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Bankhead, John Hollis (08 July 1872–12 June 1946), lawyer, businessman and U.S. senator, was born in Moscow in Lamar County, Alabama, the son of John Hollis Bankhead (1842–1920), a farmer and later U.S. senator, and Tallulah Brockman. After spending his childhood in Wetumpka and Fayette, Alabama, he received an A.B. from the University of Alabama (1891) and an LL.B. from Georgetown University (1893). In 1894 Bankhead married Musa Harkins of Fayette, with whom he had three children. Settling in Jasper, he became a lawyer for the Alabama Power Company and for leading railroads. From 1911 to 1925 he was president of the Bankhead Coal Company, a firm founded by his father, which owned one of Alabama’s largest mines....

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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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Billy (fl. 1781), a mulatto slave, also known as Will or William, was the subject of an alleged treason case during the American Revolution. The case is more significant for what it says about the ambivalence toward slavery of Thomas Jefferson and other Virginians than for the light it sheds on the life of Billy, or Will. Ironically, in 1710, another slave named Will had a brief flirtation with history. This earlier Will was freed for “his fidelity … in discovering a conspiracy of diverse negros … for levying war” in Virginia....

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Carlson, Chester Floyd (08 February 1906–19 September 1968), inventor and patent lawyer, was born in Seattle, Washington, the son of Olof Adolph Carlson, a barber, and Ellen Josephine (maiden name unknown). His father had emigrated from Sweden and suffered from severe arthritis, and both parents developed tuberculosis. The family moved briefly to Mexico for the warmer weather but returned to the United States in 1912 to settle on a rented farm near San Bernardino, California. For a time Carlson was the only student in a country school, and he rode into town on a bicycle to work at odd jobs. His mother died when he was seventeen, and he supported his father....

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Chester, Colby Mitchell, Jr. (23 July 1877–26 September 1965), lawyer and business executive, was born in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of Colby Mitchell Chester, a lieutenant commander (later a rear admiral) in the U.S. Navy, and Melancia Antoinette Tremaine. He attended Yale University, where he was awarded a Ph.B. from the Sheffield Scientific School in 1897 and a B.A. in 1898. Chester then enrolled at New York Law School, where he received an LL.B. in 1900. That same year he was admitted to the New York bar but delayed the practice of law to join his father, then commander of the battleship USS ...

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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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Clark, Edward (19 December 1811–14 October 1882), lawyer and business leader, was born in Athens, Greene County, New York, the son of Nathan Clark, a successful pottery manufacturer, and Julia Nichols. Clark began schooling with a tutor and then attended an academy at Hudson, New York. At age twelve he went to Lenox Academy, run by John Hotchkin, reputedly reading every book in the school’s 500-volume library; at age sixteen he went to Williams College, graduating in 1831....

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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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Cromwell, John Wesley (05 September 1846–14 April 1927), lawyer and historian, was born a slave in Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of Willis Hodges Cromwell, a ferry operator, and Elizabeth Carney. In 1851 Cromwell’s father purchased the family’s freedom and moved to West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Cromwell entered the public schools. In 1856 he was admitted to the Preparatory Department of the Institute of Colored Youth. Graduating in 1864, he embarked on a teaching career. He taught in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and in 1865 opened a private school in Portsmouth, Virginia. Cromwell left teaching temporarily after an assault in which he was shot at and his school burned down. He returned to Philadelphia and was employed by the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Intellectual Improvement of Colored People. Then he served as an agent for the American Missionary Association and went back to Virginia. He became active in local politics, serving as a delegate to the first Republican convention in Richmond in 1867....

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Dodd, Bella Visono ( October 1904–29 April 1969), teachers' union lobbyist and lawyer, teachers’ union lobbyist and lawyer, was born Maria Assunta Isabella Visono in Picerno, Italy, southeast of Naples, the daughter of Rocco Visono, a grocer, and Teresa Marsica. She was raised in the nearby village of Avialano by foster parents until she was old enough to join her family in New York City at the age of five. Her family moved several times and finally out of the tenements into a large house in Westchester left to her mother by two elderly women for whom she had worked. Determined to become “an American,” Bella excelled in school, rejected Catholicism, and, after World War I, avidly began reading newspapers....

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Edwards, Monroe (1808–27 January 1847), slave trader, swindler, and forger, was born in Danville, Kentucky. He was said to have been the son of Major Amos Edwards; his mother’s name is not known. Details of his family background are obscure, but he was connected to the notable Kentucky Edwards family that produced, among others, a U.S. senator and a chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court....

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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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Freeman, Elizabeth (1742–28 December 1829), slave, nurse, and slavery lawsuit plaintiff, was born either in New York or Massachusetts, the daughter of parents probably born in Africa. She apparently became the slave of Pieter Hogeboom of New York quite early. The only trace of her parents is Freeman’s bequest to her daughter of two articles of clothing—a black silk gown given to Freeman by her father as a gift, and another gown that supposedly belonged to Freeman’s mother. During her lifetime and even after her death, she was known as “Mum Bett” or “Mumbet,” a name derived from “Elizabeth.” Lacking a surname for most of her life, she sued for freedom under the name “Bett” and adopted the name “Elizabeth Freeman” after winning her lawsuit in 1781....

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Elbert H. Gary [left to right] Elbert H. Gary, Calvin Coolidge, and John D. Rockefeller, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106305 ).

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Gary, Elbert Henry (08 October 1846–15 August 1927), lawyer and steel industrialist, was born near Wheaton, Illinois, the son of Erastus Gary and Susan Valette, farmers. Raised in a strict Methodist home that stressed the value of education, Gary attended the local public schools and for a time Illinois Institute, later renamed Wheaton College. After a two-month army stint during the Civil War and a term teaching school, Gary turned to the study of law with his maternal uncle, Colonel Henry Valette, and his uncle’s partner, Judge Hiram H. Cody, in Naperville, Illinois. He subsequently attended Union College of Law in Chicago, graduating first in the 1868 class. While clerking for the Illinois Superior Court, he married Julia E. Graves in 1869; they had two children. The couple lived in Wheaton from whence he commuted to Chicago during the subsequent thirty years of his legal career. (After his first wife’s death in 1902, Gary married Emma Townsend in 1905. They had no children)....

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Green, Benjamin Edwards (05 February 1822–12 May 1907), lawyer, diplomat, and business promoter, was born in Elkton, Kentucky, the son of Duff Green and Lucretia Maria Edwards. He grew up in Washington, D.C., where his father, a determined supporter of Andrew Jackson, moved in 1825 to edit the ...

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Grimké, Archibald Henry (17 August 1849–25 February 1930), lawyer, diplomat, and protest leader, was born a slave on “Caneacres” plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Henry Grimké, a lawyer and planter, and Nancy Weston, the family’s slave nurse. His parents probably never married, but his mother assumed the Grimké name. Grimké had an extremely difficult early life. After years of virtual freedom—he had attended Charleston schools for free African Americans though technically a slave—he and his brother ...

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Grover, La Fayette (29 November 1823–10 May 1911), lawyer, politician, and manufacturer, was born in Bethel, Maine, the son of John Grover, a surgeon, and Fanny Lary. He grew up among the Bethel elite; his father served in the Maine constitutional convention of 1819 and later in the state legislature. La Fayette received his early education in Bethel’s common schools and the private Gould’s Academy. After two years of study at Bowdoin College (1844–1846), he moved to Philadelphia, where he studied law in the office of Asa I. Fish and attended lectures at the Philadelphia Law Academy. He was admitted to the bar in 1850....

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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....