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Edward Knight Collins. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109875).

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Collins, Edward Knight (05 August 1802–22 January 1878), merchant and shipping operator, was born in Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the son of Israel Gross Collins, a sea captain, merchant trader, and ship owner, and Mary Ann Knight, an Englishwoman who died soon after Edward’s birth. After his mother’s death, his father moved to New York City, leaving Edward to be raised by the Collins family. Edward’s uncle (and later business associate), John Collins, was an important influence....

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Forbes, John Murray (23 February 1813–12 October 1898), merchant, capitalist, and railroad developer, was born in Bordeaux, France, and raised in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Ralph Bennet Forbes, a merchant, and Margaret Perkins. Through the generosity of his elder brother, Thomas Tunno Forbes, young John enjoyed five years of schooling at the experimental Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, before taking up a place in 1828 as a clerk to his uncles in Boston, the China traders James and ...

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Green, John Cleve (04 April 1800–29 April 1875), philanthropist, railroad entrepreneur, and China trader, was born in Lawrenceville (formerly Maidenhead), New Jersey, the son of Caleb Smith and Elizabeth Green. His great-great-grandfather, Jonathan Dickinson, was first president of the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University; this family connection would later play a great part in Princeton’s future....

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Marshall, Benjamin (1782–02 December 1858), merchant and textile manufacturer, was born to a manufacturing family in West Riding, Yorkshire, England. At age sixteen he entered the cotton trade in Manchester. Seeking wider opportunity, in 1803 he sailed for America with his brother Joseph, arriving in New York in August. They brought a consignment of Lancashire cotton textiles with which to start an importing partnership; they soon opened a store at 10 Beekman Street. To pay for the imports the Marshalls began exporting raw cotton to the Lancashire mills, initially buying from New York middlemen. Benjamin soon recognized that they could simply buy directly at the source, in the South. Thus, Marshall started going south, principally to Georgia, for extended periods each winter, arranging purchases of cotton, pioneering a practice that later became standard among New York cotton exporters. Marshall also established an agent in New Orleans and bought several ships to engage in the southern coastal trade....

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Merry, William Lawrence (27 December 1842–11 December 1911), sea captain, merchant, and diplomat, was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Henry Merry, a merchant and sea captain, and Candida Isbina Xavier, apparently Brazilian. Merry attended the Collegiate Institute in New York City during the 1850s. He became a junior officer on the ...

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Osborn, William Henry (21 December 1820–02 March 1894), merchant, railroad executive, and philanthropist, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of William Osborn and Anna Henfield Bowditch, farmers. After a few years at local schools Osborn, at the age of thirteen, became a clerk in a Boston firm, the East India House of Peele, Hubbell & Company. Bright and quite capable, by age sixteen he was representing his firm in Manila, Philippine Islands. While still in his twenties Osborn set up his own import-export business in Manila. The new firm prospered and by the early 1850s he had made a small fortune. He left the Philippines, toured Europe, and returned to the United States in 1853....

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Thompson, Jeremiah (09 December 1784–10 November 1835), cotton merchant and shipowner, was born in Rawdon, Yorkshire, England, the son of William Thompson, a manufacturer of woolen cloth; his mother’s name is unknown. In 1798 Thompson’s paternal uncle Francis came to New York City to represent the family business; in 1801, Thompson joined him....

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Watson, Elkanah (22 January 1758–05 December 1842), merchant and promoter, was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the son of Elkanah Watson, Sr., a cooper and civic leader, and Patience Marston. He attended Plymouth’s common school until 1773, when he began an apprenticeship with merchant ...

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Yeatman, Thomas (25 December 1787–12 June 1833), merchant and banker, was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, the son of John Yeatman, a ship and boat builder on the Potomac and Monongahela rivers, and Lucy Patty. Very little is known of Yeatman’s early life. He arrived in Nashville about 1807 and probably soon became a river trader. W. W. Clayton, in ...