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Church, Robert Reed, Jr. (26 October 1885–17 April 1952), politician and businessman, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Robert Reed Church, Sr., a banker and businessman, and Anna Sue Wright, a school principal. The wealth and prestige of his father afforded young Church opportunities not available to most African-American children of his day. After attending a parochial school in Memphis and Oberlin Academy in Oberlin, Ohio, Church studied at Morgan Park Military Academy in Chicago, Illinois, and then enrolled in the Packard School of Business in New York City. He completed the business course and worked on Wall Street for several years before returning to Memphis in 1909 to help his father in the management of the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company and other family enterprises. In 1911 he married Sara Paroda Johnson, a schoolteacher; they had one child....

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Cooper, William (02 December 1754–22 December 1809), land developer and politician, was born in Byberry (now part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, the son of James Cooper and Hannah Hibbs, farmers. Only modestly schooled, in 1774 young Cooper eloped with Elizabeth Fenimore, daughter of the well-to-do Quaker Richard Fenimore of Rancocas, New Jersey. They had twelve children, of whom seven lived to adulthood....

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Henry Morgenthau Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93469).

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Morgenthau, Henry (26 April 1856–25 November 1946), lawyer, real estate agent, and diplomat, was born in Mannheim, Germany, the son of Lazarus Morgenthau, a cigar manufacturer, and Babette Guggenheim. After his business failed, Lazarus Morgenthau immigrated to the United States in 1866 and became an insurance salesman. Henry Morgenthau attended public high school, graduating in 1870, the same year he entered the City College of New York. He remained there only one year before financial pressures compelled him to work. Employed as an errand boy at a law firm, Morgenthau slowly learned the business, becoming expert in title searches and mortgage foreclosure sales. In 1875 he quit his job to enter Columbia Law School, supporting himself by teaching at night. He graduated in 1877 and was admitted to the bar....

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Harrison Gray Otis. Oil on canvas, 1833, by Chester Harding. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Otis, Harrison Gray (08 October 1765–28 October 1848), politician, lawyer, and businessman, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Allyne Otis, a merchant and the first secretary of the U.S. Senate, and Elizabeth Gray. “Harry,” as he was called, enjoyed the privileges of economic comfort and social elevation, including his family connection to two famous revolutionary figures: his paternal aunt ...

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Singleton, Benjamin (15 August 1809–1892), black nationalist and land promoter, known as “Pap,” was born into slavery in Nashville, Tennessee. Little is known about the first six decades of his life. In his old age Singleton reminisced that his master had sold him to buyers as far away as Alabama and Mississippi several times, but that each time he had escaped and returned to Nashville. Tiring of this treatment, he ran away to Windsor, Ontario, and shortly thereafter moved to Detroit. There he quietly opened a boardinghouse for escaped slaves and supported himself by scavenging. In 1865 he came home to Edgefield, Tennessee, across the Cumberland River from Nashville, and supported himself as a cabinetmaker and carpenter....

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Smith, John (1580–21 June 1631), colonial governor, promoter, and historian, was born in Willoughby by Alford in Lincolnshire, the son of George Smith, a yeoman, and Alice Rickard. His earliest schooling may have been under Francis Marbury, father of Anne Hutchinson, who was schoolmaster in Alford. Toward the end of his life Smith published an autobiography, one of the first examples of the modern genre, which he titled ...

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John Smith. Illustration from The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine John Smith, 1629, depicting Smith's 1607 capture. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99524).

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Woodward, George (22 June 1863–25 May 1952), political reformer and suburban real estate developer, was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the son of Stanley Woodward, a judge, and Sarah Butler. Woodward grew up in an important local family whose ancestors had been civic leaders and elected officials since the seventeenth century, including three governors of colonial New England as well as George’s paternal grandfather and namesake, who served as chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court....