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Burroughs, Stephen (01 January 1765?–28 January 1840), rogue, imposter, and author, was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, the son of Eden Burroughs, a Presbyterian minister, and Abigail Davis Burroughs. Burroughs recalled in his autobiography that he was “the terror of the people where I lived, and all were unanimous in declaring, that Stephen Burroughs was the worst boy in town, and those who could get him whipped were most worthy of esteem.” When not perpetrating pranks on his neighbors, Burroughs spent his time reading novels and daydreaming, and at the age of fourteen he ran away from home to enlist in the Continental army. His father derailed his plan to enlist, but in characteristic fashion Burroughs tried again and again, eventually succeeding. After taking part in several skirmishes, however, Burroughs's military ardor cooled, and his father managed to obtain his son's discharge....

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Fields, Annie Adams (06 June 1834–05 January 1915), literary hostess, author, and social reformer, was born Ann West Adams in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Zabdiel Boylston Adams and Sarah May Holland, both descended from prominent early Massachusetts settlers. Her father was a Boston physician who also taught at Harvard Medical School and served on the Boston school board. Annie’s childhood pleasures included easy access to books and Sunday visits to such distinguished relatives as the Adamses of Braintree. At ...

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Hale, Nathan (06 June 1755–22 September 1776), martyr of the American Revolution, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, the son of Richard Hale and Elizabeth Strong, successful farmers. A sickly infant, he barely survived his first year, but as he grew he became an outdoorsman and a powerful athlete. He enjoyed reading, and his father decided to prepare him for the ministry, first by hiring Rev. Joseph Huntington to tutor him and then by sending him in 1769 to Yale College. At Yale he was widely admired by his teachers and fellow students. Dr. ...

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Hone, Philip (25 October 1780–05 May 1851), diarist and socialite, was born in New York City, the son of a German-born joiner. Of humble origins, Hone determined to raise himself socially to the point where he would be able to mingle with the affluent on equal terms. Although the young Hone had little formal education, at the age of sixteen he began working at his elder brother John’s auction house. Three years later he became a partner. A hard worker, Hone helped make his brother’s business one of the most successful auction firms in the city. Over a period of nearly twenty years Hone amassed over half a million dollars and, in May 1821, at the age of forty, retired from business, toured Europe, and began collecting books and pictures. When he returned to New York, he and his wife, Catharine Dunscomb, whom he had married in 1801, and their six children settled in his home at 235 Broadway....

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Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1820?–26 May 1907), White House dressmaker during the Lincoln administration and author, was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, the daughter of George Pleasant and Agnes Hobbs, slaves. Her birth date is variously given from 1818 to 1824 based on different documents that report her age. The identity of her father is also uncertain; in later life Keckley reportedly claimed that her father was her master, Colonel A. Burwell. George Pleasant, who was owned by a different master, was allowed to visit only twice a year and was eventually taken west....

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Lafayette, James (1748–09 August 1830), patriot spy, also known to history as James Armistead, was born in slavery; little is recorded of his parentage or early life except that he belonged to William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. In the summer of 1781 James was attending his master while Armistead worked as a commissary in Richmond, supplying patriot forces under the command of the ...

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Smith, Margaret Bayard (20 February 1778–07 June 1844), author and society leader, was born on a farm near Swede’s Ford on the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Bubenheim Bayard, a merchant, and Margaret Hodge. The family had moved from Philadelphia just before the city was occupied by the British. A revolutionary war leader, Bayard had commanded a regiment in the battles of Princeton, Brandywine, and Germantown and spent part of the winter of 1777–1778 with ...

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Gertrude Stein Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1935. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103680).

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Stein, Gertrude (03 February 1874–27 July 1946), author, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Daniel Stein, a businessman, and Amelia Keyser. Stein spent her early years in Europe, where her parents were traveling; the family returned to America in 1879, settling the following year in Oakland, California, where Stein spent the rest of her youth. Of Oakland she was later to remark, “There is no there there.” She countered the bland, suburban surroundings by reading voraciously: Shakespeare, Scott, Richardson, Fielding, Wordsworth....