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Allen, Henry Watkins (29 April 1820–22 April 1866), Confederate soldier and governor of Louisiana, was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the son of Thomas Allen, a physician, and Ann Watkins. Allen and his family moved from Virginia to Ray County, Missouri, when he was thirteen. His father secured him a position working in a store, but Allen found business distasteful and enrolled in Marion College at age fifteen. At seventeen he ran away from college and traveled to Grand Gulf, Mississippi, where he became a tutor on a plantation a few miles outside of town. After tutoring for two years, Allen moved to Grand Gulf to open his own school and to study law. On 25 May 1841 he received his license to practice law in Mississippi. In 1842, when Allen was becoming an established lawyer in Mississippi, President ...

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Benedict Arnold. Engraving from a painting by John Trumbull. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-GW-617).

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Arnold, Benedict (14 January 1741–14 June 1801), revolutionary war general and traitor, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Benedict Arnold III, a merchant, and Hannah Waterman King. Of his mother’s eleven children, only he and a younger sister survived. At age eleven he was sent away to grammar school, but he left two years later when his alcoholic father lost the family’s fortune. Apprenticed to his mother’s cousin, an apothecary in Norwich, he volunteered in three campaigns (1757–1759) of the French and Indian War, deserting finally to be with his dying mother. His father died soon after, leaving little except debts, but his generous master paid the debts and set Arnold up in business when he decided to move to New Haven in 1762....

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Barron, James (1769–21 April 1851), naval officer, was born in Virginia, the younger of two naval sons of James Barron, a merchant captain and officer of the Virginia navy in the Revolution, and Jane Cowper. The older son, Samuel Barron, also commanded in the U.S. Navy and was senior to James. James Barron began his sea service before the age of twelve on board his father’s ship in the Virginia service. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in 1798, presumably having sailed in merchant vessels in the intervening years, since he would be known throughout the service for his masterful seamanship. In 1790 he married Elisabeth Mosely Armistead, another Virginian; the Barrons’ first child, Jane, was born in 1791....

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Aaron Burr. Engraving on paper, c. 1793 - 1814, by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

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Burr, Aaron (06 February 1756–14 September 1836), revolutionary soldier, U.S. senator, and vice president of the United States, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Aaron Burr, a theologian and the second president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), and ...

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Cadwalader, John (10 January 1742–10 February 1786), revolutionary war soldier, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Cadwalader, a physician, and Hannah Lambert. Cadwalader received his education in the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), then organized a prosperous mercantile business with his brother ...

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Carroll, William (03 March 1788–22 March 1844), soldier, businessman and governor of Tennessee, was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Carroll, a farmer and businessman, and Mary Montgomery. Although his formal education was meager, his letters, papers, and public documents exhibit an unusual clarity of thought and facility of expression. His father formed a partnership with ...

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Conway, Thomas (27 February 1735–1800?), soldier, was born in Ireland. Little is known of his parents. At an early age he was taken to France, where he received an education and in 1749 was enrolled in the French army. Diligent service in his profession, especially in Germany in the early 1760s, led to his promotion to a colonelcy in 1772. Upon the outbreak of the revolutionary war, he offered his services to ...

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Samuel Willard Crompton

Decatur, Stephen (05 January 1779–22 March 1820), naval officer, was born in a log cabin in Sinepuxent, Maryland, the son of Stephen Decatur, a merchant and privateer, and Ann Pine. Growing up in the maritime town of Philadelphia, Decatur was influenced to pursue a life at sea both by his father’s profession and by the success that American merchant vessels had overseas in the wake of the Revolution. From an early age he displayed a tendency toward argument and physical violence—traits that would become important themes in his naval career....

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Denver, James William (23 October 1817–09 August 1892), soldier, governor of Kansas Territory, and lawyer, was born near Winchester, Virginia, the son of Patrick Denver and Jane Campbell, farmers of Irish extraction. In 1831 his family migrated to a farm near Wilmington, Ohio. After a grade school education, James taught briefly at Platte City, Missouri, graduated from Cincinnati College (now the University of Cincinnati) in 1844, and was admitted to the bar. He opened a newspaper and law office in Xenia, Ohio, but after less than a year, in 1845, returned to Platte City, where he continued to practice both professions. After the outbreak of the Mexican War on 4 March 1847, Denver was appointed captain in the Twelfth Regiment, U.S. Volunteers, commanding a company he had raised, and was ordered to Mexico. Sick much of the time, he was ordered home on 26 October 1847....

