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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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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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Broderick, David Colbert (04 February 1820–16 September 1859), U.S. senator, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Thomas Broderick, a stonemason, and Honora Colbert. In 1817 Thomas Broderick moved his family from County Cork, Ireland, to Washington, D.C., where he worked on the Capitol. In 1825 the Brodericks moved to Greenwich Village, New York, where Thomas Broderick died in 1834. At age fourteen, David Broderick began a five-year apprenticeship as a stonemason, while his mother opened a china shop. China importer Townsend R. Harris, later the first envoy to Japan and founder of the City University of New York, revealed the world of books to young Broderick, and journalist George Wilkes broadened his reading....

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Brooks, Preston Smith (06 August 1819–27 January 1857), U.S. congressman, was born in Edgefield, South Carolina, the son of Whitfield Brooks, Sr., a planter, and Mary Parsons Carroll. Brooks was an eldest son born into one of the most influential planter families in antebellum South Carolina. Connected by marriage to the leading families in Edgefield District and upcountry South Carolina, the Brooks line stood proudly among the state’s ruling elite. The sons of planters, as befitting their status and wealth, were socialized to live by a code of honor that placed a premium on absolute loyalty to family, kin, and section. Manliness of spirit in defense of honor, the direct antithesis of the presumed submissiveness of the docile slave, was the highest and most esteemed male virtue. This was one of the most important lessons Brooks learned in his private education, first at the Moses Waddel school in Willington and then at the College of South Carolina, the training ground for the state’s future leaders....