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Allen, Henry Watkins (29 April 1820–22 April 1866), Confederate soldier and governor of Louisiana, was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the son of Thomas Allen, a physician, and Ann Watkins. Allen and his family moved from Virginia to Ray County, Missouri, when he was thirteen. His father secured him a position working in a store, but Allen found business distasteful and enrolled in Marion College at age fifteen. At seventeen he ran away from college and traveled to Grand Gulf, Mississippi, where he became a tutor on a plantation a few miles outside of town. After tutoring for two years, Allen moved to Grand Gulf to open his own school and to study law. On 25 May 1841 he received his license to practice law in Mississippi. In 1842, when Allen was becoming an established lawyer in Mississippi, President ...

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Benedict Arnold. Engraving from a painting by John Trumbull. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-GW-617).

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Arnold, Benedict (14 January 1741–14 June 1801), revolutionary war general and traitor, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Benedict Arnold III, a merchant, and Hannah Waterman King. Of his mother’s eleven children, only he and a younger sister survived. At age eleven he was sent away to grammar school, but he left two years later when his alcoholic father lost the family’s fortune. Apprenticed to his mother’s cousin, an apothecary in Norwich, he volunteered in three campaigns (1757–1759) of the French and Indian War, deserting finally to be with his dying mother. His father died soon after, leaving little except debts, but his generous master paid the debts and set Arnold up in business when he decided to move to New Haven in 1762....

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Atta, Mohamed (01 September 1968–11 September 2001), terrorist, was born in the delta province of Kafr el Sheik, Egypt, the son of Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta, a lawyer, and Bouthayna Mohamed Mustapha Sheraqi. He was the youngest of three children and the couple's only son. Both parents were Muslim by birth, and Islamic cultural traditions were observed by the family; however, no one remembers the family openly practicing their religion. A fervent belief in the power of education, not religion, was the driving force behind Atta's father, a self-made man known as Mohamed el-Amir. Reportedly ruling his family with a proverbial iron fist, the elder Mohamed restricted their social activities and insisted that all his children concentrate on their studies. Playing outside the home was forbidden to Atta and his sisters, and their mother's activities were also limited by the father; former neighbors remembered the family as antisocial and reclusive. Those habits continued following the family's move to Cairo in the late 1970s....

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Austin, William (02 March 1778–27 June 1841), writer and lawyer, was born in Lunenberg, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Austin, a pewterer and enterprising dealer in real estate, and Margaret Rand. Austin was raised in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which had been the family home for five generations. He received an A.B. from Harvard in 1798. The following year Austin obtained an appointment as both a schoolmaster and chaplain in the U.S. Navy. He sailed on the historic frigate ...

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Barron, James (1769–21 April 1851), naval officer, was born in Virginia, the younger of two naval sons of James Barron, a merchant captain and officer of the Virginia navy in the Revolution, and Jane Cowper. The older son, Samuel Barron, also commanded in the U.S. Navy and was senior to James. James Barron began his sea service before the age of twelve on board his father’s ship in the Virginia service. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in 1798, presumably having sailed in merchant vessels in the intervening years, since he would be known throughout the service for his masterful seamanship. In 1790 he married Elisabeth Mosely Armistead, another Virginian; the Barrons’ first child, Jane, was born in 1791....

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Bennett, James Gordon, Jr. (10 May 1841–14 May 1918), newspaper publisher and editor, was born in New York City, the son of James Gordon Bennett, the founder and editor of the New York Herald, and Henrietta Agnes Crean. The eldest child of the man who popularized sensational journalism, Bennett grew up in an environment of wealth and privilege. He spent most of his youth abroad, educated privately by tutors and then at the École Polytechnique in Paris. Returning to the United States in 1861, he served briefly in the navy as a lieutenant during the Civil War. After the war, Bennett entered journalism seriously for the first time, working as an intern at the ...

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Thomas Hart Benton Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-71877).

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Benton, Thomas Hart (14 March 1782–10 April 1858), U.S. senator and congressman, was born near Hillsboro (now Hillsborough), North Carolina, the son of Jesse Benton, a lawyer and farmer, and Ann “Nancy” Gooch. Jesse Benton died in 1791, leaving eight children, considerable land, extensive debts, and an aristocratic lifestyle. The family suffered a further blow when Thomas Hart Benton, at age sixteen, was expelled from the University of North Carolina for misusing money entrusted to him by roommates. The future senator was known ever after for scrupulous honesty and belligerent defense of his honor; concern that the story of his expulsion might surface probably influenced his consistent refusals to be considered for the presidency....

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Borden, Lizzie Andrew (19 July 1860–01 June 1927), the accused murderer of her father and stepmother in a celebrated trial, was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, the daughter of Andrew Jackson Borden, who started as a fish peddler and undertaker and ended as an investor worth a half-million dollars, and Sarah Anthony Morse. When Borden was two, her mother died. Her twelve-year-old sister, Emma, became her surrogate mother, even though two years later her father married thirty-seven-year-old Abby Durfee Gray. Borden developed into a pretty young woman with carefully kept red hair and large gray eyes who wore stylish clothes. Often pitted against their miserly father and 200-pound stepmother, Borden and her sister found their home a battleground. But the customs of the time kept the daughters from leaving the small, drab house, located in an area losing its residential character. After graduating from high school, Borden escaped her unhappy home by engaging in activities at the Central Congregational Church. At age thirty she toured Europe with a group of young Fall River women. On her return she taught a Sunday school class of immigrant children, became secretary-treasurer of the Christian Endeavor, and joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union....