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Gates, Horatio (Apr.? 1728?–10 April 1806), soldier, was born, according to tradition, in Maldon, England, the son of Robert Gates, a customs collector, and Dorothy Reeve, a housekeeper. His parents were of low rank, and had he not received patronage from powerful mentors he probably would have been doomed to a life of drudgery. Shortly after his birth his father, who worked for the duke of Bolton, was appointed tidesman in the customs service and later customs collector at Greenwich. His mother, previously housekeeper for the duke of Leeds, assumed the same position in the Bolton household. As a lad, Gates probably attended school in Greenwich. In 1745, through Bolton’s influence, he was commissioned ensign in the Twentieth Regiment, then transferred immediately as lieutenant to a regiment Bolton was privately raising. He served for a time in Germany and was appointed regimental adjutant. In 1749 he joined Colonel Edward Cornwallis as an aide and came out with the colonel to Nova Scotia. Five years later he married Elizabeth Phillips. They had one child....

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Alexander Hamilton. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91098).

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Hamilton, Alexander (11 January 1757?–12 July 1804), statesman and first secretary of the treasury, was born in Nevis, British West Indies, the second of two illegitimate sons of James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett Lavien. (The year of birth is often given as 1755, but the evidence more strongly supports 1757.) The father deserted the family when Hamilton was eight; the mother died three years later. Hamilton was apprenticed to a firm of international merchants and proved to be so gifted in commerce that he was soon left in full charge of the business. At fifteen he was “discovered” by a Presbyterian minister, who arranged financial support to send him to the College of New Jersey at Princeton. After a year at a preparatory school he passed the stiff entrance exams at Princeton, but when the president refused to allow him to advance at his own pace rather than with the regular classes, he went to King’s College (now Columbia) in New York instead....

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Andrew Jackson. From an engraving by James Barton Longacre. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117120).

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Jackson, Andrew (15 March 1767–08 June 1845), soldier and seventh president of the United States, was born in the Waxhaw Settlement, South Carolina, the son of Andrew Jackson and Elizabeth Hutchinson, farmers. Like many other Scotch-Irish at the time, Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson migrated to this country from the port of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland in 1765, landing most probably in Philadelphia and then journeying southward to join relatives living in the Waxhaw Settlement along the northwestern boundary separating North and South Carolina. They settled with their two sons, Hugh and Robert, on a stretch of land on the south side of Twelve Mile Creek, a branch of the Catawba River, and for two years tried to scratch a living from this acid soil. Then, early in March 1767, Andrew died suddenly. Approximately two weeks later, on 15 March, Elizabeth gave birth to her third son and named him after her deceased husband. Later a dispute arose over the exact location of the birthplace of the future president—whether he was born in North or South Carolina—but Jackson himself always believed and repeatedly stated that he was born in South Carolina....

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Johnston, Albert Sidney (02 February 1803–06 April 1862), Confederate general, was born in Washington, Kentucky, the son of John Johnston, a physician, and Abigail Harris. Raised by a stepmother following the death of his mother when he was three, Johnston aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps. He studied medicine at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where he became a close friend of ...

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Laurens, John (28 October 1754–27 August 1782), revolutionary war soldier and diplomat, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Henry Laurens, a prominent merchant and planter, and Eleanor Ball Laurens. John Laurens studied under private tutors in Charleston before traveling to London in 1771 for further schooling. In May 1772 he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, a city renowned for its republicanism and education system, and studied there until August 1774. While in Geneva, he decided to become a lawyer, returned to London, and enrolled in the Middle Temple at the Inns of Court....

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Charles Lee. Mezzotint on paper, 1775. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Judith Aronson ©1977 Judith Aronson.

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Lee, Charles (26 January 1731–02 October 1782), revolutionary war general, was born in Chester, England, the son of John Lee, a British officer, and Isabella Bunbury. Possessing the important social advantage of gentle ancestry, his education was not neglected. His father, desiring that he familiarize himself with peoples and languages other than English, enrolled him at an early age in an academy in Switzerland. Over the years, Lee became proficient in Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. In 1746 he entered grammar school at Bury St. Edmunds, where he became lifelong friends with important and well-placed companions such as William Butler and Charles Davers. His father, colonel of the Fifty-fifth Regiment of Foot, also determined that young Lee would continue the family’s tradition of military service. Thus when Lee was fourteen years old, Colonel Lee purchased for him an ensigncy in the Fifty-fifth Regiment, soon renumbered the forty-fourth; when young Lee completed his education he reported for active duty. His father died in 1750, and four years later Lee fell out with his mother. Their problems likely stemmed from a strain of eccentricity in the Bunbury family, which Lee inherited, and which manifested itself in moodiness and a choleric temper. As Lee himself later admitted, he suffered from a “distemper of … mind.” Thereafter, Lee was on close terms only with his unmarried sister, Sidney Lee, who like himself had survived a childhood scarred by the deaths of five siblings....