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Bowie, Jim (1795– March 1836), popularizer of the bowie knife, speculator, and co-commander of Texan forces at the Alamo, was the son of Rezin Bowie and Elvy Jones; his formal given name was James. Bowie’s birthday and his mother’s name are the subject of dispute. Some sources claim that he was born in 1795, while others believe the correct year was 1796; some claim that his mother’s name was Alvina, perhaps shortened to Elvy, and that the reading of her name as “Jones” from Spanish documents is an erroneous extrapolation from markings that could have been intended as “Jane.” Similarly, some sources state that Bowie was born in Burke County, Georgia, while others opt for Elliot Springs, Tennessee. ...

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Cazenove, Théophile (13 October 1740–06 March 1811), speculator, was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the son of Théophile Cazenove and Marie de Raspin-Thoyras. His marriage in 1763 to Margaretha Helena van Jever, a member of a noted mercantile family, helped Cazenove secure a comfortable spot within Amsterdam’s commercial circles. He worked as a broker and trader through the following decades, evidently spending some time in the 1780s in Paris, where he became acquainted with the cleric and future statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord....

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Craigie, Andrew (22 February 1754–19 September 1819), druggist, entrepreneur, and speculator, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Andrew Craigie, a ship captain and merchant, and Elizabeth Gardner. He attended Boston Latin School for an undetermined period starting in 1763; there is no information as to his further education. Indeed, there seems to be no further record of him until 1775, when the Massachusetts Committee of Safety appointed him to take care of medical stores and the Provincial Congress named him “medical commissary and apothecary for the Massachusetts army.” This and his subsequent activity in the Continental army suggest that he had had some background in pharmacy or the wholesale drug business. There is nothing known of Craigie’s background or later activity that would warrant the appellation “Doctor” frequently accorded him....

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Croghan, George (?–31 August 1782), Indian agent and land speculator, was born in Dublin, Ireland. Croghan’s early life is obscure. Scholars do not know who George Croghan’s parents were, or even the name of his European wife. We do know that he had one European daughter, Susannah, and at least one daughter from a union with a Mohawk woman. In 1741 Croghan immigrated to Pennsylvania, where he entered the fur trade. Between 1741 and 1754 Croghan became one of the most successful fur traders in Pennsylvania because he refused to wait for the Indians to bring their furs to his trading post. Instead he emulated French traders and traded with the Indians at their villages. During this time Croghan came to appreciate his Indian trading partners and their society. His letters are filled with defenses of Indian society. He learned their languages (he knew Delaware and at least one of the Six Nations’ languages, probably Mohawk) and their customs....

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Davenport, George (1783–04 July 1845), Indian trader and frontier townsite entrepreneur, was born in Lincolnshire, England. Nothing is presently known of his parentage or childhood, although he apparently enjoyed the equivalent of a good common-school education. At age seventeen he was placed with an uncle, a captain of a merchant vessel. In 1804 Davenport’s ship visited New York, where he broke his leg and had to be left behind to recuperate....

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Dexter, Andrew, Jr. (28 March 1779–02 November 1837), attorney, financier, real estate speculator, and swindler, was the eldest child of Andrew Dexter, a Boston dry goods merchant, and Mary Newton. He was born in Brookfield, Massachusetts, where his parents had fled during the British siege of Boston, and grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. Dexter graduated from Rhode Island College (later Brown University) in 1798. His salutatory address expressed the heady combination of reverence for the leaders of the Revolution, anxiety about the future, and soaring ambition that marked the Revolutionary generation....

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Donelson, John (c. 1718–1725–11 April 1786), land speculator and explorer, was born in Somerset County, Maryland, the son of John Donelson, a merchant and seaman, and Catherine Davis. Following his father’s death in 1736, Donelson entered the shipbuilding business. He then migrated to Virginia in 1743, settling near the town of Pastoria in what was Accomack County. About that time he married Rachael Stokely, daughter of prominent landowner and member of the House of Burgesses Alexander Stokely. They had eleven children; the tenth, Rachel ( ...

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Duer, William (18 March 1743–07 May 1799), businessman and politician, was born in Devonshire, England, the son of John Duer, a wealthy squire, and Frances Frye. After graduating from Eton, Duer joined the British army and traveled to India, where he later served as secretary to Lord Clive, governor-general of the East India Company. Duer soon fell ill, however, and returned to England. His father’s subsequent death left him in possession of a large inheritance, which included an estate in the West Indies. By 1768 Duer was actively managing his estate and trading with prominent businessmen in New York, including ...

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Fisk, James (01 April 1834–07 January 1872), financial speculator, was born in Pownal, Vermont, the son of James Fisk, a country peddler; his mother’s name is unknown. He was four years old when his mother died and his father moved to Brattleboro and married Love B. Ryan. He left school at age twelve to accompany his father on peddling trips, became a waiter two years later when his father built a temperance hotel, and joined the Van Amberg Circus as a roustabout and ticketseller when he was fifteen. Returning home at age eighteen, he reorganized his father’s peddling business and married Lucy Moore in 1854. They had no children....

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Fitch, James (02 August 1649–10 November 1727), Connecticut land speculator and magistrate, was born in Saybrook, Connecticut, the son of the Reverend James Fitch and Abigail Whitfield. In 1659 his father led a group of people to settle the town of Norwich, situated where the Quinebaug and Shetucket rivers combine to form the Thames. Fitch was raised largely on the frontier in close proximity to the Indians, with whom his father had numerous contacts. He gained knowledge of the unsettled lands in eastern Connecticut and learned to manipulate the Native Americans who controlled them. Fitch served in ...