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Bayard, Nicholas (1644–1711?), merchant, was born probably in Alphen, near Utrecht, in the Netherlands, the son of Samuel Bayard, a and Anna Stuyvesant. Bayard was the nephew of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New Netherland. His mother Anna, Stuyvesant’s sister, with her four children, accompanied the Stuyvesants to New Amsterdam in 1647. Educated by his mother in English, French, and Dutch, he began a long and lucrative political career with a post as English clerk in Stuyvesant’s government. He also held posts under the English administration that commenced in 1664 and during the second brief Dutch occupation in 1673....

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Clark, Daniel (1766–13 August 1813), merchant, diplomat, and territorial delegate, was born in Sligo, Ireland. Although his parents’ names are unknown, his family’s wealth and connections were sufficient to provide him with an education at Eton and other English schools. Declining fortunes in Ireland prompted the Clarks in 1785 or 1786 to emigrate to America, where they settled in Germantown, outside of Philadelphia....

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Coleman, William Tell (29 February 1824–22 November 1893), merchant and vigilante, was born near Cynthiana, Kentucky, the son of Napoleon Bonaparte Coleman, a civil engineer and lawyer (mother’s name unknown). Both his parents had died by the time the boy was nine, and an aunt mothered him and his three siblings on their maternal grandfather John Chinn’s plantation in Kentucky. At fifteen Coleman was given a job on a railroad survey in Illinois by his uncle Marcus Chinn, but when the state’s program for railroads collapsed the next year, he went to St. Louis where he worked in an insurance and later a lumber company. At the age of eighteen, he entered St. Louis University and completed the four-year legal course in two, but overstudy had brought on the symptoms of tuberculosis. After regaining his health in Florida, he became the overseer of a plantation at West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for his uncle, Whig ex-congressman Thomas W. Chinn. He soon left Louisiana, however, for St. Louis, and his former employers in the lumber company sent him to Wisconsin to look after their timber tracts and sawmills....

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Findlay, James (12 October 1770–28 December 1835), congressman, lawyer, and merchant, was born in Mercersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Findlay and Jane Smith. Little is known about Findlay’s early life, including his father’s occupation. Apparently, he grew up in comfortable circumstances and had some formal education. But when his father suffered a major financial setback, probably as the result of a fire, James and his two older brothers had to fend for themselves. Like many other young Americans in postrevolutionary America, Findlay decided to seek fame and fortune elsewhere. In 1793 he and his wife, Jane Irwin, moved to Virginia and then to Kentucky, before finally settling in Cincinnati....

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Button Gwinnett. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111795).

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Gwinnett, Button (bap. 10 April 1735), merchant and political leader, was born in Gloucester, England, the son of the Reverend Samuel Gwinnett and Anne Emes. Gwinnett left England as a young man and for a number of years after arriving in America was a merchant in the colonial trade. In April 1757 he married Ann Bourne, with whom he had three children. His business activities took him from Newfoundland to Jamaica, and at times brought him into conflict with other merchants and with legal authorities. Never very successful, he moved to Savannah in 1765 and opened a store. When that venture failed, he bought (on credit) St. Catherines Island, off the coast of Georgia to the south of Savannah, and attempted to become a planter. Though his planting activities were also unsuccessful, he did make a name for himself in local politics....

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Herrman, Augustine (1605?–1686?), merchant, attorney, ambassador, and mapmaker, was born in Prague, Bohemia, thought to be the son of Ephraim Augustin Herrman, a shopkeeper and city councilman, and Beatrix Redel, but possibly the son of Abraham Herrman, a Hussite minister in Mseno who was exiled to Zittau in Saxony because he was not Roman Catholic, and eventually settled in Amsterdam (wife’s name unknown)....

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Langdon, Woodbury (1739–13 January 1805), merchant and judge, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of John Langdon and Mary Hall, successful farmers. Langdon attended the local Latin grammar school and as a young man went to work for Henry Sherburne, one of the leading Piscataqua merchants. He rose quickly to become a ship captain and then Sherburne’s partner in business. In 1765 he married his partner’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Sarah Sherburne. The couple had nine children. Langdon was building ships as well as trading and had become the fifth highest taxpayer in a community filled with wealthy merchants. He also was involved in imperial politics as an ally of Peter Livius, a recent arrival from England eager to replace Governor ...

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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. ...