laurens received in his own words “the best education” that the provincial community could offer. In 1744 he sailed for London to serve a three-year clerkship in James Crokatt’s counting house. Laurens married Eleanor Ball in 1750. They had twelve children, but only four survived childhood. ...

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Lynch, Charles (1736–29 October 1796), planter, and the man whose name probably gave rise to the phrase “lynch law,” was born in Virginia (town unknown), the son of Charles Lynch and Sarah Clark, Quakers who had immigrated to Virginia from Ireland. The city of Lynchburg, Virginia, which is located at the site of Lynch’s ferry over the James River, was named for a member of the family, probably his brother John Lynch. As a young man, Charles Lynch served as clerk of the Friends’ South River monthly meeting, but he probably did not share the antipathy to slavery that Quakers increasingly manifested during the latter portion of the eighteenth century, and he did not scruple in April 1767 to take the oaths to qualify as a justice of the peace of Bedford County, Virginia. For taking the oaths and attempting to justify his conduct, the South River monthly meeting disowned him on 20 December 1767. Lynch lived in the portion of Bedford County that became Campbell County in 1781, and he served as a justice of the peace in the new county too. In 1755 he married Anne (or Anna) Terrell, who was also a Quaker and according to her gravestone remained a member of the Society of Friends until her death. The couple had five children....

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Marigny, Bernard (28 October 1785–03 February 1868), Creole planter and politician, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Pierre Enguerrand Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, a Spanish army officer and rich landowner, and Jeanne Marie d’Estréhan, daughter of a distinguished family. He was christened Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville and grew up in the richest family in the French colony of Louisiana. When Marigny was fifteen his father died, at which time Lino de Chalmette, a relative, became his guardian. Already Marigny had developed into an unruly, spoiled young man, so addicted to gambling that Chalmette could not control him. Hence Marigny was dispatched to Pensacola, Florida, and placed in the care of a wealthy merchant named Panton, who found him so impossible that he immediately sent him back. Chalmette then sent Marigny to England, where he lived on an extravagant allowance, mingled with the best society, met Lord Byron, and continued his dissipated ways. Soon he was deeply in debt to London and Parisian gamblers. Returning to New Orleans after his eighteenth birthday, he came into possession of his entire fortune of $7 million but was compelled to liquidate a plantation in order to pay his creditors. Supposedly he maintained an entire street of houses on what he called “Rue de l’Amour” to shelter his numerous mistresses....

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John Young Mason. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109927).

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Mason, John Young (18 April 1799–03 October 1859), planter-lawyer, politician, and diplomat, was born at “Homestead,” the family plantation in Greensville County, Virginia, the son of Edmunds Mason and Frances Ann Young, both descendants of landed southern Tidewater families. An excellent student, young Mason graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1816, read law with Judge Griffin Stith in Southampton County, and then attended the law school of Judge ...